Ok, where does the time go; my last post was 6 months ago? I don’t think about my hips anymore. Hip dysplasia no longer defines me. Pain is no longer a daily occurrence. What remains is unwavering gratitude that I can walk without pain. Sleep without pain. Work without pain. Run without pain. Bike without pain…you get the idea. I am throwing 100% of my energy into becoming the best version of myself. In April, I ran the Fruita Desert RATS half-trail marathon with my friend and running partner, Michelle, who also had a PAO in 2012. Here is us at the top at mile 10:
In June, I did it again: Team All Screwed Up finished the Ragnar Trail Relay in Snowmass, CO in just over 25 hours. I ran 14.5 miles with over 3400 feet elevation gain. Here are some pics:
So that is what has been going on: running, working, some travel. Hopefully moving off the Front Range soon, I need a change of scene. Life is too short to sit around and wait for an ideal time to do stuff. I am in the mode of “just do it.” I’ll pop on in once in awhile to give an update, but in closing, I’ll just say its been a hell of a ride and I am glad to be on the other side of the hip dysplasia journey. There is life after PAO surgery!
You are reading this title thinking, “Oh no, what happened?” It’s not so bad. My official two year anniversary of my right PAO is fast approaching: December 16. I did, however, have my two year follow-up last month when I was in California helping my sister recover from arthroscopic surgery to repair her torn labrum. We have the same surgeon, so it was nice to be able to talk with him about her surgery and recovery. Anyway, I snuck in an appointment since I was in town. Here is my X-ray from my appointment. As you will see, I have most excellent bone healing and nice joint space (read: no arthritis):
Another reason why I scheduled to see Dr. Bellino was to see if my right screws needed to come out. I was having pain (aching in cold weather) and when I wore jeans. After a few minutes of him trying to feel them (I guess he countersinks them pretty good), we concluded I need new jeans and I need to move to a warmer climate (haha) because he couldn’t feel them coming out.
Some PAO surgeons take out the screws around 6-9 months post op, other surgeons only take them out if they cause problems. Its a matter of philosophy, there are pros and cons to each school of thought. My surgeon does the latter. I trust his suggestion in leaving them in for now. I am back spinning, running, hiking, and strength training like I did before this whole hip saga, when I was a lean, mean, triathlon racing machine. And you know what? That pain has not recurred with increased activity and in the recent cold weather, so who knows why I was having issues earlier this fall. While it would be fun to make some badass jewelry from my hardware, I am happy to stay screwed for now.
If you are on Facebook, then you are familiar that this lovely social media platform likes to remind you of anniversaries of your past posts (i.e. 1 year ago…). This can be a good thing or a bad thing. For example, I cried last week when I saw a post with a picture of my beloved fur baby Evie (who crossed the Rainbow Bridge) from last year. Two days ago I was reminded of a post I wrote on October 22, 2013; it read:
“So very thankful to be going to CA today to FINALLY see these two surgeons at UCSF and Stanford about my hip surgery ordeal. I am READY to put a plan in place once and for all!…”
“Hip surgery ordeal,” HAHA! Ain’t that the truth! I had no idea what PAO surgery and recovery entailed. I had completely forgot I wrote that post! At that time, I couldn’t walk more than 12 steps without limping. I had gained weight from inactivity. My identity as a Personal Trainer and athlete was lost. I was trying to find my way in a new career. I was in pain 24/7 and I was depressed.
Well, fast forward to today (and if you want the whole story, read all my blog posts): my butt muscles are still sore from helping paint my new metal-smithing studio but the hip pain – oh that hip pain that rocked my world – is gone. Yesterday I went for a run on a perfect fall day, and guess what? No hip pain. My plan worked. I am so incredibly grateful: I wake up every morning and have gratitude I am without chronic pain.
The pain doesn’t define me anymore. What defines me are the lessons and the strength that I have learned in the past three years. I found a new passion: increasing awareness of hip dysplasia; I now have The PAO Project linked to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute. I try to help out local PAO Warriors in any way I can (last week I was getting raised toilet seat handles from a senior center and dropping them off to a PAO Warrior at Boulder Foothills Hospital) and provide support on the PAO Facebook group, because I know how rough the early weeks are in recovery. This journey has not only made me more grateful, but it has also made me more emphathetic.
