Adjusting Expectations

The “cancer dates” catch me off guard now, but on this day 2 years ago I ran my last pre-surgery / pre-chemo run, which despite being nearly fatally filled with tumors and cancerous mucin, I was at almost full capacity and could run without concern. My legs remained strong and my lungs could fill completely with oxygen. I had no concerns and runs were swift, powerful…and enjoyable. No matter, that evening a pain filled my abdomen that never really subsided until about 3 weeks later when I found myself lying on my back and being wheeled into surgery. What followed has been 2 years that, at times, seems to have gone at snail’s pace, and then at other times, seems to have passed in a blink.

It has been, despite all the complications and struggles, a very rewarding and fulfilling time in my life. I’m not afraid to admit that anymore, despite the perception that I may actually WANT cancer. I don’t. But there is something to be said about making the most of a shitty situation. Still, not all is so great, despite my ambitions.

I always said, no matter what cancer takes away from me, I won’t let it take away my running if I can help it. Mostly, I’ve kept to that promise. I ran as soon as I could after the first surgery. I ran through chemo. I prepared for surgery by running. I started running very soon after the second surgery. And now I’m back to training, trying desperately to push my thresholds back to previous levels…and that’s where my trouble and apprehension begins.

Something isn’t right. I can’t tell you what it is, and I can’t point to any articles that might explain away my struggling, but I can tell you that running isn’t anywhere near what it used to be. Now, I’m not saying cancer has taken running from me. No, I’m certainly not admitting defeat that easily, but it has changed what running is at this moment. To be succinct, it’s not easy….at least not in the way it used to be or how I want it to be. And I’m struggling with this.

Right now, despite the full on training I’m carrying out with my coach, it seems as if I’ve hit a 7:00 / mile wall, that simply won’t budge. I’m used to running into a wall of abilities and incrementally pushing it forward, but this time it’s not moving. No matter how many miles I run, how many workouts I stack on top of each other, no matter how many sub 5:00 intervals I run, the 7:00 / mile threshold is not dropping. Other competitive runners might be compelled to point out training volumes and the coming taper period and all those sports science considerations, and believe me, they run through my mind as well, but I also know something else is going on. It’s just different.

I don’t want to blame cancer…or more realistically, cancer treatments, but the more I run and the more I stay at this level, it’s hard to ignore. To describe it physically, it feels like anytime I dip under 7:15/7:00 pace, my heart rate sky rockets and I can’t manage in legs or lungs. Everything just turns into a full on effort. 6:00 is no different than 6:30 is no different than 6:45, and it’s only until I get back to 7:00 or 7:15 pace that I feel I can manage any endurance. It’s quite demoralizing. I have no range and I have no speed. I just have running at 7:00 / 7:30 pace as if it’s a walk in the park…and that’s it.

So yeah, something isn’t right. And that worries me, because every physical issue always raises the concern of cancer. I can’t deny, with another CT scan on the horizon, the concern of my cancer growing has me worried. I don’t think about it often, really, but it’s never too far out of reach, and although I try not to get comfortable in my physically able state…sometimes I get a little too optimistic, or naive, or distracted.

Right now I’m running in what I keep calling “a window of opportunity”, which lies between my last surgery and this chemo-free period of time before my next surgery. I’m trying to make the most of it, hence this fundraiser and running outside of any previous limits, but I need to be careful not to get too comfortable, because I also know, with cancer, this window can come slamming shut. I’ve seen it happen to other friends and I certainly don’t want to deal with it myself.

I’m not internalizing this concern, however, or accepting it as a “fear” of cancer. I’m physically able, and the demands of this benefit run, no matter how testing they will be, I believe are within my range of possibility. I’m just more frustrated that, at this moment, running isn’t the experience it once was and I’m finding that I have to adjust to my circumstances and abilities in order to bring it back into perspective, give it longevity, and find the same value I did with progressing my competitive abilities as I did in the past…but this time in different ways.

Cancer hasn’t taken running from me yet, and I’m going to work to make sure that doesn’t happen. In the present, the treatments have taken my competitive abilities and potential to push further into faster territory, but I haven’t written off the possibilities just yet. I know the body has an incredible ability to regenerate itself, and I’m hoping I can facilitate that through continuous training. Even so, if I’m damaged enough that I can’t get faster, that I can’t maintain previous levels of intense pacing, I can still endure. I can still go and go and go, and that running experience is just as fulfilling as it is to run fast. Part of the reason I’m doing this fundraiser, to the extent that I’m running as far as I am, is because I AM confident that I have this in me, that I CAN run like this, and so it’s my responsibility to make the most of it.

