Seeking Exhaustion. Finding Fulfillment.

I needed to go south. Where the corn fields that allow the wind to move unfettered give way to the land piled up on itself by a halted glacier. In these hills it is harder to farm, harder to develop and so we are afforded a more free, more wild terrain, where animals have habitat and the diversity of life can explode. I needed to be within all that. It had been too long, for either Laura or I to remember last when.

And the moment I stepped off the parking lot asphalt and into the concealed entrance of green, it was like stepping through an invisible window, into an entirely different world where the temperature cools and the flora surrounds you, envelopes you, like a blanket of protection. In here is safety. In here is calm. In here is a different relationship. In here is where, even you, become different, away from the complexities of modern life, away from the low level stress and conflict of other humans, away from the insecurities and consciousness and intentions of the thousands of nameless beings we navigate around without reprieve. In here you are your physical self, moving through an environment with a certain grace and fluidity, part by your own volition and part by the flow of the trail. In here you are less you and more everything.

I needed to get away from myself, and everything else. I needed to just move, but I really needed feel the life of everything that exists and grows and dies with little intentional help, to give me that reaffirmation that everything goes on, that humans don’t control the world, that what we destroy is never completely dead.

I feel that when I move through the woods, not as an intruder or an alien, but as a seamless inhale and exhale of it’s breathing. I feel it as my feet hit the ground and send small clouds of dust into the air, the ground pushing back on my impact with a gentle, cradling support. I feel it in the undulating air that cools like an open window, like the wind of a coming storm, like a drink, then heats like the embrace of a parent to child, like a pile of clothes from the dryer, like your favorite sweater. I feel it in the deep scents of ground that has thawed and cooked in the space of light broken through the ceiling of outstretched green. It surrounds me in moments of movement, entering my nostrils in an accumulated musk of wet dirt, bark, dying leaves and a moist heat that alludes more to the process of growth than decomposition. It pulls me from my thoughts in carnival like bursts of flower scent, reminiscent of cotton candy and cooked sugar and a sweetness that surpasses romantic gestures of rose bouquets to express true love and need and want in it’s signaling to the forest, to follow the map it has drawn to itself. But I run through.

I follow the softened floor as it undulates through the terrain like a dropped ribbon, laying where gravity decides it must, coordinating with my legs to make the smallest of adjustments left and right, forward and forward and forward, to move atop the ribbon, to use the momentum of it’s curves, to keep seeking the solitary life of the forest in it’s moments of expressions. I seek it and feel it over the rocks that protrude from the ground, pushed upwards in the continued, slow exhale of the earth, bringing new terrain to the surface, as if to renew the tired, worn ground again. I feel it in the snaking roots exposed from the ravages of growing close to the surface where feet and hooves and bellies pass. I feel it in the danger of their grasp, threatening revenge to distracted eyes and tired legs.

I feel it in the sounds of fellow animals, responding to the fight or flight of my presence as I dart around turns and up and over rises. I hear it in their loud swimming under the blanket of leaves as squirrels sprint to the nearest tree. I hear it in the lightning fast streaks of brown and black that leave lines in the dust as chipmunks pass mere feet in front of me. I hear it in the torrential symphony of birdsong, when I allow my sense to spread out as far as it can, the ceiling of sound signaling to each other when not in the silence of alarm. I run beneath it all either undetected or unthreatening. I hear it in the crash of the woods, as deer that tower above me bound and disappear through a shield of green, almost before I can even turn my eyes in their direction to catch inspiration in their effortless flight. I feel it deeply, personally, when the buck that disappeared stands atop the hillside, looking down upon me, quizzically, but calmly, measuring my presence, and making no gesture to flee. He looks at me, his antlers displaying a dominance and strength that can only induce respect, and I look back, slowing my pace to connect as long as possible. I turn out of sight to begin the next climb, and when I turn back he has silently vanished into the protection of the forest, proving the presence here is intuitive to his nature, a contrast to mine as a sorry attempt.

I find it as I crest the hill and begin unwinding the ribbon down the opposite side, feeling the change in by the direction of the sun, the forest floor opened up and allowing the growth of entirely different plants. The trees space out further, bigger, blocking out the sun and breaking it into scattered spotlights with longer, supportive branches and higher reaching hands. Responding to the power of the light, the ground cover is thinner, but more efficient and the leaves grow larger. Even the air feels thinner. I feel it as my pace opens up with my lungs and my momentum is carried down the hillside, twisting on switchbacks and flooding with speed on quickened drops that demand an intense control and quick footed dancing over strewn out rocks that lie without rhythm. Terra two step I like to call it.

I find it again and again through this strengthened effort of running, invigorated by the relationships of the forest, and carried away by it’s inspiration, until I must turn around and find my way back, out of necessity rather than desire.

