It’s been awhile since I updated this blog. I haven’t even thought of it since January. It’s been a rough few months still adjusting to a baby in the house, finishing up an evangelistic series, and training for a triathlon. The blog fell by the wayside. But now, well, I have some news. I’m anemic.

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“Are you fighting a virus?” The words popped out of my oncologists as he entered the room. I was slightly caught off guard. I had been feeling just fine, just had a little runny nose which I figured was due to the pollen in the air (it is spring after all). He must have seen my questioning look and continued, “You’re blood work is a little wonky. A couple of the areas are flipped that shouldn’t be.” At the same time I found out that my kidney function isn’t exactly working properly, “You need to stop drinking,” he quipped (he knows I don’t drink).

I thought back and realized my daughter has been dealing with some sort of sickness for the last week. Coughing, runny nose, you know, cold stuff. I mentioned that to him and he said that this was probably the problem and that I was fighting a virus. So he scheduled a blood draw for the following week (which was yesterday).

But that wasn’t all the news. He also informed me that I am anemic. Not slightly anemic, not just barely anemic, but anemic. Enough so that he informed me that I needed to get more Iron in my diet ASAP. Everything started to click in my mind and things started falling into place. Over the last few months I’ve been trying to get back in shape to be ready for the Onion Man Triathlon at the end of May. Yet I have been struggling with my breathing quite a bit. I always seem to be out of breath, and I have been tired a lot. It was if a light turned on.

Of course he had some recommendations for me. His usual recommendation for people is meat. As well as knowing that I don’t drink, he also knows I’m a vegetarian, so he had two suggestions: over-the-counter iron supplement, cast-iron skillet. I’ve been clamoring to buy a cast-iron skillet for years, and now I had the prescription to do so, “Oh Julie. My Doctor says I need a cast-iron skillet” (I’ve been waiting years to say something like that).

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What is a anemia? Well you can see from the definition in the picture above that it is a condition where there is either a reduction of red blood cells or reduction in size of hemoglobin. Simply put, the red blood cells and hemoglobin carry oxygen to the various parts of the body that needs it. It’s extremely important for athletes to have larger red blood cells because they will carry more oxygen to the parts of the body that need it during exercise.

(Side note: this is why some cyclists in the past have done blood transfusions during a cycling race. The blood was taken while they had been training at altitude and the red blood cells could hold more oxygen and was put on ice until it was needed. During the race in one of the evenings between stages they would do a transfusion so the cyclists would be ready for the next stage.)

Anemia is not cool. There are many people that deal with anemia, and quite a few of them are vegetarians. It’s harder to get the iron in your blood on a vegetarian diet if you don’t know what to eat. Legumes (lentils, kidney beans), Grains (quinoa, oatmeal), Vegetables (collard greens, swiss chard) are all excellent carriers of iron (Here is a great site by the way dealing with iron for vegetarians).

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Being an athlete and loving triathlons, this was discouraging news. However, I felt as if there was hope. I would start the iron supplement, get the cast-iron skillet, add more foods with iron to my diet and be back to normal by the triathlon. My doctor looked at me and said, “Don’t expect it to happen that quickly. It could take a little longer than that.”

Translation: Don’t expect to break any records at the triathlon and take it easy. That’s what I’ve been planning to do all along. Now that just got a bit harder. I’m determined to compete, but it’s not going to be at a high level, it’s going to be to finish, and to finish strong. I’m a cancer survivor, I will not let this stand in my way.