Barring the window of opportunity slamming down on my aspirations, I’m going to run again and again and again, enjoying myself with each step, with each struggle, no matter that I won’t be pinning on a bib number and going for another win. For now, it’s going to be about the continuous experience and not the superhuman aspirations. I can live with cancer and I can live with that.

Because We Can – Introduction Video

Junk Miles & Peanut Butter Jars

The running community debates the merit of “junk miles” every so often, which I assume is instigated by those who simply don’t want to run as much as they feel is necessary. The argument is that miles run at deliberately slow paces do nothing to advance one towards their specific running goals, whether that is being able to run faster or further, and so it would be equally beneficial (and comforting) to just NOT RUN. Well, wouldn’t that be nice. The converse to this argument, is that if one must run at certain, more difficult paces (or distances) in order to get better and better, then every run must be taxing. We know, however, the body’s ability to recover and regenerate over measured periods of times doesn’t allow for running all out, EVERY DAY.

The decades of running science has proven that we need days of easy running interspersed with our harder days, allowing the body to recover and get stronger, letting us run even harder and further downy the line. The question still remains, however..is it just as beneficial to NOT run instead of going at a slow, recovery pace…you know, “junk miles”?

Running science saves the day again, and it has been measured over and over that there are specific fitness benefits that come from running slowly in between our days of running hard. Those “junk miles” actually have value in training our body to burn fat along with carbohydrates for endurance fueling. They also continue to strengthen specific oxygen delivery systems through low stress runs, while allowing various muscles to adapt to low impact forces. Overall though, they keep the base level of fitness already achieved from backsliding by any degree, simply by adding minimal stresses to all the necessary systems, without dragging them into a state of extended recovery. “Junk miles” are, in no way, junk.

To illustrate this with the most simple of measurements, there is a noticeable advantage for runners who log 50 miles a week by running every day (no matter how periodically slow) compared to runners who might log 30 miles a week by skipping every other day. The accumulated strengthening and development of oxygen delivery adds up. The proof is in the race results.

So, what in the world does this have to do with peanut butter jars?

I’m not the best with finances, not because I don’t know how to manage them, but because I rarely have any to manage. No worries, I get by on creativity and consistent hard work. What I have found, however, is when I have money and put it aside (instead of in my bank account) it tends to accumulate. I don’t mean sticking it in my savings account or anything relatively abstract like that, but taking ACTUAL REAL MONEY and putting it aside. Say..in a peanut butter jar.

When I was a kid (ok, a non-adult kid), I would get an allowance, which I saved for months at a time just to buy the latest Iron Maiden cassette or similar musical offering. I would often stick the dollar a week into a certain hiding place around my room, only to go back to it or discover it weeks later, realizing I had enough to buy the cassette and commence to rocking out. The lesson I learned from those early days of navigating capitalism was an easy one, out of sight out of mind. If I couldn’t see the money, it was basically not there and I couldn’t spend it. That money, however, still accumulated…no matter how little I added to the hiding spot.

As an adult, I don’t necessarily need a hiding spot to stash my money, but I still recognize the value of slow accumulation. What I do now is, first, clean out one of my continuously emptying peanut butter jars, and then put a dollar in it. An ACTUAL dollar, then slowly, when I find myself holding onto a bit of change or another dollar, or five, or whatever…with no necessity to spend it on…it goes into the jar.

It’s like financial junk miles.

I put five actual dollars in the jar, just like I run five slow miles. It seems as if the money is not helping anything, going unused, and of no substantial amount…just like slow miles seem to not be helping anything, going unused, and of no substantial amount. We know, however, that accumulation is what counts, and although 5 simple miles or 5 simple dollars do not amount to much on their own, when taken as accumulative efforts…adding to the jar of miles or the jar of dollars…suddenly, when it counts…on race day…or when it’s time to buy that wood stove/garden starts/pay for college/etc,…there is suddenly tremendous accumulated value. Nothing about those miles or dollars were ever junk.

And that brings me back to the Because We can run fundraiser.

Some of you have the fortune (literally?) of donating to Family Reach with no sacrifice, and I thank everyone who have already donated with all the gratitude I can muster. You are directly and immediately making the lives of cancer patients better. There is no risk of return in your donation. What you put in can be measured in paid bills and emotional sanity.

For those of you (us) who aren’t so fortunate to often have disposable income to dispose of, who cut coupons and weigh the value of organic vs. rent at the grocery store, I ask of you this…buy a jar of peanut butter.