The effort in finding the life of the forest shows itself as the fatigue overcomes my body, demanding a new concentration that must turn inward. I am aware of the failing form of my body, the erratic rhythms of my breathing as they struggle to keep pace with the flow of the trail, the shifting weight from compromised muscles to those prepared to handle the increasing stress. I seek the self-actuated life of the forest, but equally the self-actuated fatigue and exhaustion only the trails can bring to my body. This is my other objective.

It is a unique fatigue, brought on by a certain momentum. At first this momentum follows behind the body in a wake of inspired and graceful effort, in running with the gravity of the trail and bounding up the hills in abandon, but as the stresses accumulate, the momentum begins to catch up from behind like a predator overcoming its prey. It runs close enough to never be dropped, until it begins to consume the body, entering completely before effort and momentum are one and the same. This momentum becomes the body until it seems to disappear into the struggle of the effort, of lungs grasping for air and muscles digging for strength. They work together as one, before the momentum finds it’s way through the body and begins to extend itself ahead of the effort, urging or daring me to catch up and grab onto a bit more of it’s assist if possible. But at some point, it’s out of reach, apart from the body now weakened beyond repair, and only a dangling hope, a tempting illusion to hold onto in the striving to finish out the distance intact.

In losing this momentum is where the exhaustion I seek finds me, as a growing desperation that fills the space where the energy once boiled, consuming the muscles and darkening the mind. It’s presence is subtle at first. An ungraceful dance through the rocks, a turn swung too wide, or a heel scuffed along the ground. And then another. And another. I told myself to listen to the warning signs, of the deception of momentum that came from the trail and not my body, as I rolled over the ribbon while hitting my heel on small rocks and imperceptible undulations. I told myself to run smart and lift my legs, but as I let my concentration wander away from my internal warning signs, the trail humbled me.

Humbled the shit out of me.

Humbled me to the ground. This is an exhaustion I try not to seek, but respect all the same. The weaving of roots lay strewn across the trail as I rolled with the momentum on a slight decline, my legs swinging out in front of me with a gentle braking form rather than the concerted push forward, and where my heel scuffed the roots before, the weakness brought my leg close enough to the ground that my toe slammed into a root, the momentum just far enough ahead that I couldn’t grab on to roll forward and my body lifted into the air before slamming into the ground without bracing. In the split moment I fell I registered the ground, peppered with scattered rocks, roots, and a sapling stump that lay directly in the path of my downward swinging face. My body tensed and I crashed into the dirt, forgiving, but barely. Instantly a shock surged through my body, radiating through my entire left side, though I felt it in all the direct points of contact. My knee split open on a rock. My hip bone bashed into a root. My shoulder, miraculously taking the brunt of my top heavy fall as my neck bent upward to avoid a solid hit of my temple into the sapling stump. I paused, leaned back and saw two dots of sweat from my shoulder resting gently on the stump, as if to say, so close. So close.

I took the humbling, stood up and started running down the trail….for two steps. As I realized the humbling was much greater than the adrenaline was trying to convey. My knee throbbed, my hip piercing in pain, and I reached to my knees to collect myself. But I didn’t dare brush the dirt from my body. Never brush the dirt and blood from your falls. It is penance for not paying attention. When I realized I could move, if only a bit, I took lesson in the survival mantra, “Stagnation is death. Always keep moving.” Trusting the adrenaline to take control of my body, in spite of the pain, until I could regain effort, I started run / limping down the trail, slower, gently. The blood pumped through, the trail relented, and I got back to the work of building the exhaustion past the humbling, with the deep physical understanding of just who is in charge, or at the very least, of who is NOT in charge.

The momentum lay much further ahead as I reestablished my relationship with the trail, trying to find the flow again, running away from the pain on the left side of my body until the processes of the effort were greater than the faults of the effort. I found the forest floor and it’s kind, cool air, offering an invigorating stretch of rejuvenation that wound over dry creek beds and past a personal spot for me, where, if I find myself facing mortality again, my ashes will be scattered. With a quick glance at that spot and and acknowledgement of my existence, I ran on, any further reflection on that reality now relegated to a further, distant future. I had a hill to climb. I had an exhaustion to find.

Further towards the depletion I ran, retracing steps in the opposite direction, as if on an entirely different trail, as an entirely different runner. I had lost control of my body, using the escaping momentum of the trail to pull me ahead, reserving any strength I had to focus on the humbling terrain and the necessity of effort needed to stay upright. The grace all but pulled from my body I could barely manage sharp turns, my lungs threatening to fold my body to the ground on the slightest inclines, my legs buckling with the pressures of holding my torso on the descents. The only relief coming with the rolling undulations that hung my limbs like a puppet, working in concert as nature and body, runner and trail no longer individual entities. The exhaustion had set in and I was brought towards completion under that mysterious force few of us can describe, but know distinctly, where we are not in control, but move forward no less, with speed, with control, with no will except the ability to see ahead, or see from above, as our bodies move without us.

Until we reach beyond the realms of possibility and the ground falls beneath us, or we find our way to the end, spent, exhausted, depleted…and fulfilled.

