Sunday, March 20, 2011

Overcoming Fear

When I first came home from the Burn Center after my induced coma, I was scared of everything.  The doctors did not know what caused my TENs reaction, so no matter what I came in contact with, there was an underlying fear.  Although most Stevens Johnson Syndrome reactions are to a medication or a virus, we really had no idea.  I was skeptical of all new products that were in my vicinity: soap, foods, lotion, medications... anything.  I felt that another reaction would happen at any moment.

My fear was so consuming that I joined a group where survivors of all sorts would talk about their difficulty in coping with the stress of their experiences.  Dave would accompany me once a week to this group where we would listen to people share stories of their struggles and small successes.  Cancer survivors would talk about their fear of remission and veterans would discuss the lingering impact of their service in their everyday life.  While seemingly a random group of people, our lives were connected by our inability to move forward from a place a debilitating fear.

In our weekly sessions, they asked us to identify the source of our fear.  What am I really scared of?  After much discussion, I came to the conclusion that I was scared that my body was trying to kill me.  They asked me how I came to that conclusion.  I responded that my skin sloughed off, my hair fell out, and my nails fell off... all evidence of the fact that my body was trying to kill me.  My health was no longer a source of strength, but an overwhelming weakness to which I was powerless to control.

They asked me to dig deeper- was my body really trying to kill me?  My skin healed, my hair and nails grew back, I became stronger every day.  How can this be the same adversarial body that was intent on my end?  They helped me realize that my body was doing the exact opposite of my original fear.  My body was fighting to keep me alive.  Throughout my TENs experience, my body had the strength and resilience to fight for my survival.

This realization/transformation was endlessly empowering.  I was amazed at the ability of my body to fight this beast and recover.  It is true that what I am allergic to is still out there, that some unforeseen mistake may cause TENs to return and I will be fighting for my life in the Burn Center once again.  Yet I am filled with confidence that my body will do everything it can to keep me alive.

The human body is amazing.  My dad just did his first triathlon despite the arthritis in his feet.  My sister deals with the fear and uncertainty of undergoing repeated knee operations, yet keeps a positive outlook and remains optimistic.  My friend Marilyn overcame breast cancer and continues to be her kind, caring self.  We all have our stories of struggle and survival.  Something is out there that could hurt us at anytime, be it an allergic reaction, cancer, or anything else.  But that does not define us.  What defines us is our fighting spirit of survival and our commitment to growth.  It is impossible to stave off death; it's inevitable.  But I refuse to live my life in fear and rather embrace the opportunities for love and adventure every day.

Ask yourself the questions that were asked of me.  Is there something holding you back?  What are you scared of?  Then dig deeper- what is the source of that fear?  We are amazing individuals that can achieve wonderful things by believing in ourselves and letting go of our doubt.

To donate to the Burn Center, go online to  In the Designation field choose "Other" and type "Burn Fund (Team Emilie)".

Mail your check to "UCHF- Burn Fund (Team Emilie)" to UCHF 12401 E 17th Ave. Mail Stop F485 Aurora, CO 80045.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Finding Productive Ways of Passing the Time

My friend and colleague Audra is currently training for her first marathon and came to ask my advice about how to keep from boredom when spending mindless hours exercising.  Any good coach would tell her to think about her form, to visualize herself on race day, to keep track of her pace, etc.  Although this would probably improve my performance, this is not the approach that I take when exercising.

I asked the same question as Audra to my friend Karen years ago when she was training for her first Ironman.  What did she think about during a six hour bike ride?  How could she swim 80 laps in a 25 meter pool and not go completely insane?  Her response laid the foundation for my own approach to keeping my mind busy during exercise.  I find it one of the most productive aspects of my workout.

Karen revealed that for every mile of her run, she thought of someone different that she loved.  She would focus on the amazing qualities of that person for the entire 9ish minutes, and then when the mile changed, she would move on to another loved one.  This helped her get through many long runs and I immediately adopted her strategy.

When I swim, ride, or run, for each mile or lap, I focus on a different loved one in my life.  I think about their amazing qualities, all of the ways they have helped me grow as a person, and all that I can learn from them as I evolve.  Sometimes I think of favorite memories with this person or points in their lives when they have really revealed their inner strength and grace.  The time goes by amazingly fast and my heart is fuller when I am finished.

I have been practicing this mental exercise for over two years.  I have since moved from just merely loved ones to more specific categories.  Each workout I do now has a different theme:  the most creative... courageous... intelligent... thoughtful... etc... people I know.  I spend my entire workout thinking about their special qualities, being thankful for their presence in my life, and learning from their distinguished example.