Eat that jar of peanut butter…the sooner the better, for all of us! Then put that jar on your counter, in a cabinet, in your car, or anywhere that allows easy access. Then put a dollar, or five, in there. Then over the coming days and weeks and months, keep adding to it. Put change and dollars and ACTUAL MONEY into that jar, not keeping a tally of how much is in it, but just letting it slowly, incrementally accumulate. Then at some point, whether periodically throughout my fundraiser or all at once towards the end, count it up and donate it to Family Reach. I think you’ll be surprised just how much of an accumulated benefit you can create a little at a time…and to think, you accumulate this with little expense and sacrifice, but the reward to the families managing cancer will be a veritable fortune, both financially and emotionally.

As a runner who loves peanut butter, understands the obstacles of cancer, and makes due financially, I assure you, the small efforts you make are in no way “junk”, but actual treasure that pay off massively when it really counts.

www.stayclassy.org/becausewecanrun

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Run :
6 “Junk” miles

Food :
Special Magic Oatmeal
Stir Fry w/ yellow pepper, mushroom, spinach, & tempeh
Homemade oatmeal cookies
Coffee
Snacks, dinner, etc. still to be eaten

Music :
This Is Hell – Black Mass

The Cumulative Reward

The sky was like a groggy, half-opened eye this morning, reflecting my own level of energy and enthusiasm to head out into the cold rain and put in a number of interval efforts. I just couldn’t work up the motivation to embrace the absurdity this morning, so decided to hold off and do the run after the rain stopped. The rain, however, didn’t stop. And the temperature didn’t rise. But the run still had to be completed.

A few cups of coffee later, my eyes opened a little wider than the sky and I steeled myself to run into the chilled air, taking on the weight of the equally chilled rain absorbing into my clothes. I had a set of 1:00 hard effort intervals to complete in the middle of my 8 mile run, but the weather wasn’t willing to bend to my desires and let me just concentrate on the workout.

When is the weather perfect for running though?

Every day will not be sunny, windless, and somewhere between 50 and 60 degrees, right? But we still get out and run. We run when it’s raining. We run when it’s snowing. We run when the humidity is suffocating. We run when the cold is biting. We run, because we know it’s better than NOT running. It’s never perfect, but that’s not the point, because the cumulative reward is always better than the momentary struggles. That is our goal, to manage through the low points, the obstacles, the chilled rain, to be able to look back and say, “Yeah, overall, the running is worth it. The total run is awesome.”

Kinda like life, right? When I’m on my deathbed (crossing fingers it’s later and not sooner) I want to look back and say, “Man, there were some dark times and some struggles and some regrets, but overall…that shit was awesome. I lived a good life, did what I could to reduce harm to others, and made the most of every day, even when things weren’t so great.”

And so I put on my gloves and light jacket over my long sleeve and shorts, and I headed out the doors of the gym into the lightly falling, but noticeably chilling rain. I worked my way through the warmup miles, then launched into a set of 1:00 hard, 2:00 easy intervals, letting my heart rate beat against my desire to stop, and built a fatigue into my legs. I soaked up the chilling rain, pushing back with self-created core body heat, and relaxed through the last cool down mile, enjoying the less than perfect weather.

I knew I was adding another successful effort to the greater, cumulative experience of running, no matter the weather wasn’t what runners would consider ideal. In the moment, it may have felt more a struggle than I often prefer, but it’s the complete experience enabled through finishing the effort that ultimately proves to be, actually, perfect.

Deeper considerations aside, running through adversity builds a certain toughness that can’t be denied. I will undoubtedly tap into this reserve when the going gets tough on the Because We Can run, which I know WILL get tough. The experience overall, I imagine, will make the struggle pale in comparison.

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Run :
8 miles with 1:00 hard / 2:00 easy intervals

Food :
Special Magic Oatmeal
Coffee
Quinoa with spinach and spaghetti sauce
Indian food (chana massala, aloo madras, rice, samosa)
Peanut butter and bananas on whole wheat sandwich
Banana
Dinner and snacks not yet to be eaten

Music :
Throwdown – Deathless

The “We”

When I initiated this fundraiser, I was utilizing the typical response given for runners’ motivations, “Because I Can,” but that only spoke to my involvement. Yeah, this was my idea, and I’m the one who’s going to be doing the running, and I’m the one writing the press releases, designing the logos, seeking out sponsors, and all that fun stuff, but this is, by no means, a solitary endeavor. This is not just about what I can do. This is for all of us, by all of us. It is the WE.

