January the 18th was an awesome day for so many reasons. Twelve months on (and ten months of breast cancer treatment between), I went back and completed my second sprint distance triathlon. The first was done a week after diagnosis and marked the beginnings of me entering the fray of the disease blog genre when I published this post.
Three hundred and sixty five days ago I was filled with the terror of cancer and what was to lay ahead for me. When I made my way into the river for the triathlon start, all of the cancer related anxiety disappeared. I checked out of Cancerland and tuned into the sights and sounds around me in the immediate moment. It was sunset, there were hundreds of heads and arms thrashing about ahead of me so I waited at the back of the swim pack to compose myself. There were large rivergums on the banks and the sun dappled through their branches, there were sulphur crested cockatoos and galahs screeching at each from the treetops. Through my goggles I could just make out the Port of Echuca Wharf in the distance.
I recall the exhilaration of commencing movement through the tea coloured water, of seeing air bubbles emerge from my mouth, stick to my face and be pushed away with the momentum of swimming. Of seeing arms and legs thrashing and churning through the water. The thrill of turning the large meander bend in the river and swimming within metres of paddles steamers. Of being pushed along by the current of the ancient river towards something great. The sensation of fine river sediments squishing between toes as I stood to make my way up the hill to the bike transition. I was alive and the Dread Dragon from the previous week had finally taken a nap and didn’t return for a couple of days. My family and friends were there to encourage and support me. I wondered if I would ever do anything like it ever again. I would have to wait a long time to see.
Two days later, the Dread Dragon returned and breathed fireballs at everything that mattered to me in my life. Struggling to sleep and eat from the fear of the unknown, the long road ahead of cancer treatment ate away at me. Mr Cool took me off to my local hospital, anorexic from my short dalliance with the anti-depressant medication my doctor had tried to help me with a week earlier, nauseated and with heart palpitations from the sheer anxiety and terror of being a newbie to the world of cancer. The waiting for results had began.
After finishing ten months of treatment and giving my radiation burns time to heal I decided to return to this event. In November, once treatment was complete, I took off like a rocket and tried to train as I once had, six times a week. But it was too soon and too much for my chemo and surgically depleted hemoglobin. I was falling into bed at 7:30pm and was unable to wake in the mornings. So I dropped the training back to three sessions a week and that seemed to be enough to help lift my treatment fatigue. I almost gave up on the idea of returning to the same triathlon. For weeks it just seemed unachievable and unrealistic.
But in mid December I decided to have another go at reaching the goal and I started training more frequently again. I wasn’t waiting any longer. My goal was just to go back and finish it again, 700 metres swim, 20 km’s on the bike and a 5 km run and feel comfortable in myself through the process.
I’m glad I didn’t give up on this idea. I’m glad I didn’t wait.
This time, there was much less fear about doing the actual triathlon even though I had a lot less fitness. Having completed it before helped, but there was something about what I have been through in 2013 has made me a bit tougher with respect to challenges. A bit more of a go getter. Some people suggested I should wait. Wait till my body had recovered more. But there is no time to waste. Why should I wait to be ready to exercise? To train? What was I supposed to wait for? What was I fearful of? Getting better? Getting past cancer? Getting on with living?
I’ve put off many things in my life thinking there would be a more appropriate time down the track to start working towards something. I’ve made loads of excuses. I sat and waited. The years rolled on by, and I was still waiting. But I’ve learnt this year that the best time to start is NOW. Not when I think I look more respectable in lycra or am fitter, or have faster times or feel more comfortable while running. But to just jump in and have a go. Just drop the fears and the inhibitions that hold us back. I’m not going to be the Mum who sits on the side of the pool anymore and watches my kids. I am what I am. In all of my puffy, wobbly, bald, post treatment glory.
While waiting in a pre race toilet queue, I got talking to a lady who asked me if I had done the race before. My thin short hair still screams cancer to some people and after she glanced up at my scalp she paused uncomfortably. I told her my story and she proceeded to show me her open heart surgery scar from ten months earlier. Surgeons removed what was thought to be cancer on her aortic valve. And there we were waiting in a pre race toilet queue about to do a sprint distance triathlon. Both of us with an appreciation for our lives and making the most of things. Waiting for the loo. But not waiting for the things that were important to us.