For me, having a life threatening illness really heightened the value of the relationships within my life.  SJS has elevated my sense of appreciation and admiration for the amazing people around me.  I am constantly filled with overwhelming awe of who they are as individuals and gratitude for what they have taught me about life.

To give you an example of what this type of exercising looks like in action, I will tell you about my 13 mile run today.  It is no secret that I am looking forward to starting a family eventually.  Today, before my run, I was thinking about motherhood and the amazing ability for women to put their own unique spin on loving and caring for their children.  When Dave and I set out, I began to think about the wonderful moms I knew.  I thought about their special gifts as mothers and what I can learn from them as role models.  By the end of my run, I was filled with deeper appreciation of these women and able to learn from their powerful examples.  Although I know many wonderful mothers, these were the 13 rock star moms that kept me company on my run today:

I encourage you to try this exercise.  Whether you think of a different person each mile, each block, or every few minutes, this reflection will help to open your heart and mind to the exceptional people that surround you.  By the end, you will finish feeling humbled by their unique abilities and endlessly fortunate for the relationship you hold with them.  You will be overwhelmed with the fullness of your life.

Please support the University of Colorado Burn Center by going to  In the designation field, choose "Other" and type "Burn Fund (Team Emilie)".

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Setting Goals by Starting Small

To give you a better idea of what an "Ironman Journey" looks like, I thought I might share with you what our weekly workouts are these days.  Dave is a high school teacher and I am a high school teacher-librarian, so we fit in these training sessions before and after school.  Dave is also coaching soccer and I am in graduate school, so sometimes this can make for some very late nights.

Monday- Our one sacred rest day of the week
Tuesday- Swim 56 laps (2.8 km), run 7 miles
Wednesday- Bike 13 miles, run 2 miles
Thursday- Swim 56 laps (2.8 km), bike 25 miles
Friday- Run 7 miles
Saturday- Bike 70 miles, run 4 miles
Sunday- Run 13 miles

Although this seems overwhelming at times (and we're only halfway through our training schedule), for every ride and run I go on, when I pass our mailbox, I am reminded of how far I have come.  Our mailbox is a very short walk from our door.  When I first came home from the University of Colorado Burn Center after being in an induced coma from SJS, my entire body was weak.  I was blind, losing my fingernails and toenails, and patches of my hair were falling out.  Even swallowing was a struggle.

I made it a goal to eventually walk to the mailbox.  Every day, I would do stretches and strengthening on the sofa with my husband.  I would "train" by walking around the house slowly with my mom.  Timid steps, hand extended into the unknown, helped me to rebuild my confidence and my ability.  Stepping out into the sunlight one September morning, my mom and I made it to the mailbox.  Then, many days later, we made it to the end of the block, then down the street, then beyond...

My eyesight was saved thanks to the amazing work of the Rocky Mountain Lyons Eye Institute.  My nails and my hair returned.  My body became stronger every day.  No matter how far I have come from that girl freshly out of a coma, that mailbox will always hold special meaning to me.  I pass by it every day when leaving for my rides and my runs, reminding me of a time when every step was a struggle.  Whether your ambition is the metaphorical mailbox outside your door or an entire Ironman, we all set goals to challenge ourselves and grow.  With commitment, determination, and patience, you can achieve anything.

Please support the University of Colorado Burn Center by going to  In the designation field, choose "Other" and type "Burn Fund (Team Emilie)".

Friday, March 4, 2011

From the University of Colorado Burn Center to Ironman Training

In August 2007, I was admitted into the University of Colorado Hospital Burn Center with Stevens Johnson Syndrome from an allergic reaction to a still unknown allergen.  My case was severe enough to be labeled Toxic Epidermis Necrolysis, with more than 60% of my body covered in an extreme rash.  The doctors at the burn unit placed me in an induced coma for ten days while they monitored the sloughing of much of my skin.  I also had three amniotic membrane surgeries to help my eyes heal through this difficult process.

Four years later, my husband, Dave, and I are planning on completing the Coeur D'Alene (Idaho) Ironman June 26th.  An Ironman entails swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles.  We started a seven month training program in November 2010 and are currently about half way toward our goal.  In this blog, I will keep an update of our training progress, while also reflecting on my experiences with SJS.

Throughout this process, I hope to raise both awareness of SJS and money for the Burn Center.  If you would like to donate to the Burn Fund at the University of Colorado, you can do so by mailing a check or going online.

Mail your check to "UCHF- Burn Fund (Team Emilie)" to UCHF 12401 E 17th Ave. Mail Stop F485 Aurora, CO 80045

Or go online to  In the Designation field choose "Other" and type "Burn Fund (Team Emilie)".

Here are a few pictures from the past few years so you can get to know me a little better: