A friend recently informed me that her mother was diagnosed with a form of cancer and wanted to know, from the patient’s perspective, what is most needed in a situation like this. I remember right after my own diagnosis many people coming forward and asking what I needed, but everything happened so quickly that I didn’t know how to answer. Turns out, there were needs, but I just didn’t know what they were. Those needs were to arise later, after surgery. In the moment, however, I didn’t really need anything I thought. I was physically able, mostly, and just had to run out the clock until surgery, occupying myself with one thing or another. Soon, though, I did need something. Time, space and freedom. I needed the time to figure out what just happened to me, what was going to come and how to handle it all. I needed the space to sit with myself, to sort through my thoughts (often through this blog) and pull from all my previous experiences to find my way through the emotional darkness of it all and find stable ground. Most importantly, I needed the freedom to handle things my own way. I DIDN’T need advice. I DIDN’T need “cures”, “god”, or anything else people wanted to hoist upon me in the moment. What I needed was complete acceptance towards my own way handling my diagnosis. That was all before I got split in two though.
After surgery, I needed much more. I needed the food others cooked for me. I needed comfortable space to lie and recover. I needed, surprisingly, a LOT of quiet. Just normal conversation felt abrasive and I could only withstand about an hour of it before I needed to retreat to my own sort of sensory deprivation environment. But then, I started to get better, and yet, still needed that same sense of freedom to find my way through the stresses. The dynamics of the cancer experience are so continuously shifting that I needed that freedom to adjust and compensate for all the changes. I didn’t need a rigid path of recovery or expectations placed upon the timeline of my life. I didn’t need to get a job as soon as possible, or push myself physically, or anything that others felt I needed. I needed to be comfortable with every decision I made.
And this is what I told my friend, “Ask her what she needs.” Because it may be nothing, or it may be a lot, but it must be trusted that the patient knows best.
Now, in my situation, again counting down the days to my coming surgery, I need that same freedom to prepare..in my own way. And right now, my preparation involves running…as much as possible. Others have expressed their concern with my physical efforts, pushing myself and stressing my systems while cancer and chemo still enact their deteriorating processes on my body. From the outside, I understand why others feel rest is best…but I think they are wrong, on a number of levels. Cancer and chemo are about weakening the body and so it’s a strong body, a “strong terrain”, that is needed to fight back, against both. Then there is the complete destruction that is the surgery I will undergo, and the last thing I want is a weakened body that will deteriorate quicker, with less muscle to waste, with compromised systems that can be ravaged by weeks of passive rest, and a terrain ripe for infection.
And that’s why I’m running right now. I’m trying to get as strong as I possibly can, through the way I know best. I want to be as primed as I can before I’m completely wiped out, knowing that I did everything in my power to hold off the deterioration, to gain even one more day of reserved strength, so that when I’m able to get up and moving again, the recovery will come that much quicker.
“Use it or lose it” is often repeated in running culture, because that’s how the body works. We push and push and push for physical progression, running day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year to reach our individual goals, but the ratio of building to breaking isn’t fair, and as soon as we go sedentary, so do our bodies. Within just a couple weeks all that work we built to the point starts to slip away, and by three weeks we’ve lost a significant portion of that work. A month off and it feels like starting all over again. There is a lot of truth to the “use it or lose it” sentiment, but recovering after so much time off comes back quickly as well. Our body remembers.
And so I’m counting on my body to remember. I’m counting on my body to remember what it is to recover after surgery, and I’m doing that through physical progression, through running. The last thing I need to do is rest. Pretty soon I’ll be resting for weeks and months, weakening and weakening until I get start making forward progress again.
I leave Friday for Ocean City, New Jersey, my own running mecca (out of circumstantial necessity), where I run the boards every summer. I absolutely love it. Last year I wasn’t strong enough to run and resorted to riding my bike up and down the coast, but this year I’m strong again…strong enough, and so I want to make the most of it. This is marathon for the year. This is what I feel like I’ve been working towards, to again experience the joy and exhaustion of early morning runs along the boards next to the beach, with no other care but to finish the distance. And if everything goes well, I hope to get in one 20 miler to finish the week, as a last hurrah, before I come home and prepare for surgery, to not run for months and months and months. Ugh.
I know some would not like me to press myself so much. I know some want me to rest, to relax, to prepare for surgery by…well…preparing for surgery, I guess. But here’s the thing…that’s not what I NEED.
I know what I need and right now I need to run. For more reasons than just physical strength, I need to run more than anything else right now. So that’s what I’m going to do.
Speaking of running, the More Fire Run will be held on Sunday, August 10th (the day before I go in for surgery). It would be awesome if as many of my friends (that’s you) could come out and join in on the fun that day. Click the image at the top right to get the details.
Finally, when I get knocked out by anesthesia on the morning of the 12th, I’ll be out for days. Some of those days I’ll be kept alive by machines, but when I come to, it would be awesome to see what running fun I missed. If you feel so moved, feel free to hashtag #morefirerun on your running photos that day, so I can wake to images of friends out enjoying life and give me something to escape to instead of focusing on the hospital environment. Thanks.