The gates of green that welcomed me in opened into a brutal, bright sun that exposed me completely, as if my skin was torn away. I emerged with the momentum of the trail, spit out into the world, a different person. Broken, but stronger. Depleted, but fulfilled. Bloodied, but intact. Exhausted, but enduring.

This is why I enter the trails, to seek a world that is as beautiful and bountiful and outside of myself as much as it is humbling, and threatening, and depleting. To find another me, an absence of me, to create something different, something greater, something that will always fail in words and can only be experienced in seeking and finding.

Transitions

Ethan Runnels Stay Wild Scholarship

It was months ago when I saw my oncologist last, when I came to his office for a followup appointment regarding my latest surgery. It couldn’t have been but only 2 months after January when he went in to try and get the cancer again. After so many years of treatment, surgeries and appointments, the apprehension I have with these appointments is almost entirely gone, the expectations of any specific outcome as well. Still, I had come back from the last surgery so quickly, and that being after a year and a half of no chemo and only continuous running progression, that the surgery seemed a mere annoying interruption, which I can probably only safely say from this distance now. It’s never simply an annoyance or basic interruption. It’s a whole lot of hell really. And yet, it’s always the surgeries that hit me the hardest, not the cancer. I still have cancer, of course, but it’s weird. It seems I only have the actual definition to reference and not some sort of physical hindrance caused by the tumors or growth. Any physical destruction or obstacle at this point is, I believe, a leftover from the year and a half of chemotherapy and the three surgeries I needed to have performed. The effects are very real and are with me daily, but they are now almost bodily aberrations that I relate to as if I’ve had them since birth. Cancer is something more distant, if a concern at all. It’s something that may or may not become more immediate down the line, or maybe that’s my naiveté speaking. But I still have the surgeries and I still have the followups.

So when I had the appointment with my oncologist, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Maybe he’ll say I’m good for as long as I can be good now. Maybe he’ll say chemotherapy and surgery won’t ever be an issue unless they have to be an issue and I can get back to my life again.” Against all the lessons I’ve taught myself about expectations over the past three years, I found myself daydreaming again.

The appointment was the usual. He checked the incision scar that runs from the point where my rib cages come together down to the middle of my pubic bone (any further and I’d be cut in two). He felt around my abdomen, cupped his hand on the areas where he did the most extraction and tapped on the back to listen to the sound, whether it reverberated hollow or solid. I had difficulty sitting upright again, but when I did, we got to talking about the future. I tried to fight the smallness that starts to overcome me in the exam room.

At this point I don’t remember all the specifics of our conversation, but I believe they were about the growth of the cancer, the details of the procedure, and other logistics. What I wanted to know, however, was our plan from here on out. With the same pleasant and casual tone he always delivers my diagnosis he told me we will have another scan in a few months and then look into going back into a surgery for the 4th time in about a year and a half or two.

My heart sunk a bit, but I managed to gather some courage at the proclamation of “..or two”.

I found my way past the smallness and responded, “You know, I was coming into this with the best case scenario being 3 to 5 years of no surgery. Not that this consideration is the most important, but it’s so hard to plan my life and live normally with these surgeries. I need to get back to work and take care of my son and just try to get some routine together.”

And before I could vaguely plead my case further he cut me off.

“Ok, let’s make it three years. As we’ve said in the past, you keep breaking the rules. So let’s make a plan for three years and I really think you should live your life as normal as possible. Get back to work and just live as if you don’t have cancer.”

I followed, “And so I have another scan in 3 months then?”

“Let’s make it 9. We’ll do a scan in 9 months, see where you’re at, and then plan from there, but we’ll make 3 years our next goal date.”

And with a few more specifics worked out, that’s where we left it. The plan as such being, a scan in 9 months, a goal date of 3 years for the next surgery, and any necessary adjustments made along the way. If we’re nearing three years and I start having complications, we’ll move the surgery up. If we get to three years and everything is as stable as always, we’ll push it back even further.

I drove home and found myself in the emotional space I did when I was first diagnosed, driving down the highway surrounded by all the other cars, but registering very little except the calm in my mind. Something of a weight had been lifted, but I wasn’t sure how to process it just yet. It’s a tenuous lifting, but I felt lighter no less. I was given the permission to live my life, to get back to work, to think of the future without surgeries, as far as I dared. And with that lightness and, almost positivity, almost hope, consuming me, I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt like I needed to tell someone, to go somewhere public, to just sit and feel that for awhile…but I drove home.

I drove home because it felt wrong to celebrate. It felt dangerous to celebrate, with all I’ve come to know over the past three years about plans and expectations crushed. I wanted to acknowledge this change, but I didn’t want to flaunt it. That felt too dangerous, to arrogant.

I just needed to get back to living…but what did that mean anymore?