Because I could never do this alone. I need the assistance of the WE, of the sponsors who will help supply the shoes, the nutrition, and the trailer to help me get down the state, but most importantly, the financial donations of each generous individual to aid the recipients, the cancer patients, and the families managing cancer treatments through Family Reach programs. This MUST be a collective effort, even if I’m the only one doing the running.

Because although I can, WE are what will make this fundraiser count. WE are who will be able to assist those in such desperate need.

And yet, although there is something we all can do for others, there is always something WE need as well. And I want to address that too, but not as an act of charity, rather an act of mutual accomplishment.

I’m going to be running down the state, 50 miles a day, for 7 days straight…and I keep saying that because the potential to do so still leaves me apprehensive, and that’s a good thing. I’m going to do this…even though I’ve never proven that I can. Still, I’m going to try and I’m going to succeed, because I have to, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy or that I’m running entirely within my means, my proven boundaries, my understood potential and perceptions. I’m not…and that’s why this matters to me. I want to do more.

I’m also asking YOU to do more, but I’m not asking because I can do so with no skin off my back…which is why I’m putting my money where my mouth is, or where my feet are…but to reach new potentials together. If there is something WE can do together in this fundraiser, besides raise money for cancer patients and their families, it’s prove to ourselves that we have so much more potential than we know, that we can do so much more for ourselves than we are led to believe, that we are capable of so much more.

And that is the other component of the Because WE Can slogan.

We can all afford to spare finances, no matter how little, but when do we ever really put ourselves out there, ever put our abilities on the line, ever look at our perceived boundaries and potential and say, “That’s just an abstract…I can do more.”

If there is ever an important endeavor for us to take in our lives, it’s continuing to push against our perceived boundaries to see just what we can really do, especially as adults who have built empires of poor behaviors that pile up on top of each other, blocking our view of who we can really be. Adulthood is too often marked as a state of passivity, of learned and repeated behaviors that can’t be overcome and so one should not even try. It is a massive billboard that simply reads, CAN’T.

And that’s not true.

Whether that is your ability to lose weight. Whether that is your ability to get stronger. Whether that is your drive to find a more rewarding job, to downsize, to run further and faster, to leave an abusive relationship, to open yourself emotionally, to learn new skills, to find greater and greater confidence…to simply become a better person by your definitions…we can.

Now, don’t take this as some abstract, feel good, internet meme sloganeering, because that is not the social capital in which I deal. I mean that WE CAN become better, in honest, genuine, TANGIBLE ways. The path to doing so can be varied for each individual, but the path does exist and it’s up to each of us to find a way to become better, to living our perceived heaven in the now.

For me, this run is very much part of that drive to become better, to find new boundaries, to test my potentials and see how far I can take them.

And for what it’s worth. I have cancer. I tell myself this from time to time, because the narrative that comes along with this forced identity is one of being unable, of being sickly, weak, compromised…dying. But no matter how much truth resides in those descriptors, they aren’t ENTIRELY true. So part of this run is to say, WE CAN do more, and I’m going to prove it, WITH cancer, as one more way of erasing the excuses we accept into our lives, that limit our potentials, that keep us confined in so many unhealthy, abusive situations through only our accepted limited potentials.

I want this run and this fundraiser and this effort to be for all of us, for the cancer patients and their families, for myself, for our potential, for the push to become better, kinder, more understanding, more caring, more honest, more genuine individuals.

I’m going to do this Because I Can, but also to prove that WE CAN.

Let’s start with donating to those who are so (temporarily) limited by finances, chemotherapy, and cancer…then move ahead with finding new potentials in ourselves.

http://www.stayclassy.org/becausewecanrun

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In addition to blogging about my thoughts on running, this fundraiser, veganism, life, cancer, etc., I also want to get back to documenting my training and eating, like I did leading up to my marathon back in 2009. I plan on posting a small summary (periodically) at the end of each blog post…if that’s something your interested in.

Run :
6 mile recovery run and Strength routine

Food :
Oatmeal (w/ flax, chia, banana, blueberries, peanut butter, almonds, walnuts, brown sugar)
2 clementines and 2 bananas
Ugo bar
Beanoa (quinoa, salsa, spinach, mushrooms, pepper)
Dates
Tortilla chips
Granola
Quinoa w/ spinach and pasta sauce
Coffee

Music :
Stick To Your Guns – Disobedient

Learning Experiences

Each run is a learning experience, and for those of us trying to push our boundaries, it’s a definite, measurable learning experience. We attempt to learn if we’ve adapted to previous training stresses, if our recovery runs feel easier, if we can drop our mile paces, if we can push further into a distance without increasing fatigue. We take these learning experiences and bring them with us to race day, drawing on them to convince ourselves to run as hard as we can, bumping against our thresholds, screaming out the voice inside telling us to back off, and get to the finish quicker than we ever have.