Ironically, I fly out to CA on Wednesday because my sister is having labral repair arthroscopic surgery with my surgeon, Dr. Bellino at Stanford on Friday. She does not have dysplasia; labral tears can happen in normal hips (imagine that!), and in her case it was most likely speed training with running. I will return the favor of her being my caretaker and will be hers in the early days of recovery. I feel well equipped emotionally and I am happy that I am able to be there for her.
Its all good. What a difference three years make….
Once upon a time, there was a girl who just wanted to be liked. In grade school, she was teased and always picked to be last for recess and P.E. games. In 8th grade, kids teased her and called her “UNCORD” for uncoordinated (it wasn’t her fault that she was 5’9″ at age 13). In her freshman year of high school, her basketball coach announced in front of the entire team that her “season was a disappointment to all.” She bottled her hurt and poured herself into academics, became a straight A student and got accepted into U.C. Davis. Her freshman year of college, she met a boy. He ran Cross Country. There was that damn sports thing again, she thought. She wanted this boy to like her, so she ran. The first time they ran together, he stopped and immediately criticized her. This was nothing new. Being stubborn as she is, she kept running, even in her Keds. She finally splurged on a pair of running shoes; a luxury very dear since she was putting herself through school and working three jobs. She ended up majoring in Exercise Science.
Through the years, she became kinda good at running (well, for her). In grad school, she did a couple half-marathons, then progressed into triathlon, which is where she found her niche. For eight years she was a serious recreational triathlete who pushed to often place in her division, which was a big deal for races held in the triathlon mecca of the world.
Then hip pain…infrequent. She blew it off. No pain, no gain. Then it became like the neighbor who drops in unannounced and is always super annoying. She tried to dodge this neighbor, but he caught up with her.
She retired from racing triathlon on a high note in 2008, placing first in her division at a local race. It made sense: work was getting busier, and it was time to do other things…
Five years later, in 2013, her college roommate and long time friend and her made a pact to do a Half-Ironman by the time they turn 40. Five years off from racing was enough time to be excited about a big athletic goal again. She started training. It was that spring that she took the step that would forever change her life….
Hip dysplasia diagnosis, two PAO (periacetabular osteotomy) surgeries in 8.5 months, months of rehab, and relearning how to walk, she wondered if she could ever run again. Even if she could, should she? Is running even a good idea post-op with mild hip arthritis and having the pelvis sawed apart in six places and rearranged to a better configuration? What if the six 5-7 inch screws in her pelvis will cause pain while running? Disgusted with her weight gain due to chronic pain pre-op and inability to move, she knew she had to do something. Run/walking it was.
In late fall of 2015, a fellow PAO Warrior posted on the Facebook PAO group that she was putting together an eight-person team to do the Ragnar Trail Relay in Snowmass, Colorado the first weekend of June. Each runner would run the 4, 3.8 and 6.7-mile loops and about 2000 feet total elevation gain through the Rocky Mountains in the course of a maximum 36 hours, and 116 miles to be completed by the entire team. Mountain running, trail running, night running…seeing bears? sleep?…. camping, friends, laughter, fun! An incredible challenge, she told her friend “give me three months to train and I’ll let you know if I can do it.”
The rest is history. Team “All Screwed Up” completed the Ragnar Trail Relay this past weekend in just over 25 hours. Six of us had PAO surgeries and our other two teammates had major surgeries. Aside from Colorado, our team members hailed from Reno, Boston and Cincinnati to come to one of the most beautiful places in the country to partake in his adventure. We ran on trail through the mountains, laughed, camped, ate, got very little sleep, and fortunately we did not see any bears. We talked about all things running and PAO recovery, which included the obligatory post-op stories of poop and swollen labia. I made life-long friends and we are bonded not only as Warriors, but Ragnarians. For me, this race was the big middle finger to everyone who in the past had teased and criticized my athletic abilities. I may not be fast, but I can endure. And I will continue to enjoy running for the rest of my days. Next year, I’ll be back, better than ever!