Three years is not a long time, unless you have cancer. Three years, to me, seems so incredibly long ago, but I hear about people dying from cancer after battling it for 5 or 8 or 10 years. And to me, those timelines seem so short. I think about how I just heard about them getting cancer and then suddenly they were gone…and I’m only three years in. And yet, in that three years, so much has changed. I lost so much and also gained so much. I was forced to stop working for others and expand my design skills in so far as I could just  make ends meet for myself. The routine of my days changed. I became financially ruined and had to rely more and more on government support. The only thing that didn’t change was my running really.

So what exactly do I do with the same timeline stretched out before me that mirrored the timeline I spent battling cancer directly?

Transitions are hard and most often we seek comfort and security in the familiar. It takes a certain personality to embrace the terror of change openly and with positivity, and not resort to the compromises made in similarity. I like to believe I’m in the former category.

And yet, the last three years are being solidified as some sort of pause in my pre-diagnosis life. The first thing I did after being given the go ahead to live my life was to start looking for a job, and with some small delay, I ended up back at the job I had to quit upon diagnosis. It was like picking up right where I left off. That job even dictates my daily routine, as it was. Get up and run, prepare for work, ride my bike to work, ride my bike home, relax with TV, and do it all again the next day. The way I eat is the same, the bags I carry, the work I do, the radio programs I listen to, and so on. The last three years have been a pause. I mean, a painful, scary, exciting, physically destructive pause. And really, not a pause at all, but it’s fun to think that way.

Not everything is the same, of course. My running abilities will never find their way back to pre-diagnosis standards, but that’s ok. And I’ve found love with a wonderful woman who supports me through all my difficulties (and puts up with the worst of my traits) and I get to reciprocate as much as I can muster. And I started gardening, like heavily. Some parts of the free time I found within the last three years allowed me to open up new interests for myself, so it has been great to keep expanding on those within the restrictions I have in my new routines.

But those are all very simplified examples. It’s really quite an experience to walk the line of great fear in the face of your mortality and yet also be afforded the privilege of living a life free of some of the daily restriction we find in the normal day to day. I’ve talked in the past of feeling a sense of liberation after diagnosis, of being able to shed all the excess burdens and responsibilities we often have forced upon us, and of those I foisted upon myself. The running and training expectations, the budgets, the time restrictions, and so on. It’s all so much to handle sometimes, especially for those in poverty, so it wasn’t lost on me that I was living something of a delusion and high privilege the past three years, by being supported through fundraisers, government assistance, and cobbling together design work. I had the privilege of self-directed days, time with my son that wasn’t hampered by work schedules, and the luxury of taking it easy when I just couldn’t muster the drive to keep pushing through all the burdens.

And that is, with a tense mix of difficulty and satisfaction, gone now. That privilege is removed as I enter the work world again, lose more and more of my government assistance (partial disclosure, not all of it, of course), and must now juggle again the responsibilities of providing for everything economically, re-contributing child support (truly, my greatest relief in this matter), parenting my son with new time restrictions, and figure out the best life to live in the midst of all of this.

Transitioning out of three years of living against cancer into three years of ignoring cancer isn’t as hopeful and liberating as some might imagine. There is still a distinct tension that marks my days, of not completely emotionally letting go. The oncologist didn’t say, “You no longer have cancer! Go forth!” He said, “We’ll try for another three years.” There is a massive gap between those two statements, so transitioning so abruptly into living from surgery to surgery into a normative routine is proving to have it’s own gap. I’m trying, with difficulty, to plan further ahead, to imagine the best life for myself and Laura and August, but while also determining what is most important in the now. It’s so easy to become self-absorbed in the face of cancer (more so than I already was) and so I’m trying to move away from a deep selfishness and put more focus upon others, upon the issues that truly matter in our day and age, to reconsider radical politics with the newfound perspective of the last three years, and to find the most valuable place to put my own action. Admittedly, I have no idea what to do at this point, and that seems to be another point of tension in my transition.

Maybe it’s just too early to make any specific plans for myself right now. Maybe it takes getting used to the new old routine, with the new perspective, to really find my way. It’s hard when you’ve spent three years really wrestling with the deepest, individual attempts at living the good life. It almost makes everything else pale in comparison and the excitement and value I once found in projects pre-diagnosis have lost a bit of their shine. I can’t tell if I was naive back then or am more broken now. I don’t want to imagine it’s either.

We often want to believe we can make our own decisions, calculate the risks and rewards and ease the transitions of our lives to our greatest benefit, but sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes life transitions for you, and when you get used to that new routine, it transitions again. I guess the success is in managing the transitions in the moment, finding your comfort within them, and being prepared to find that comfort again should another transition find you again. And maybe it just takes time to readjust…that’s what I keep telling myself.


With that said, running has been my constant, as much as I may try to shake it’s obsessive burden from time to time. The transitions for my running will have to be detailed in another post, but I do need to give time to my latest running project.