Then, while waiting on the grass for the pre race briefing, I spotted a couple walking past the park. They had waited for the right moment to approach me. I bawled like a baby on recognising high school friends Mel from the Blog I GOT THE GOOD CANCER and ‘Bevan Lemon’ that drove a 700km round trip to surprise me. This gesture mean’t so much to me and I will be forever be grateful to them for doing that. Even more incredible was that Mel had just finished 6 months of chemo and here she was, in the northern part of the state on a 39 degree day cheering me on (and she still has better head coverage than me!) and all while waiting to see if her cancer was in remission or not.
When Mr Cool and I went to leave our children with their grandparents to walk to the start of the swim, my oldest son got upset. This was partly because he saw my reaction to Mel and Bevan’s arrival. But it was also about him remembering the details of this previous year vividly.
He remembers the state his Mum was in last time I did a triathlon and it was when his life changed immeasurably. Shortly after that triathlon his Mum went away to hospital many times, she came home with hard breasts with scars and spent long durations in bed and there was a bag of blood attached to her and she kept going back to hospital all the time to see doctors. She couldn’t hug him like she used to because she was in too much pain and she couldn’t lift her arm anymore. Then her hair all fell out and she was too sick to care for him and his brother, and people kept arriving at his home with meals and cards and flowers. He had waited a long time for “his” Mum to be “his” Mum again. And now we were back in the place where in his mind, it all began.
After reassuring him that everything was okay and that I was very happy and excited, he agreed to cheer for us and I gave him our camera and asked him to take some photos. He played with his brother and they watched and waited for their parents to come into view as the race progressed.
With all of the excitement of surprises from sneaky friends and unsettled kids, Mr Cool and I hurriedly made our way to the start and while walking with a friend the tears started flowing at the feeling of being back here. I had waited a long time to get back here, to this moment.
We were late getting to the start line and it was like a comedy of errors with Mr Cool and I trying to get our wetsuits on as the starter called five minutes and a few hundred people gathered in the water below us.
Still conscious of my post chemo Harold Bishop hairdo, (a character from the Australian TV Soap Neighbours) and the complexities of easing the new hot flush me into tight lycra and a wetsuit that fitted me much better pre treatment, I got a quick kiss from Mr Cool and ran down and jumped into the river at the back of the pack and immediately started the swim.
I’m not a fan of menopausal hot flushes underneath a winter wetsuit and swim cap. Half way along I had to stop to tug on the neck of my wetsuit to let some cool water in. Then I resumed swimming. When I reached the river exit I fell over getting out of the water. I was then unable to get the wetsuit down over my much broader chest and my arms were much more tired from the swim this year. I walked through transition and wasted 5 minutes just trying to work out how I would GET THE DAMN WETSUIT OFF! Riding a bike in a wetsuit? Now there would be a challenge. But I took my time and as the transition area emptied itself I was able to pry the wetsuit off my elbows and make my way out onto the bike course.
On the bike the wind picked up and I was at the very back of the bike field pushing on my own through the wind. Despite there being very hot and windy conditions, I rode the 20km’s with a big wide smile. As I pedalled along I reflected on what had occurred in 2013. My body felt more tired with each lap but I felt comfortable, and I was okay with being last. I was just thankful to be there, and so grateful to all of the people that supported us in 2013.
Then out of nowhere a woman rode up along side me. After some chatting about the heat and the wind and some introductions, it turned out it was her very first triathlon. She was intending to enter the event as a team, and wait till later on to enter as an individual. Down the track when she would have developed more fitness and discovered if she in fact liked triathlon or not. But when she went to sign up she discovered her ‘”friend” had already entered her as an individual to complete the whole thing. So on just 18 days of training she turned up and completed the race. What a legend! And that made two of us who were not waiting.
My incredible partner raced the swim and bike legs in the lead pack and then chose to stop and wait forty eight minutes for me at the start of his run leg to run alongside and finish with me. In his mind, I would not come last, as he would cross the line after me.
Yesterday, I surprised even myself. My second sprint distance triathlon achieved, twenty minutes slower than last year and my proudest achievement yet. But most importantly I was again reminded of what an amazing network of friends and family I have around me and in choosing to do this triathlon, I was able to give my sons the image of me running across the finish line, ecstatic and with their Dad in tow. I’m glad they didn’t have to wait a second longer to experience this.