In December, I saw a Facebook post from my fellow local PAO friend that she was forming a PAO team to do the 2016 Ragnar Trail Relay in Snowmass, Colorado; which is held over the first weekend in June. Now, I have not ran steadily since I started having some pretty gnarly pain in my hip flexor area, which was in 2012. I was forced to quit running on a regular basis as the pain was debilitating. Since 2012, I gained 34 pounds due to inability to exercise and I had my pelvis sawed apart in to 6 pieces (3 pieces for each surgery) and screwed back together, a surgery called a periacetabular osteotomy (PAO), all with the hopes that I could have a better aligned hip joint and be able to 1) not live in chronic pain and 2) be able to do the physical activities I love, one of them being running. That is a big selling point of PAO surgery: it has no activity restrictions compared to a hip replacement.
So, when I saw this post about being part of a team with fellow PAO Warriors to complete three loops of 3.8, 4, and 6.7 miles on mostly single track trail in the Rocky Mountains over 36 hours, I was intrigued. I posted on my personal Facebook page asking opinions of those who have run this race if it was doable for me with six months of training and most people said “yes!” but there were a few naysayers. For those who know me know its the naysayers that are the most motivating for me as I am very stubborn and determined to prove naysayers wrong. Plus, I needed a goal. At the time, I was one year post-RPAO and I was struggling with losing weight, and I was depressed since losing my fur baby of 14 years and losing a contract on a new home. Something needed to change, I was in a funk! I told the team captain, “give me three months to see if my hips can handle running.” I started running, well – more like walk with some short jogging intervals – several times a week. I was happy to complete a 20 minute walk/jog session! My hips did fine. My lungs burned, my muscles ached, but my hips – those newly aligned hips – were fine.
From December to March, I progressed my mileage carefully, gradually increasing the run time and decreasing the walk time. What I was consistent in was doing my sessions: I ran 3 times a week: rain, shine, wind, snow. I remember bundling up in 10 degree weather and putting on my YakTrax (devices that go on the bottom of running shoes that have metal spikes to provide better traction on snowpack/ice) to do a 30 min run. By mid-March, I committed to our Ragnar team, which is aptly called “All Screwed Up.”
Fast forward to now: yesterday I completed a 10 mile run in the wind, cold, and GI distress (note to fellow runners: do NOT eat Mexican food for dinner the night before a long run! Another piece of advice: know where your toilets are along your route!). I had to tough talk myself through miles 5-9: “Jen, you are doing this because you CAN!” “Jen, you would have no problem running this if it wasn’t for your stomach ache!” “Jen, this is a piece of cake compared to PAO surgery, remember how much pain you were in at the hospital?” In under 2 hours and 15 minutes (which included about 40 minutes walking due to my poor nutritional choices) I got the 10 miles in and my hips were fine! It was the first time since 2006 that I ran 10 miles, 15 miles in a 25 hour period, and 28 miles for the week. And as far as my last weigh in, I have lost 14 pounds.
So, my advice is: do not let the naysayers keep you down. Rise above negativity, work hard, and prove them wrong!
My next post will most likely be a race report of Ragnar: the ULTIMATE PAO WARRIOR GATHERING!!! Its going to be a hell of a party! Onward!
Yesterday was my two year anniversary of my left Periacetabular Osteotomy. Instead of celebrating my successful surgery and now pain free life, I spent a great deal of time yesterday being a support to two of my closest friends in Colorado who are currently facing some serious health conditions. It certainly put things in perspective for me. At times I had to fight back tears, as I sipped my wine over lunch, and later that afternoon over a beer (I did a lot of drinking yesterday) holding my head down, with my hands gripping my hair, saying quietly “you’ll be ok.” What I realize now is that its my turn to give back in terms of support to these two friends who supported me during my surgery recovery (and I am happy to do so!).