This August I will be running a route that a friend has titled Circle Takes The Square. That is a 50+ mile route from the circle of downtown Indianapolis to the square of downtown Bloomington. When I was planning my run down the state last year, this portion was my most anticipated as I have ridden the distance many times, but always wanted to run it, though never did. Initially, I committed to just doing this route, myself, without fanfare and without obligation, but I’ve found it harder and harder to do anything for my own needs without using it in some way to benefit others, so with that in mind some friends and I created the Ethan Runnels Stay Wild scholarship.

Ethan was a friend of mine who lost his life to the White River in 2009 and who was the vision for the White Pine Wilderness Academy, of which I am a part. The camps we host for children (and adults) are nothing short of transformative and we want to make them available to everyone, despite financial restrictions. In that recognition we have set up a scholarship to help pay for kids to attend our camps, free of charge. The Circle Takes The Square run is being conducted in this spirit and to help promote the scholarship. If you can afford the contribution, please consider donating to our fund of which we are seeking a $5000 goal, which will secure camp registration for over 22 kids. The details of the scholarship can be found on our gofundme page here –

www.gofundme.com/staywildethan

In the meantime, a handful of us are training ourselves to run the 50 mile distance on Sunday, August 21st. If you would like more information about the scholarship, academy, or the run, please get in touch. Thanks for being awesome.

The Forever Interruptions

I’m running out of ways to relate that, with cancer, nothing stays the same. Every stretch of routine and expectation is interrupted by varying degrees of change and difficulty. Sometimes it’s a new surgery plan. Sometimes it’s tumor growth or regression. Sometimes it’s a new pain that came from nowhere with no warning. Whatever tends to happen, it’s hard to see any of it coming, and your plans for the future, any future, whether that is years or months, is jeopardized.

This shit gets old.

My latest interruption happened Sunday…actually, IS happening. I had successfully strung together a handful of days of running, gently and calculatedly increasing mileage in relation to my body’s responses. I managed to put together my longest streak of running consistency since surgery and was looking forward to putting in a couple 6 milers over the weekend. Saturday went as planned as I navigated through an increasingly difficult 6 miles in 7:00 / pace, which was a considerable milestone for me since I’m not even 2 months away from surgery. I had no idea I could be back to this effort so quick. Admittedly, the effort left me seriously strained when it was over, but I knew that was part of my progression, the necessity to get stronger, and the recovery would leave me a better runner than before even. I followed that run by another 6 miler, this time easier, Sunday morning, and I was ready to go into the next week with a new determination and effort to go further when the time was right.

Laura and I celebrated our weekend runs with some donuts, errands, and relaxing time reading at the local coffee shop. All was going well as ever. We went home and had dinner, then some snacks, and then…something changed.

A sense of discomfort started to fill my abdomen. It felt like gas, but really bad gas, trapped in my stomach as if in a perpetual state of swelling. I had felt something like this before, but it involved a noticeable food blockage high in my abdomen, coupled with a crippling nausea that left me reeling in pain and vomiting through the night. This seemed to be a little different. I wasn’t nauseas, but I certainly wasn’t without pain. I knew the night was going to be a problem.

I left Laura to sleep alone as I went into my son’s room and slept in his bed, except I didn’t sleep. At all. Not for one hour. I took various laxative medications to no effect and the same held for the ibuprofen. Hour after hour passed as I rolled back and forth in pain, trying to find a comfortable position, hoping this blockage or whatever it was would resolve itself. At some point, however, the pain became overwhelming and I found myself throwing up into the toilet, my only solace knowing that the effort would probably relieve some of the pressure and pain in my abdomen. It did, mostly.

I spent the next day also in discomfort, but a little lessened from the night before. I thought maybe the vomiting relieved the situation, and although I didn’t eat anything all day, I decided to have some softened cauliflower in the evening, not wanting to let my body regress without nutrition as it does after surgeries.

At some point, however, I was breaking down again and complained to Laura in great frustration, “Damnit. I’m sleeping in August’s room again. I’m gonna fucking puke again. I know it. I fucking hate this.”

Maybe I was so incredibly exhausted from not sleeping the night before, but even with the pain in my abdomen, somehow I managed to not puke as I fell asleep soon after going to bed. Crisis averted, temporarily.

I spent the next day in bed, but called my oncologist to tell him something bad was going on, that I couldn’t eat, that I was in pain, that I think this is something more serious. The office confirmed my suspicions and brought me in that day for an X-ray and follow up the next day. I spent the night barely eating again, just trying to get some yogurt and fluids in me to keep from dehydrating.

The next day I met with the oncologist and he explained the x-rays showed that I have a partial blockage in my intestines. As he explained it,

“The best way I can described it is…you have a kink in the garden hose. It’s like when a garden hose gets pulled and folded and the water can barely get through the kinked section.”