Now if only I didn’t have to wait for some more hair!
I am home.
Mother’s guilt has been quietly bubbling away in the back laboratory. It started with the diagnosis six weeks ago. First it appeared as grief from the impact of my lost health on my children. A kind of lost opportunity cost is to be paid for all of the wonderful experiences in 2013 that won’t go ahead. It is not what I would ever have wanted for my kids and husband, or their grandparents. What was to be a year of healthy misadventures including play, travel, athletic conquests, my first time snow camping and skiing with my oldest boy, has been replaced with the possibility of 5 surgeries in Melbourne, 3-10 months of chemotherapy, maybe some radiotherapy for good measure, fatigue, pain, laying around and telling them Daddy will help, or Nanna can do that, or maybe my friends will do that when they visit. They will see me be sick, see me cry, see Mummy lose her hair, see Mum and Dad argue as they juggle the altered dynamics of home and parenting roles.
I might have to miss going to Port Macquarie in May to support hubby in his tenth Ironman triathlon finish. He proposed to me when he crossed the finish line of his first Ironman back in 2004. My Mum just happened to be there that moment. All day, he struggled through cramping and vomiting and every time he saw us he asked me if I would make sure I had his bag at the finish line. I never knew I had carried round the engagement ring with me all day. I have been at every one since and as our family has grown, so too have our children.
More annoying to me than the possibility of being unable to support him in this race, is the thought of missing the week of camping we had planned for our children. A week camping with their uncle and aunt and their three cousins in Northern NSW. I will make sure it does go ahead. I hope I can go, but the thought of me not being part of the experience is playing on my mind. Don’t worry about things too far ahead I keep telling myself. One day at a time remember.
To add to the dose of mother’s guilt, both children developed a bad throat and cough last week. Of course it was the night before I went to Melbourne for surgery. So not only did I leave, I left when they were sick. There have been nights when they haven’t slept. Coughing wakes them and they cry. Our youngest just wants to be held, so he has spent every night in bed, one night between Nanna and Grandad, and then the rest of the week between his Dad and his brother. He is not happy sleeping unless he is the filling between two pieces of sleeping pumpkin sourdough.
When I returned home five days later, my eldest son took it in his stride. My youngest not so much. It has been a week since he cuddled me with his usual affection. There are the physical barriers of ghastly drainage tubes that I carry round in a bag and the mental barriers as well. When the honest toddler came to visit me in hospital three days after I left him at home sick, he would not look at me, he did not want to be put near me. There was a bit of punishment for mum to be dealt out. She abandoned us last week and left us home.
Since arriving home there has been more of the same, Dad is the one he goes to for everything (Which at this point isn’t such a bad thing). Dad is the one to console him. I am like a stranger. I have been moved to the spare room as the marital bed has been taken over by two sick children and a squashed on the edge, contorted husband. Too much noise and movement in there for my liking. So the spare room it is for me.
Hubby is at times buckling under the weight of all this new found pressure of kids wanting him 24/7. As much as Mr Cool can buckle I suppose. I am sure he is also worried about the things he isn’t able to achieve at work. Then there is the missed sessions of training for the Ironman triathlon that is just eleven short weeks away. Training for these events normally keeps him in tip top shape emotionally and physically. He doesn’t know it yet, but I think we might benefit from some couples counselling once the impact of this journey becomes clearer. (I can feel his eyes rolling from another room as I type this!) What is it with men and their dislike for communicating about their feelings?
The flip side of the negative opportunity costs of cancer are some wonderful gains. There will be lots of positives in this experience. Though hard to see now, we might come out the other side of this much closer as a family, we might be grateful for what we have, the small things will mean a lot, we will cherish our time together. Other positive experiences will open up. It’s not what I wanted for my children and family, but it is what it is. We will try and make the best of it.
The other day in hospital I got a visit from a dear friend who I went to university with 14 to 17 years ago. In that time we shared a miners cottage for a while. It was built in the Goldrush days of the 1880’s. Back in this time men grew on average to 5’4″ in height. The door frames and ceilings were just above our heads. I remember us living off a student diet and I used to laugh at him when he used to eat a five bulk pack of two minute noodles out of a large bowl in one sitting. Across all of that passing time, our humour and conversations have not changed, racing along without even a second to catch a breath. He happens to now be a firefighter at one of the largest metropolitan fire stations and as a fluke, it was just two blocks from my hospital. So with schedules on our side, he was able to show my boys around the trucks and station. Something they will cherish for a long time.