Health is our most precious gift. Ironically, its so easy to take our health for granted. When was the last time you woke up and thanked the Universe (or your deity) that you can see? That you can hear? That you can breathe without pain? That you can walk?
I have SO much to be thankful for. Having my pelvis sawed apart and put back together transformed my attitude just as it did my hip -and that was just a part of my path. My story is far from over.
I will close with some advice from my friend who is having surgery on Monday to treat atrial fibrillation, “If its not life threatening, its not a problem.” So set aside your worry and fears, tell your monkey mind to shut the fu** up, and tackle your obstacles head on, like a bad-ass Warrior.
I let the near-scalding hot water pour over my head and on my face as I am in the shower after a six-mile trail run on a muddy/snowpacked/icy trail which required some fancy foot work. I rub the salty sweat out of my eyes and heave a big sigh. A sigh of exhaustion, of accomplishment, of relief. I slowly bend forward to stretch my lower back and hamstrings, letting the hot water from the shower-head massage and soothe my muscles. As I allow my body to relax, my mind is still out on the trail on this crisp, clear February morning.
In two days, I leave for California for what may very well be my final post op appointment with Dr. Bellino at Stanford. I anticipate good news: my right PAO is rock solid and fully healed. Ironically, my younger sister has an appointment with my surgeon an hour before me: as I am completing my hip journey, she is beginning hers. Hopefully she gets answers so a plan can be put into place.
I am nearing almost three years since I was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia and labral tears. Three years ago my world was turned upside down and my identity as an athlete was stripped from me: I was told not to do anything that caused pain. I stopped all activity and gained 20 pounds. By 2014, I couldn’t walk more than 10 steps. I had both of my PAO surgeries in 2014 (April and December). I have worked my ass off in physical therapy just to walk again and to be able to put socks and shoes on like a normal person. Now, in 2016, I am training harder than ever before as I am no longer in my 20s and stick-thin. Every meal is planned, and my calendar has a specific workout written in six days a week. I plan my work days around my workouts and my time to prepare healthy meals. I have lost 14 pounds since November. I am putting me first. I have a picture of me racing a tri in 2002 as my cover photo on Facebook, to remind me that every day is an opportunity and a gift to choose health and physical activity.
I have a level of discipline that seems to have never existed before. I run now because I can. Pain-free. That is a huge thing!! And when the weather gets better I will bike and swim too…because I can. There are no excuses (OK, I had the flu a few weeks ago, that was a good excuse to rest.) I am so eternally grateful for this diagnosis, for my PAO surgeries, and everything that has come along with the ride on this crazy journey. I am stronger and better than ever. Today I reclaimed my identity as an athlete, and it feels damn good.
Last night marked my one-year anniversary of my right PAO surgery. I’ve come a long way, baby! This year has not been without its challenges, most recently being the loss of my fur baby of 14 years, Evie (she crossed the Rainbow Bridge on 11/10/15). Evie was with me for a large part of my recoveries, laying and purring right next to each operated hip. The void is immense, but I am eternally grateful for her company while I was at my weakest, saddest, and loneliest. I joke and say she was the love of my life, and in a way, she was. Here is a picture of us when I was eight weeks post op from my first (left) PAO:
Despite my loss, I have so much to celebrate. I FINALLY feel normal. My “new normal” feels good, though I still have stiffness and soreness. I ignore it as I know I am bad about stretching and its different than the 24/7 pain that I used to have. I don’t have to think about proper gait when I walk. I can run. Last month, I started kickboxing (with heavy bags and speed bags, this is the real deal!) three times a week and I feel great. I am entertaining being on a relay team of fellow PAO Warriors for the 2016 Colorado Trail Ragnar in Snowmass in early June (I would run 3×5 miles). I started The PAO Project, so those diagnosed with hip dysplasia, considering PAO surgery or recovering from surgery can find a source of information and inspiration. This led to the recent publication of my anthology, “Onward! Navigating Hip Dysplasia, PAO Surgery, and Beyond.” I hope that this is the beginning of bigger and better things regarding increasing awareness of hip dysplasia, and I want to be instrumental in making that happen.