Great. But what to do about it. The “kink” is caused by adhesions (scar tissue) that develop during the healing process from any sort of abdominal surgery. My doctor said he was surprised they don’t see them occur more often, but they do occur. Essentially, the space between organs can develop these almost stretchy bands of scar tissue that pull each other together, bending, twisting or kinking various parts of the intestines, which is what has happened to me. The good news is that mine is a partial blockage, so food and liquid can pass, if I’m careful what I eat and take it slowly. Full blockages can be life-threatening, of course. How we need to handle my issue, however, is being debated.

Right now I’m waiting it out. The hope is that the scar tissue breaks up or the blockage manages to open up and all the pain and pressure is alleviated. But, if it doesn’t, I need to go back into the hospital for more focused monitoring, waiting, and then potential corrective surgery. This can entail IV fluids, a GI tube (good god no), and medicines. The surgery, well, I’m not sure what they do and how invasive it is (I’m guessing not that much), but I’d rather avoid it if I can, obviously.

But, everything else has stopped. Most everything. I can’t run, at all. Walking can be problematic depending up on the pressure in my abdomen at any time. Eating has gotten better since Sunday, but I’m still relegated to really easy to digest foods (no fruit or vegetables) and I’m always on edge that what I eat is going to leave me hanging onto the toilet again. The pain comes and goes and gets in the way of the work I need to be getting done for my design clients and runners, and that’s where all this interruption builds into great frustration.

It’s the same story I keep trying to avoid, developing some normal life that I can count on for work and physical activity that gets halted without warning. I’m currently trying to establish solid work, build myself back up physically, while also managing a couple running goals and responsibilities I’ve committed too…but having all that put into jeopardy because I can’t predict what my body is going to do from one day to the next. That’s the worst of it. I find myself wanting to give up on everything, to stop trying, to stop planning, to just…wait, I guess. I know this isn’t how I usually handle these situations, but I’m getting tired, increasingly tired of all this, of these surgeries, these complications, these hopes for a more reliable future…that are met with consistent setbacks or absolute obstacles to achieving any of this. I keep feeling the need to drop everything, to scale back every bit of excess in my life, and just get through doing the minimum.

I know I say all this out of frustration and current dejection, but this gets old. These setbacks continue to build upon one another and maybe I do need to just keep everything as easy as possible. I don’t know. In part I know I need to wait this out, all of it, for now, and then see what happens. In regards to the physical, I have no choice. For everything else, I don’t know anymore.

Define Tough

I wrote a message of encouragement to my friend running the Olympic Trials Qualifier. She responded and asked about my current recovery, of which I conveyed was rough, but generally going in the right direction, and that I was running again.

Surprised at my ability to be back running again, to some degree, so soon, she said, “You’re just so tough!”

I get that a lot. Most often, I just assume it’s one of those common, unthinking, uncreative phrases people use to be polite, or in this case, express some acknowledgement of the physical difficulty I have to manage.

I don’t like to internalize these sayings, because I think they are more convenient than honest. I’m not tough. I don’t know any cancer patients that have the option to be tough really. You either deal with the difficulties of the treatment or you suffer and, sometimes, die. So, from the young to the elderly, if you are faced with cancer, you go through the treatment…and sometimes people think that’s tough. But really, it’s just a necessity.

It’s convenient for people to say something encouraging though, to acknowledge your discomfort and pains, and I respect that. But when my friend said it this time, I found myself dwelling on it for days. I was dwelling on it, because she doesn’t have to be convenient or polite with me. We’re friends and we’ve been through our own sort of shared difficult circumstances. We’re both competitive distance runners. So part of me was really taking her words more seriously, like, “Maybe I am tough? But how?”

And that’s the thing, she IS tough, as all my distance running friends are, because they willingly throw themselves into states of discomfort, and then don’t back down, on a continuous basis. To face physical and psychological adversity and go through it out of an unavoidable necessity is one thing, but to face it and go through it, when you have the option to take an easier route, well, THAT’S tough.

I understand that maybe my distance training prepared me to better emotionally manage the difficulty I face with treatments, surgeries and the unexpected nights of pain and vomiting, but there was still no avoiding it. And yet, maybe that’s the partial truth in internalizing the idea of being “tough”, of facing some sort of physical difficulty, and finding the best psychological and emotional way through it.

Fortunately, that doesn’t have to involve getting cancer to experience.

My friends and I used to train (well, still do) ourselves to run as far and as fast as we possibly could, day in and day out, through varying states of difficulty. To do this involved steeling ourselves against the physical suffering we knew we would willingly bring ourselves to, and then keep going. We didn’t just do this on race day. We did it nearly every day. When we had to kick out 6 x 1 mile repeats at 5:00 / mile or faster, we knew the increasing fatigue that would consume us through the last two. When we had to find new reserves of effort through 12 x 800’s at 2:20 pace, we knew what was coming and where we’d have to go inside ourselves to finish. When we had to exhaust ourselves through a 10 mile tempo at 5:18 pace, the effort was going to test our resolve to run when it felt like we had no strength, physical or emotional left.

And in all that, was an undeniable sense of being truly tough.