Had cancer not happened to me and my family, I wouldn’t have seen him for another five years at least and my boys would not have had this awesome opportunity. So cancer initiates some wonderful opportunities and learning experiences as well. Then there was a visit from a student I taught when I was a lecturer 11 years ago. On her visit, she stole my children’s hearts and then told me some of her internet dating stories. Last week also brought my closest, long term friends in to see me as well. Very special moments.
The events of the last six weeks have opened my heart to just how many wonderfully supportive family and friends I have. Our doorstep has seen the arrival of not one, but two juicers weeks apart from the same people, (incredibly the first to try, and the second, a gift to keep) and I have been given my own pre-purchase intimate iPad demonstration. There have been so many flowers delivered our house feels like a florist. There has been an array of home cooked gourmet meals, get well cards, gifts, and lego mini-figurines for our children. There have been lots of gentle hugs, messages of support, offers to mind the kids (which is the most important job of all). A whole community has opened up that I shamefully never took the time to tune into before. Of course this also includes the hundreds of keyboard warriors who are following me and pulling me out of any dark places I might be heading towards in the coming months.
I am acutely aware of depression sneaking up on me. When it comes, it will be a ‘depression procession’ of sorts. I am also on guard for signs of it in my partner and loved ones. What is surprising about having cancer is once you are okay with it, you begin to tune in to how it effects other people. I was surprised to see one of my dearest long term friends upset when she visited me in hospital the other day, this is a friend who visits hospitals all the time for her profession. She said it was different when it is someone you know. It made me feel like I had been a little selfish holding onto it as only my experience or journey. The impacts are far reaching.
We have entered another cycle of waiting for results. There has been the waiting for diagnosis, waiting for the results of lumpectomy and sentinal node biopsy, waiting for the results of the bone and organ scans (which came back as ALL CLEAR, so nothing major lurking elsewhere at this moment!) and now the waiting for the results of the mastectomy, nodes and nipple scrape and freeze. In all of this you just want to have an idea of the treatment that lays ahead, especially with respect to the chemo regime. It has been one and half months and I, we are still waiting.
Friday. Friday will tell us.
As I type this, my youngest has come into my room to give me a cuddle because they are going out. Day seven and I am back in the ‘need to cuddle Mummy’ books. The oldest is very excited he is off to bush kinder this morning after missing the week with his cold. I have asked him to try and remember some of the details so he can tell me all about it when he gets home. Always, he has a great time, but he often says “I can’t remember what happened” whenever I ask him how it went.
Before leaving he took a photo of me on the iPhone. A portrait of me in these homecoming days. Drains, pillow and the little expander that couldn’t. The breast you can see is the unaltered version. The pillow is needed to alleviate any pressure on my chest or armpit.
When the oldest returned from kinder, he told me about the kid that pushed him over today. Last week, this would have been upsetting. But today, he thought it was funny. This afternoon, he asked Daddy to give him a haircut. He asked for a mowhawk style and Daddy obliged. He is growing up.
I’m hoping that throughout this whole journey, wherever it takes me, there will be no greater ‘flight or fight’ stress response than the one I experienced when I first waited for results between initial biopsies and being told by my GP with a nervous, wry, smile on his face that I have cancer. My fight or flight response went for sixteen days and I don’t ever want to go back to that dark, dreadful place.
Today, I have been totally surprised by my emotional response, or lack there of, to the news I received yesterday. I have gone into logical, planning mode. I even have the desire to clean my house and do some of the jobs I have been neglecting for the last year because I have been busy planning my next fun run, triathlon or sticking to my half marathon training plan. It’s akin to a kind of pregnancy nesting.
Yesterday, we got the early news from the surgeon that the cancer has made it to one of the four nodes removed from my armpit, and there are still cancer cells in my breast post lumpectomy, so yes, it’s back to the hospital in a few days for my second surgery in two weeks. I’m starting to worry about my enjoyment of anaesthesia in a way that Michael Jackson experienced it. To wake from a slumber with a totally relaxed mind and body is bliss. And then the reality and pain slowly come into focus.
