At the most simple, unassuming times I am struck with two realizations.
First, I HAVE CANCER.
And second, I AM NOT DYING.
They don’t always run in that order or even follow each other consecutively, but they enter my thoughts often. I know they come, because I’m being reminded, not allowed to forget, that the first is my reality and the second is my hope. They are unusual, out of place, even awkward. They come and they stay, because this is not the reality of most in my situation. I remind myself of these two realities for good reason, lest I become drawn to the extremes of either, to continue through my days with drive and purpose.
It’s true, I do have cancer. Somewhere within me there are cells, defined as cancerous, that have circumvented the checks and balances of my biology and spiraled out of control, reproducing wildly and chaotically, threatening my life. I have cancer because I am told the scans show it. I am told these cells have gathered somewhere near my colon, too precariously out of reach from the surgeon’s knife, for now. I am told they are cancerous, but to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what that means, because the last time we checked they were not STILL reproducing. They had been stunted, frozen, paused in their selfish survival objectives. If this is true, it does not mean they aren’t still cancer, but does it mean they are cancerous, and will they reanimate at some point to continue with their objectives. I don’t know, but I do know they are there…in me. I have them. I guess they are “mine”. But we aren’t buds…I’ll assure you that much.
I have cancer, and although the reality informs my life greatly, it does not own my thoughts. It only creeps in when the rest of my mind goes quiet. It comes when I stop thinking about running. It comes when I stop thinking about design. It comes when I stop thinking about my son. It comes when I’m walking down the street holding a pizza box in my hands, driving to pick up Laura from work, sometimes engaged in conversation with friends…it comes when I feel the LEAST that I do have cancer. It reminds me.
It comes when I’m running.
It DEFINITELY comes when I’m running, because if there is ever a time when I feel like I have cancer the least, it’s when I’m running.
And yet, this is also the time I’m reminded…I AM NOT DYING.
I was dying. Believe me, I was absolutely dying, about a year and a half ago. I was apparently closer to death than I’ve really come to admit to myself, because despite my ability to run, despite all efforts to ignore the physical concerns I was having, the cells that remain in me somewhere had reproduced to the extent they were siphoning all my life-support to continue theirs. I was so close to dying that the surgery necessary to keep me alive was scheduled just 3 weeks from the first appointment with my surgeon. Other appointments were moved to make room for mine. I didn’t realize it, but I was dying, which is funny because no one had yet to remind me, or even tell me, YOU HAVE CANCER. But for sometime leading up to that point, I did have cancer, and I was dying.
And then I had surgery. And a year of chemo. And endless months of continuous recovery, degeneration, recovery, degeneration, recovery, strength, degeneration, strength. And a whole lot of living. Somewhere in the timeline between surgery and the present day, the scans told us the cancer had seemingly given up, held off, backed down, froze. They stopped growing, reproducing, doing their cancerous things…and I had continued living, actually getting stronger despite the initial surgery, and the subsequent chemo treatments. They were strong, but I was getting stronger. I was able to put on weight, to eat, to put on muscle, to work, to run. That is not dying. Dying is getting weaker, thinner.
I am reminded of this, because it’s not how the circumstance usually plays out, that despite having cancer, one is not dying. I’m not. I’m not dying. Until the scans show the cancer growing again, I’m not dying.
I HAVE CANCER because 2 months ago I was lying in a hospital bed, unconscious, a machine breathing for me, being pumped full of chemotherapy just days after being sliced in two, unable to think, write, or communicate. I was, by most conscious definitions, not dying..but dead.
But I AM NOT DYING…because 2 months later, today, I put my backpack in a gym locker, tightened my shoelaces, and ran into the street and up the trail for 6 miles, at 7:15 pace, as a workout led by my coach. I’m not dying because I’m now TRAINING, not just running, not just rehabilitating my body, but pushing my new and temporary thresholds to new temporary mile markers of effort. I’m not dying, because someone tried to pass me today towards the end of my run, but only made it another 400 meters before they slowed to a crawl as I kept going, finishing my 6 miles at a “moderate” pace. And that, is my favorite reminder of my two realities.
I HAVE CANCER. I AM NOT DYING.
And for you, for all of us, the timeline has a definitive end…no matter how it may come, and we must continue to remind ourselves, WE WILL DIE, but that does not mean WE ARE DYING. We must simply make efforts to actually live. Remind yourself.