I don’t know how many people really understand what it is to not only push themselves through a mounting difficulty of effort, but to also know the discomfort that awaits before one even starts. There is a decent amount of psychological preparation, of overcoming a sense of fear and apprehension, to even start the effort. To me, that is the genuine sense of being tough.

So, when my friend, who genuinely, personally knows what it is to be tough tells me that I am just that, I take it more seriously, not because what I’m doing right now is something I can avoid, but don’t, but at the very least, because she knows what I’m capable of, and how I’ve undoubtedly pulled on that through this experience.

But I don’t know, I’m still just doing what needs to be done. Maybe, in those moments where others might have picked up the phone and called an ambulance, and I decided to just ride out the pain to see if it would go away, that was some degree of toughness (though probably more egotistical stupidity). Or maybe it was a lesson learned through the efforts of my training about my body’s ability to handle discomfort and find my way to some sense of relief. Maybe that genuine toughness informed my current approach to managing the difficulty of cancer.

I don’t know. I would still never tell anyone else I feel tough (or even seek that characteristic) just because I’m doing what needs to be done to stay alive, but I suppose if I have to internalize anything, it’s the lessons learned from understanding discomfort, anticipating it, and running right through it during all those miles of ceaseless training. That’s genuinely tough to me.

I hope, in the coming months, I can get back to building that toughness, willingly, on my own terms, and not just because cancer leaves me no choice.

Post-Surgery

I tried to write a post-surgery update in the hospital, enabled by the comfortable drugs they give you in their care, but even the relief I felt with their “good stuff” couldn’t combat the overall lack of drive I continue to experience even now. With that said, I think I can squeeze something out.

Let’s first address the big question. Yes, I still have cancer. What this means for the future, I still don’t know, but the surgeons couldn’t get it all once again. So there is that.

I woke up from the surgery in the pretty expected state of mild confusion, then a slow creeping realization of where I was, what was happening, and a huge “Goddamn get this tube out of my throat” awareness. I was intubated in the ICU as I always am, but something was different. I could tell. I was more aware of myself and my surroundings than I have been after previous surgeries. I was almost TOO aware. For when they put in the first chemo infusion, the pain that filled my abdomen was almost unbearable. I was being overfilled, so it felt, and with each liter that poured into my body, the pain only grew. Suddenly, I was having trouble breathing. It was the kind of pain that forces you to take quick short breaths, as anything deeper would only increase the pain I was feeling. I mildly remember the nurses sternly telling me I needed to take deep breaths, and I remember the anger I felt in wanting to punch them in the face for having no idea what I was experiencing. I would have loved to have told them as such, but the tube in my throat left me incommunicative. It’s the worst feeling in the world, to be in such pain and unable to express that to anyone.

The blurring nature of the drugs leaves the details a little muddled, but at some point I was able to communicate that the drugs they gave me to kill the pain, did NOT work. I don’t know if that was after they removed the tube down my throat or, somehow, before. Either way, when I relayed my pain, they hit me with a shot of Dilauded and suddenly the world was a beautiful place again. The relief was instant and I was no longer scared.

From that point on, we eliminated the ineffectual first drug and switched to Dilauded. I still experienced some discomfort with the next four infusions and drains, but it was nothing unbearable anymore. All praise Dilauded.

For whatever reason, the tube down my throat was removed after the first day, which is a new record for me. One of the most immediate signs of my physical degeneration from surgery is my zeroed out lung capacity, which must be compensated for through intubation in the ICU. Usually I was intubated for 3 hellish days, but this time it was out after one. I was so much more alert and my lung capacity felt as strong as it was when I entered surgery, which is one of the greatest silver linings of this experience so far.

Each day I was alert meant another day I avoided the nightmares of Morphine I used to experience. Now it was only the normal pains and frustrations of all the tubes in my body,  unempathetic or socially awkward nurses, and the waves of emotional breakdowns that would leave me in tears as I sat through such uncomfortable days, just psychologically and emotionally pushing against the torture of time. I remember nights where I woke up and immediately looked at the clock, to find it had only passed ten minutes. At some point, however, the ten minutes turned to 30, then to full hours, until I was getting 2 to 3 complete hours of sleep a night.

I was moved out of the ICU on a Saturday, I think, and up to a standard room, where I could then begin to walk the hallways and have more and more tubes removed from my body.

Overall, the experience was pretty similar to everything I had felt in the past, and my recovery was going so well that I got out in record time, leaving the hospital Saturday morning and getting home to rest in bed.

And that’s where the hopeful recovery seems to have stopped. I don’t know what the surgeons did differently this time, if anything, but the pain in my abdomen leads me to believe they were much more aggressive in their approach this time. I’m having incredible pain in eating, drinking, or managing anything that causes gas. Just having a relatively full bladder leaves me writhing in waves of pain that come and go. The mornings are the worst. Not having taken a pill since midnight, the ravages of the surgery are felt most distinctly as soon as I wake. I struggle to sit up straight and make it the few feet to the bathroom to brush my teeth just so I can take my first pill for the day. And mind you, the pain pills you get at home are NOTHING compared to what you get at the hospital. I was so deluded by the relief I felt at the hospital that I imagined going out for a run the first week out, but those delusions were quickly disappeared the first morning I woke up on regular pain meds.