If you are interested in purchasing the anthology, here are the links:
If we take the time to stop, listen, and look, we can see signs from the Universe, God, Allah, Gaia, or whomever you deem your Deity. For years, I ignored the signs that something was terribly wrong with my hips; in fact, I lived for over 10 years with progressive chronic hip pain. It wasn’t until the Universe had to hit me over the head with its proverbial bat in 2013 in order for me to PAY ATTENTION to what my body was telling me.
In this new chapter of life after PAO surgery, I am not going to make the same mistake twice. I have a deeper commitment to myself in wellness and spiritual growth, which brings me to explain the title of my blog: signs. My dear friend Erika with Turtle Healing Energy did an energy tarot reading for me for the month of October. The first card was The Tower. The Tower card in Tarot is a major arcana card, meaning its about life lessons, and depicts people falling from a burning building. Sounds dire, but what it shows is that its calling me to let go of what is no longer serving my highest good: old structures, old patterns, old ways of doing things and old friendships. Its time to spring clean the personal closet! Change feels prominent this season, confirmed by The Tower card, as well as with the recent diagnosis of my fur baby’s advanced colon cancer and her inevitable transition in the upcoming weeks. I also applied for a Wellness Director job at FitBit in San Francisco, which would call upon a major change: a move.
As I was headed into Boulder today to meet with an investor of my startup that I created in 2006 and to discuss said company’s future, I was sitting at the stoplight and glanced over to my left and I see a white Mercedes. My dad drove a white Mercedes and I told myself 11 years ago when he passed that whenever I see a car like his, it means he is looking over me. Kinda ironic since he was an inventor and serial entrepreneur. Then to top it all off, almost simultaneously, on the radio came “Winds of Change” by The Scorpions. At this point I am laughing out loud. “I get it Universe! Change is upon me! I know I have responsibilities and need to step up! I am ready! I am open! I trust!” I really wanted to be shouting this naked on a mountain top with the wind blowing through me and a crystal in each hand but instead I was sitting in my air conditioned car on 95th and Arapahoe. Regardless of where I am, signs abound, and this go around I am smart enough to take notice. I am nervous, I am scared and I am excited. Most importantly, I am responsible and I am ready. Bring it.
Its days like today that I really miss my dad. (He passed away in 2004 from a 3 week battle of liver & pancreatic cancer). Today as I headed west on Woodside Road towards Stanford Medical Center for my nine-month post op, I approach Alameda de las Pulgas Road. Suddenly I time-warped to another time, another life. “Do you know what ‘Alameda de las Pulgas’ means?” my father asks my sister and me. How would we know? We were five and nine years old, respectively. Before we could even squeak a noise from our tiny mouths, he answers his own question in a booming voice “THE LAND OF THE FLEAS! HAR HAR HAR HAR!” Only those that knew my father will appreciate this.
After waiting a while to see Dr. Bellino, he finally came into the exam room. He told me I am “pretty much healed” and he is confident that the gaps near the ischium (aka “butt bone”) will heal by the next time I see him in the Spring.
But this post-op visit was so much more than wondering what my x-ray would show in terms of bone growth. I was anxious, like a kid on Christmas morning, to tell my surgeon about the ultimate PAO win: being physically capable to save someone’s life, which occurred two weeks ago. And to tell him about my labor of love, thePAOproject.com. And last but not least, to give him the thank you present I made him, a photo book of all my “firsts” post PAO: first bike ride, first hike, first rafting, etc. He read the whole thing and was truly touched. At the end of the appointment, I reached out to shake his hand and he opened his arms to give me a hug, which meant a lot to me.
As I headed back towards Highway 280 (a much prettier drive than 101, so I take the scenic route), I saw a sign that said “Emerald Hills.” My dad lived in Emerald Hills, an upscale neighborhood in Redwood City. My heart ached to be able to share with him my successes. I have been through SO MUCH in the past two years: the dust is finally settling and I am emerging from the ashes. I am a better version of me. Life after PAO: a new chapter begins.