My learning experiences, however, aren’t as defined as they once were, when I used them for the above purposes. Nothing is as predictable and measured as it used to be. But I’m still learning. Each run out I’m testing myself, at times measuring my abilities to my pre-cancer days, but more often trying to measure them against my recent abilities post-surgery. I’m learning that I’m getting better, yes, but not on the same trajectory as I’m accustomed. Progressions aren’t as quick, nor are they as significant. I feel like I’m pushing a wall forward only in centimeters where I used to move it in feet.

This morning I had a workout consisting of descending miles with increasing paces. I was to run 3 miles at marathon goal pace (whatever that is), recover, then 2 miles at half marathon goal pace (whatever that is), recover, then a mile at 5k pace (again…whatever that is). I went through my normal warmup at around 7:00 to 7:15 pace before beginning my drills. Pushing into the first effort I decided to just take it easy, run a little faster than warmup pace and see what happened. Looking at my watch for the first mile marker, it read 6:34, a surprisingly quick effort for not really trying…and yet, I could already feel my lungs resisting the pace. I tried to stay calm going through the second mile at the same pace and then finishing the third with noticeably increased heart rate at the same. It was a solid effort, but not sustainable for a marathon by any means.

I recovered a mile and then started in on the next two at 1/2 marathon pace, putting in a little more speed and muscle tension, going through the first mile at 6:18 and managing to finish the second with the same consistency, and same rate of increased heart rate.

I was learning my abilities again.

I recovered a half mile and started the final mile at a 5k pace, which brought me in at 6:00 minutes per mile flat, needing to push against my heart rate for the final 400 to make it in even.

Ignoring my pre-cancer abilities, I was satisfied with these efforts, keeping in mind that I’m still in the thick of half marathon training, fatigued with 60 – 70 mile weeks, and looking at another month of training with taper weeks leading into my goal race. What I learned, though, isn’t so satisfying, because it’s consistently confusing. I was glad to have been able to drop each pace at a significant pace, even though I could tell they weren’t necessarily applicable to the distance should I need to run the whole thing, but more problematic was how quickly I lost a comfortable heart rate. My lungs seem to have fallen far behind my legs. Or just can’t catch up….or something else is going on.

The encouraging lesson is that I’m continuing to build my muscular base and am able to run through these efforts with form and without fatigue, able to push from the ground instead of just falling forward into the distance, catching myself with each turnover. This is a recent change and is a sign of progress. My lungs, however, seem to have two measures, on and off. The easy, effortless warmup and cool down pace is a consistent 7:00 to 7:15 pace, that feels like I could run forever, and yet the second I start to push into quicker pacing, my lungs revolt and my heart rate skyrockets. I can’t keep it calm and getting oxygen to my muscles becomes harder deeper into the run.

I’ve never experienced anything like this and I’m not sure how to respond.

Still, I’ve made progress and I’ve learned that 7:00 pace is a walk in the park. We’ve forced my body this far.

Admittedly, for race day, this isn’t very encouraging. I race to push hard, but right now, pushing hard means blowing up. The second I begin to push I seem to also begin a drop, a backslide in pace and strength. But the idea of running 13.1 miles at an effortless warmup pace is NOT inspiring. Come race day, though, maybe things will have changed and my range of ability will have grown to at least a degree that I can push and suffer all the way through the finish. That’s what I hope to have learned.

On the other hand, as I look ahead to the Because We Can run, I’m learning that my ability to endure the distance might be much greater than I’ve initially perceived. I know that much about myself, that if I drop the pace enough, I can run a long, long time, while still keeping the effort at a respectable level (by my standards). So if these workouts are teaching me anything about my abilities, it’s that, if I can’t push towards speed, I can at least hold strength through the distance.

And I still have 5 months to build, hopefully learning more and more about my abilities, building an increased range of pacing, and increasing my ability to endure and recover, which will become crucial when the 50 miles a day starts and begins to accumulate upon itself.

But first, I will learn what I can do for 13.1 miles on May 2nd, and then we’ll see what I can do with 50 miles, 7 days in a row. Whatever happens, it’s going to be one hell of a learning experience.