This time, my visit to the surgeon with the nice perfume, and the room with the 1970’s wallpaper will entail a full mastectomy, and the removal of all of the lymph nodes under my armpit, and for good measure some reconstructive work done immediately. I hope I get to see the bearded nurses again. As I will attempt to back up my previous visit with some equally engaging chatter and some new comical material. I wonder if they will recognise my blue nipple again?
The surgeon was rushed in her consult yesterday. She had come to hospital just to meet me. There was a plastic surgeon waiting outside the door. On cue, he entered and after polite introductions we got down to the business of what I wanted to look like post mastectomy. I was shocked when presented with a box of breast implants. Oh the enormity of a ‘b’ cup implant. Those things are humongous and scary and my reaction made the plastic surgeon say, “It’s okay, we can also use some of the smaller implants made for ‘Asian’ women”. I still can’t stop laughing about that. All this talk of implants and cup sizes makes me feel like I’m in an episode of Embarrassing Bodies.
I only started to wear a bra in high school because every other girl in the PE change rooms was. Not because I needed any sort of support. And when my best gay friend, JRF, gently suggested to me that at 32 and pregnant, “Darlin’ I think you should be wearing a bra!” as I was, in his eyes, ‘bouncing’ down Chapel Street. I remember looking at myself in the shop windows, to see if his statement had any merit. He was right, I was bouncing and drooping. It never even occurred to me that yes, perhaps it was time for some support.
On a more serious note, the biggest shock in all of this was that the tumour was double the size of the initial tests. But this often happens and it’s more about the pathology process of measuring the way a malignant tumour messily branches out with its twisted and knarled arms. The pathologist measures the full length from branch to branch, through an array of finely sliced segments, not just the overall shape of the mass as ultrasounds and mammograms measure.
Also of shock to me was that my tumour was the fastest growing type one can have, graded three. This made me wonder how fast do these bastards grow? Did it start growing whilst I was out jogging one day late last year? Didn’t it like the music I was playing? Was it fed from my GPS tracker on my iPhone while I was using RunKeeper? The irrational thoughts came streaming, pulsating, coursing through my mind. But, after some initial tears and questions, I was able to pack these thoughts away by closing the the lid on the box. I very quickly returned to my calm, logical planning self.
There were some positives in all of this.
The cancer is very positive for the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which gives me an additional treatment option of long term medications that block the cancer’s ability to feed of these hormones, and if the cancer can’t feed then it can’t grow. So there cancer, take that! Ironically, when we were trying for our children I often wondered if my body was producing enough of these hormones to make and sustain a pregnancy. That sneaky, selfish cancer has been using these hormones to benefit itself.
There will be years of hormone altering medications down the track. And this is quite funny as I have never remembered to correctly take the contraceptive pill. I am also the person who gets a panadol out if I have a bad headache and then forgets to take it. I forget to take my multivitamins. I forget to make the cup of tea from a kettle that has already boiled three times prior.
Apparently, fast growing cancers are also quite vulnerable to the formidable beast of chemotherapy. Rapidly replicating cancer cells shrink and shrivel to nothingness. Or at least that is what I am visualising.
I have also tested negative to the HER2 antibody which is a cellular protein which also speeds up the growth rate of cancer. So that is also a fortunate thing as I won’t need the medication to flick that protein off.
I can’t help feeling how fortunate I am. There are some who have what is called a triple negative cancer, which means these three factors, the two hormones and the HER2 protein are all negative. And these cancers only have chemo and radio as available treatment options. I am lucky, as I have this additional hormone therapy as part of my arsenal.
And the biggest positive of all, is that tonight, in light of more surgery, a lost and altered body part, the prospect of a long recovery, chemotherapy that has again been delayed, with a planned second mastectomy post chemotherapy, life goes on with cancer.
I am going to have a fabulous weekend, lunching, dining and running a 10km fun run with gorgeous, positive, intelligent and spiritually enlightened women. This weekend will be jam packed with many soul sister type experiences and these just fell into my lap today. A fitting way to farewell my 37 year old breast in the coming days. A bon-voyage breast festival of sorts!
And to top all of this off, tomorrow, my gorgeous husband is buying me an iPad!
I remember that blue, arctic fresh, toilet cleaner with the little plastic cable car precariously positioned in the toilet bowl. It was such a feature of going to the toilet at my Nanny’s house in the 1980’s and 90’s. I used to think how fresh and clean her toilet must have been every time it was flushed. I also thought sea water was meant to be blue for a large part of my childhood.
