Our health is our wealth, and healing takes time, patience, and determination
Where words are restrained, the eyes often talk a great deal.” — Samuel Richardson
By looking at this picture, you might have a few thoughts about me: “Dang! She looks very excited in this picture,” “her big eyes remind me of Little Red Riding Hood asking her grandma why her eyes were so big,” “her make-up brings out her pretty green eyes,” “it must be nice to have such big, expressive eyes,” and so on. Yet, what most of you will miss about my eyes is the fact that many patients with Graves disease have bulging eyes, a condition called TED, which is short for thyroid eye disease.
Doctors recognize patients with Graves immediately if the patients exhibit TED, although not everyone develops bulging eyes from Graves autoimmune disorder, which is also called hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid. The Mayo Clinic says that “hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. Hyperthyroidism can accelerate your body’s metabolism, causing unintentional weight loss and a rapid or irregular heartbeat.”
How I discovered running, which possibly saved my life
“Run often. Run long. But never outrun your joy of running.”
— Julie Isphording, American Olympic runner
I never thought I would become a runner — ever. Yet, at the age of 41, I had a breakthrough. My tennis game was going very well, but I knew that being busy with my family and my real estate company, I needed to find a different type of exercise to balance my lifestyle. The answer came from Dalma, another mom friend, who is also a doctor. She shared STRAVA, her new app with me while telling me about her new hobby: running.
“Let me show you my runs on Strava,” she said with a mile-long smile on her pretty round face.
“What’s Strava?” I asked her.
“It’s this cool running and biking app,” she replied while showing me a map of her running route and the pace of her run.
“Wow! That’s really something,” I replied.
“Yeah, it’s really fun.”
The next morning after dropping the kids off at school, I went running down the street from my house. The crisp February morning motivated me to keep moving, while the sun gently stroked my back. Many people do a combination of running and walking when they first start running, but I had no clue what I was doing, so I just ran.
I ran down the street for about a quarter mile and stopped exhausted. I took deep breaths, more like gulps of air. My lungs felt like fully inflated balloons about to pop any minute. My heart skipped and hopped in my chest multiple times like a pebble across the water. My legs felt moored into deep mud and refused to go any farther. My mind tried to process the jolting, jostling, and jiggling happening all at once. I rested a few seconds, after which I ran back home — a place that felt miles and miles away… At the end of my run, I noticed my heavy breathing. I crouched inside the garage and tried to find my breath, as if it were a misplaced key. There it was! My breathing returned and my body relaxed. I was ready to run again the next day! Little did I know that I would soon run longer and longer on the road and on the trails in the mountains.
How being a runner helped me discover my Graves autoimmune disorder
“Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.” — Hippocrates
Fast forward seven years, I have run 14 marathons, including the Boston Marathon, for which I qualify every year, and more than 100 other races of various distances from 5K to 50 miles. Running has become part of my being and my identity in a world so much different than tennis, as I have developed many wonderful friends to share my ‘healthy obsession’ with.
Running made me feel great overall and so much more confident and stronger. Not only was running my poetry in motion, which has become the title of my first poetry book The PR — The Poetics of Running: A Book of Poetry in Motion, but it also turned me into a more observant and creative writer and poet.
Running was my holy Grail and my reason d’etre, but mainly my new joyous way of living, being, and breathing.
However, towards the end of 2019, each run left me exhausted. I had to make multiple stops to catch my breath. These were mainly easy runs, although my watch and Strava app showed that my run was harder than usual. I also noticed that I would burn 1,000 calories after a slow five-mile run, which was double what I should have burned. Additionally, my track speed workouts felt impossible and hard to finish, which is why I was cutting down the number of repeats and working extra hard to hit paces that used to feel easy for me, such as running 6-minute to low 7-minute paces.
At first, I didn’t think much of my running feeling so hard, but in December of 2019, I asked my primary care doctor to run all the tests needed, as I knew that something was way off in my body. While many women are not as lucky as me to find out so quickly about their thyroid issues, my doctor pinpointed it right away, since he ran all the thyroid tests, including checking my T-3 and T-4 hormone levels.
Before I even received my lab results back, my family and I celebrated New Year’s Day at our favorite restaurant on January 1st, 2020. I ordered salmon for the first time in more than five years, as I had been fully vegan.
“Mom, you don’t eat fish,” my sweet Sophia told me with a concerned look on her face.
“Well, I’m eating it today!” I replied.
“Are you OK, Mom?” she continued, while my son looked at me with the curiosity of watching animals perform cool tricks at the circus.
“Yes, I’m fine, but I need to eat some meat,” I replied.
“Good job, Mom!” both my kids replied.
What I didn’t know at the time was the fact that I was low and deficient in iron, iodine, selenium, and many other vitamins. I was running 40 to 60 miles a week to prepare for marathons and not getting enough high-quality protein. Being vegan was one of the big triggers of my Graves disease, from reading many books and articles, especially because I used to eat a lot of soy products, which are foods that patients with thyroid problems need to avoid, according to the article Soy and Thyroid Controversy: 3 Reasons to Avoid it with Thyroid Problems by Dr. Westin Childs. As medications alone are not enough, a combination of the right diet and exercise helped me put Graves into the grave, as I was determined to overcome it and took it seriously. If left untreated, Graves can cause strokes and heart attacks.
My Pandemic goals: stay Covid-free and put the Graves into the grave
“To ensure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life.” — William Londen
Two years since my diagnosis and since the pandemic started, I have been Covid-free (unless I was asymptomatic) and extremely grateful for the vaccines and boosters. As to my Graves, after lots of experimentation with the right methimazole dosage (my Kaiser endocrinologist doctor has been extremely helpful, flexible, and understanding), I am off medications and free of Graves because I took the following steps to heal:
- I prayed, ran, and wrote a lot — publishing two poetry books in the last two years.
- I made sleep a priority.
- I continued to exercise, and I ran my fastest marathon so far in 3:28:48 less than a year after I discovered that I had Graves.
- In the beginning, my endocrinologist did monthly blood tests, as my TSH levels were fluctuating a lot, and she had to constantly adjust the dosage of my medication.
- I eat a well-balanced diet following Dr. Amy Myers’ advice in her book The Thyroid Connection to include fresh fruit and vegetables, some organic meat, wild-caught fish, to avoid gluten, for it stresses the digestive track and prompts the immune system to attack its own tissues, as well as dairy, soy, sugar, and corn. Well, sugar is a hard one, as many of the gels that I take during marathons contain sugar to help me run for 26.2 miles. I also love dark chocolate…
- I keep stress to a minimum, even though I keep busy with my real estate company, taking care of our teenage kids, writing, and running.
My healing motto: “I will put Graves into the grave” has worked so far, but I will need to keep up the good work and stay away from gluten for the most part, unless I am in Europe, where wheat is different than the one in the United States.
Final thoughts: reading and researching about my medical condition have allowed me to create a healing plan together with my doctors and my inner intuition on what my body and soul needed to heal. I have learned that some people thrive on a vegetarian or even vegan diet, whereas others can become ill, especially women athletes putting a lot of stress on their bodies.
When in doubt about why you’re tired, can't sleep well at night, and your brain is fogged up, head to your doctor. You could be iron deficient, have thyroid issues, diabetes, or any other health conditions, which we women tend to dismiss because we blame it on just being tired when in reality, our bodies give us warning signs and have so much to tell us about our mental and physical health.
To health! To live long and happy lives! To running and writing, or whatever makes you happy.