Because We Can – A More Fire Run (down the State of Indiana)

THE QUESTION

It’s a common question runners have to answer.

“Why?”

As in, “Why do you run? Why do you run a mile? Why do you run 5ks? Why do you run marathons? For goodness sakes, WHY?!”

A common response by runners to this question of “Why?” is often as simplistic as the question.

“Because I can.”

Admittedly, it’s something of a tongue in cheek response, answering taunt for taunt, but the reality is, the reasons why individuals choose to run are quite varied, complex, meaningful, and deeper than just, “Because I can.” Personally, I always tried to give the question a more dignified response, touching on the actual, very real, deeply felt reasons as to why I do choose to run. Depending on the moment, it could be about that feeling of superhuman strength, it could be for the power and health it affords me, it could be about the camaraderie I feel among others, it could be about engaging with the natural world, it could be about making the most of every day by seeking a passionate intense experience every time I step out the door. It could be all those things, but not just “because I can”.

Until now.

Suddenly, one of my fundamental reasons to run is simply, “Because I can.” And I mean it. But I don’t mean it just because I have discovered an ability to run or an enjoyment of running, but because it was conveyed to me that I could very well NOT be running right now. I could very well not be BREATHING. It was relayed to me that I could very well be dead by now if it wasn’t for taking risks, modern medicine, and dumb luck. So when I say, “I run because I can”, it doesn’t always veil anything deeper than that. There are moments now, when I’m out running, that I can step out of my thoughts and realign to the surroundings, feeling the cold air upon exposed skin, listening to birdsong and the rhythm of my breathing, and become absorbed by an intense sense of appreciation for the act, for being out there, for running, no matter how much I may be struggling in the moment. I know, fundamentally, I’m doing it because I can. And that’s all I need anymore.

Because I know what it is to “can’t”. I know what it feels like when you can’t do something as simple as sit up in bed because a knife ran down the middle of your abdomen and split you in two, rendering all muscular strength void. I know what it feels like when you can’t walk to the kitchen because the effects of chemo have filled your feet with such sensitivity and pain that you almost fall over as soon as you try to stand up. I know what it feels like when you can’t go to the bathroom because all the drugs and toxins have shut your entire digestive systems down. I know what it feels like when you can’t imagine or plan your life a year out because it isn’t guaranteed that you’ll be alive for that long. I’ve known too much of what I can’t do.

But then, I know what it is to “can”. I know what it feels like to say, “I can walk, then run, then keep running.” I now know I CAN help my body get stronger and repair the damage done through surgery and chemotherapy. I know I CAN run a mile, then four, then ten, then feel the sensation of never stopping. I know I can start to build my life back, to get healthy again, then to surpass some base level of fitness and start to push towards superhuman status again. I know I can feel unstoppable, unkillable, yet again, because I’m doing it right now. I know, above all else, I can get better and better no matter how much, at one point, I couldn’t get better. I know I’m not confined.

THE FINANCIAL SIDE OF CANCER

And yet…I am, in ways. I can live against cancer and feel in love with my life again, but I also know I’m never done with cancer, especially right now. This disease still confines me, if not physically, then financially. And that is the point I want to drive home here.

Cancer is bad enough. Not being able to imagine your life into the future, knowing your perceived timeline has been potentially cut short, and the emotional weight of navigating all that is bad enough. But then there is the treatment. The physical deterioration of surgery and chemotherapy can never be understated. No one, except those who have gone through treatment, can really understand how bad it is, how it can crush the spirit of even the strongest character, how you may carry the scars and damage the rest of your life. But those are the parts of cancer everyone knows. This is what the public always hears about and the cancer patient initially dreads. We think about shaved heads, dark corners, and funerals…but that’s not the end of it.

If it’s not those stresses, then it’s the financial damage. The first blow to one’s sense of calm is managing the healthcare component. There are surgery costs, medicines, treatments, unforeseen problems that many assume they will encounter. Fortunately, there are programs and institutions to help alleviate as much of these concerns as possible. There is healthcare, debt forgiveness programs, charity services, etc., to help manage the medicinal side of cancer. But it doesn’t end there. If you are lucky enough to get through all that, you then have the burden of general living expenses, and this is the part most people DON’T consider, patients and public alike.