For two days, I have been weeing blue. And I didn’t even notice. I just thought the toilets at hospital had been cleaned.
On Tuesday morning, I had two hook wires inserted into my breast via ultrasound. A bit like being connected to a car battery or hooked on a fishing line. I was then ushered off for a mammogram to x’ray said hook lines to make sure they were embedded in the tumours. I was asked to pose like a Russian gymnast in my undies, while simultaneously bending backwards, toes forwards, whilst leaning a little to the right, no the left, chin up, chin up, into the George Foreman grill. I think I almost pulled a muscle in my lower back.
Luckily the grill wasn’t sizzling hot. But the sensation of squashed breast and skin pulling into a nuclear industrial machine is enough to put anyone off George for life! After that, I got to visit the nuclear department where my nipple was injected with some radioactive substance that burned like acid and photographs were taken of my lymphatic system at 15 minute intervals whilst I laid perfectly still with my arm above my head. See said picture below.
Of course, I have my trusty Instagraming, social media, addicted husband every step of the way to document such humiliating scenarios. Thanks Honey. Love you. Apparently my lymphatic clearance rate was exceptionally quick! Yay me! Winning again!
Finally in the pm and after an all day fast, I went to surgery for my open excision (lumpectomy) and sentinal node biospy. The nurses were hairy with beards. The wallpaper was from the 70’s. The anaesthetist went into my vein and straight out the other side so I asked him if he had eaten his lunch. And I asked my surgeon what her perfume was. I believe she said Angel by Thierry Mugler. So will have to check that one out later. After some idle chit chat and some deep breathing into a mask, I was out. Then they inserted the blue dye into my nipple. This colour, as well as the radioactive substance would show them two things, the blue colouring would show my lymphatic drainage pattern and the radioactive chemical would show hot spots which is where cancer likely is. From there, they excised the tumours and had a fiddle with the nodes to remove those that showed up as being blue, hot or larger than normal.
Two hours later, I was in recovery. Tumourless. Blue dye in my body. Blue tattooed nipple. Blue breast and blue wee. And the blue nipple might stay for a few years. So I’m a bit like the arctic fresh.
A strange calm is hanging over me. There are so many unknowns ahead but the immediacy of the removal of the cancer takes priority.
I have no idea how I will process what lays ahead. My fertility window has just been slammed shut. We were trying for our third child this year and I can’t even connect with what this will mean to me or my husband in the months and years to come. It never occurred to me that the couple of years I still had to add to my family might evaporate into thin air, but it has. At nearly 38, this diagnosis means I’ll be on hormone drugs till I’m 44 and pregnancy hormones feed this cancer. So future pregnancy would be beyond the realms of sensibility.
How will I feel about my changed breast? A lumpectomy, although a small procedure, will pretty much remove half of what I have as there wasn’t much to begin with. I have decided to have this minimally invasive procedure first, (lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy) then treat the cancer asap, and then decide what to do later on with mastectomy and reconstruction or radiotherapy. Statistics for survival are the same with lumpectomy versus mastectomy. With young children a mastectomy would be quite a feat to recover from with groping arms and cuddles and lifting. And we don’t want any complications that would delay chemotherapy from starting. Women can still get breast cancer after a mastectomy, but it tends to be much earlier detected. The surgeon tells me I can keep my nipples, but that one will point under my armpit post surgery. How exciting!
The surgeon has also suggested I have a 30 percent chance of the cancer turning up in my other breast. And that a double mastectomy might be on the cards. The pros for this being I would have “a set” that look the same if I chose to have reconstructive surgery, and I might also get out of having radiotherapy if both breasts are removed. There are some rare cases coming through in research studies where women under 40 who have radio for breast cancer are turning up with radio caused chest, lung, liver and bone cancers in their fifties. Yippee!
How long will all of this it take to heal? How long will it be till I can continue on my distance running quest? Will I ever get to finish a half Ironman Triathlon?
I had so many goals for myself this year. Cancer was not in my plans.
Will they get it all out and what will the pathology results be? Will the nodes be involved? What if they are? What will chemotherapy do to me? Who will look after my kids? Will my husband cope?
I’m hurtling towards some challenging times.