There is a significant gap of aid in our economy that swallows a great many people going through various economic adversity. That gap is a space where an individual can’t make enough money to comfortably make ends meet, but they make too much to qualify for any sort of government aid. I’ve found myself close to and firmly in that gap throughout my life, while also watching friends and loved ones fall into it all the same. It’s an awful place to be. For some, they were laid off from their job with no safety net to catch them. For others, they simply had a child and needed to navigate the healthcare system with inadequate health insurance. Others, like myself, were swallowed by the gap when unforeseen health problems sprung up. This gap between qualifying for government aid and being paid enough to not need aid is far larger than most realize and tends to grab many intelligent, self-reliant individuals without warning. Personally speaking, for cancer patients, that gap is not only a reality, but also another emotionally frightening stressor added to the rest.

To highlight this with my own experience…I’m doing great, physically speaking. My cancer is not growing (as of the last scan) and I am not on chemo at the moment. My surgery and treatment were also so extensive and costly, not to mention I entered the world of cancer without insurance, that I was eligible and aided with full coverage through Medicaid and Food Stamps. Now, I absolutely would prefer to NOT rely on these programs, but I’m certainly glad they are there and helping me through this. That is not the end of the story though. Although my medical bills are covered at this point, after surgery and during chemo I was unable to work and so could not generate the funds to pay for my mortgage, utilities, food, and other expenses. I, however, managed to cover these expenses through fundraisers held by friends on my behalf and I am endlessly, wordlessly grateful for this communal aid. I could NOT have covered my expenses without this help and I shudder to think what I would have lost without them. Additionally, I cringe at the tragic situations many others find themselves without support structures to lean upon, emotional or financial.

It is this “general living expenses” aid that is so crucial to cancer patients while undergoing their treatments, but is often unrecognized by the public. If it’s not cancer or chemo, then it’s the heat bill.

I want to reiterate, one more time, how crucial it was that friends and the wider community came to my aid after diagnosis and raised money for my general living expenses. The generosity of the extended community allowed me to eat well, keep my house, and take care of my son when I had him. And it wasn’t just that I could cover those expenses, but that it also gave me a buffer of time to concentrate on my physical recovery after surgery without undue stress. Dealing with the effects of surgery and chemo were bad enough, but I was fortunate that I didn’t have to stress about finances and working while dealing with the rest. That is immeasurably valuable. Covering general living expenses for cancer patients allows them the space and comfort to focus on “the fight” and this is part of the cancer experience I feel is often overlooked among the many other issues we address.

BECAUSE WE CAN

Right now, “I can”, meaning I am able to get by and concentrate less on my struggles and more on others, which brings me to the final point of this post. I’ve felt very driven to address this oversight in the cancer experience and take the opportunity I’ve found for myself to help others in their own fights against the “unseens” with cancer, such as paying the bills, getting good food into their bodies and alleviating the stresses of making ends meet. With this in mind, I’m organizing a fundraising effort outlined below.

This fundraiser was motivated by watching a friend suddenly fall into that economic gap I outlined above. She was rediagnosed with a second type of cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment after her first surgery, and although she had a relatively successful fundraiser before all this began, the unexpecteds have begun to pile up. She’s had longer hospital stays than planned, side effects of treatment that have necessitated further drugs and potential surgeries, with no end in sight. In short, she needs financial help, and I want to offer that to her, to help her pay for general living expenses on top of the medical bills, to alleviate the stresses she shouldn’t have to worry about as she concentrates on her physical self.

As a young adult with cancer and immediate financial need, she became eligible for a grant through a program created by Family Reach, an organization that addresses these financial concerns to which I’m trying to bring awareness. I want to raise a considerable amount of money for Family Reach, which focuses on providing financial aid to cancer patients for medical costs, but also general living expenses through open-ended grants. These types of organizations and programs are so crucial for the reasons I addressed above, and they seem to be too few, in my opinion. I know how valuable they are because I benefited and still benefit from the same generosity offered to me through my friends, but there are so many without a community as large and generous as mine, and need this support. So I’m asking for your help…or at least asking you to ask for other’s help.

In short, I’m going to raise $50,000 for Family Reach.

To detail this number, we could formulate endless ways this amount of aid can benefit patients and their families, alleviating the concerns in their life that take away from concentrating on the energy they need to just stay alive. For $50,000, we could:

– Pay rent/mortgage ($500) for 10 families for 10 months each.
– Pay utility bills ($250) for 10 families for 20 months each.
– Pay for groceries ($500) for 10 families for 10 months each.

And so on. The value of this type of fundraising is measurable in this regard, but as someone who has gone through (is going through) the cancer experience, I can tell you it’s the IMMEASURABLE value that really matters. It’s the piece of mind that comes with navigating the emotional weight and darkness of cancer, by not having to worry about losing your house, having the utilities shut off, not having high-quality food in your house, not being able to contribute to your child, that REALLY matters. This ability to concentrate on cancer instead of struggling through everything else is crucial to coming out on top of cancer.

And so I’m asking for your help.

THE FUNDRAISER

I’m not a cancer survivor. I’m a cancer “surviving”, as in I still have cancer, and I’m still moving forward. I have regained many of my physical abilities since my last surgery, enabling me to strive along with the cancer patients who currently CAN’T fend for themselves, and with those abilities I plan to do what I CAN. I’m not going to lie, this fundraiser scares me as much as it excites me…but that’ s the point. If I’m going to ask for donors to contribute on the behalf of others, I’m also going to do my part to “sacrifice”, to push my limits, to give as much as I can and make sure I’m not leaving any effort unspent. I’m going to reach beyond my perceived abilities to do something amazing while I can. This event is going outdo anything I’ve accomplished to this point.

The farthest I have ever run at one time is 45 miles, and that was on a treadmill. I attempted a 50 miler at the Vermont 50 race, but DNF’d as I wasn’t prepared for the mountainous terrain and destroyed my quads halfway through. For this benefit though, I’m going to complete that 50 miler (on more forgiving Hoosier terrain), and then another and another and another…for 7 days straight. I know, this might come across as arrogant naivety, but I’m a little more calculating than that…a little. I believe I can do this. I know it won’t be easy and it does legitimately worry me, which is exactly what is driving me to do this. I know I’m going to prepare and I know I’m going to struggle, but I also know I’ll get through it no matter what…because I’m running for something way beyond personal acheivement. I do know I can pull this off though. It’s one thing to run fast and expend all my energy and strength, so I know that when I slow myself down, I can run and endure for long periods of time. And that’s what I’m going to need to do for this event.

This August I’m going to run down the State of Indiana, covering 50 miles (give or take) each day. I’m going to do this self-supported, either pushing a jogging stroller or pulling a trailer (to be determined), and stopping in cities along the way to give a speech titled, Because We Can. It’s going to be hard. Real hard. It’s going to be FAR harder than if I attempted it before cancer, but I hope it will be that much more rewarding and inspiring (towards raising funds) that I’ll be doing it with cancer. I try not to wave the cancer flag too much, rather selectively doing so in attempts to either address a social issue or help others, and so this time I’ll be flying it for both. I want to be recognized, in the end, for many things…cancer being very low on the list…but this time I do want to put this out there, that I’ll be doing this run not as a cancer survivor, but as someone WITH cancer, how is still attempting to reach outside their perceived limits to accomplish something greater and even more rewarding than ever. I want to do this for myself, yes, but more so to offer the same potential to others while asking assistance for those unable to attempt such feats on their own due to the confinement, physical and financial, of cancer.

So please….consider donating. Consider sharing. Consider doing more than you think you can…if only because YOU CAN.

Because We Can – A More Fire Run

This August, I will be running from the NW point of Indiana to the SE point, essentially just East of Chicago to Louisville. I will running self-supported, pushing a jogging stroller filled with supplies, approximately 50 miles a day, for seven days straight. I will be starting from the shores of Lake Michigan at Dunes State Park and heading to (in order) Rensselaer, Lafayette, Kokomo, Indianapolis, Bloomington, Seymour, then Louisville. At each city I stop for the night, I will be giving a talk titled “Because We Can”, addressing these issues of general living expenses support for cancer patients, highlighting the work of Family Reach, and hoping to inspire others to give and live through the Because We Can mantra.

I want to raise funds for my beneficiaries, yes, but I also want to spread the idea, through words and action, that the limitations we place upon our actions are often fabricated and illusory. I want to be one more example of unbridled living, of the possibility that we can be better, that we can be kinder, more engaged, more passionate, if not because we are driven by other motives, then simply because we can. For, we are lucky in this regard. There are those among us that CAN’T pursue their passions due to the confinements of so much real adversity, whether that is cancer, economics, or something else unavoidable. But while we CAN, we SHOULD.

Maybe, somewhere down the line, people will stop asking, “Why?”, and instead just offer encouragement, but until then, it’s legitimate and powerful to answer with, “Because I can.” This August I’m going to answer that question in both word and deed. Please feel free to share this fundraiser with your friends and wider community and check out the following websites for more information, ways to follow along, and to donate. Thank you for caring.

Because We Can Logo 2

www.stayclassy.org/becausewecanrun
www.familyreach.org