I’m a week out and I still can’t sit up straight. Trips to the bathroom can last 30 to 45 minutes as I struggle against my abdominal muscles and the pain that fills my abdomen. I don’t even have the strength to blow my nose when I wake up in the morning, as just trying sends pointed pains throughout my stomach, and the strength to engage my atrophied muscles is just gone.

And yet, I need to eat. The obvious muscular atrophy becomes even more obvious with each passing day, as t-shirts hang off my bony shoulders, legs and arms are visibly skinny, and my hunched over back has me looking like an old man with scoliosis. But eating causes such incredible pain that I can’t get in the calories or nutrition I need to keep getting better more rapidly. No doubt I AM getting better, but it’s a little too slow for my ambitious nature. Not to mention, there’s only so much yogurt one can eat before it gets a little too repetitive.

But you know what, that’s enough cathartic whining. Today I pushed myself to attend the Winter Run Group I started and that other runners and friends of mine have continued to host in my absence. I took a pill, convinced Laura to drive me to the run, and enjoyed the morning seeing friends I haven’t in awhile. I also pushed myself to walk 2 miles, which seems like a joke, but the previous descriptions hopefully convey otherwise. It wasn’t easy and I actually felt muscular strain and an old focus I often resort to at the end miles of a long run. I had to limit my conversation and just keep moving forward to make it back inside and finally get off my feet. I don’t know if I’m expecting any recovery value from trying to be active, but the psychological aspect of getting back out there definitely felt good.

That’s all in the now though, and the greatest open question for me is what is to come of the future. I have great motivations to start working again, to live free of surgery long enough to get off assistance and back to a stable income, and to ultimately just live closer to my old life again. The details of my cancer, however, are a bit elusive right now. My surgeon is on vacation, so I actually haven’t talked to him since before the operation…at least, I don’t think. I may very well have seen him in the ICU, but my mind hasn’t retained that memory. The story I have of the operation is only broken pieces handed to me by Laura and my family.

I remember something about the surgery went great, even thought it was another 15 hour ordeal, but the cancer remains. I don’t know how much more cancer they removed and where it still remains, but they did remove more. Even more encouragingly, the spots where cancer once resided, and they removed, now look like cancer was never there in the first place. So there was no regrowth or extensive damage.

But the cancer is still there, and I think that means I won’t be going back on systemic chemotherapy treatments. It’s odd to feel relief at this possibility. Going back on systemic chemo meant that they removed all the cancer and they were just making sure no stragglers were left behind, which would have been great, except it would have meant I would have gone back on chemo….and that’s no fun. It’s a weird dynamic to reconcile, to know I won’t be back on chemo, but that’s only because I still have cancer. If that doesn’t convey just how awful that necessary treatment feels, than I don’t know what will.

I also remember talk about a future surgery timeline that may extend 2 to 3 years. One of my realistic best case scenarios going into this surgery was being able to live with this cancer for a number of years without surgery, without the necessary interruption that halts everything I have built in the moment and which prevents me from building so much more on a long term basis. I want nothing more than to just get back to my normal life of expected income and routine. There is a lot of privilege in having a self-directed life, even one enabled by cancer treatments, but that privilege feels less comfortable when you have a child to take care of.

There was also talk of “involution”, which I’m kind of over hearing. The oncologist often puts a positive spin on my situation and talks about other patients experiencing involution, where the body’s immune system goes into overdrive and takes care of the remaining tumors on it’s own. That’s a nice potential, but I’ve been hearing this since the first surgery, with no evidence of involution, not to mention were talking about cancer and the law of averages. Involution is rare. Very rare. It’s probably not even worth mentioning unless you’ve been taught to coach positivity. If the body involutes, then we’ll find out on scans, otherwise, let’s just not worry about it. That’s how I’d like to handle it anyways, because the potential of going back on chemo is probably far greater than the potential for involution.

At this point, I don’t know what lies ahead. I’ll only know that when my oncologist returns from vacation and I have my first follow up. It’s then I’ll be able to ask how much progression they made during the operation, how many years I have of surgery free living and if I have the agency to roll the dice again and wait it out. I don’t know, just the consideration of rolling the dice scares me a little, because it sounds like an unconscious tiring of surgery, of not wanting to continue through this insanely difficult ordeal. Maybe I don’t wanna do this again. Maybe I just want to let the process carry itself out. Maybe I’m losing perspective. I don’t know, but this has never been and never will be easy.

For now, I’m just laying low, trying to wait out the pain and discomfort, cutting back on pills to avoid becoming dependent, and anticipating the follow up with my oncologist so I can get a better picture of what happened and what is going to happen. Unfortunately, there is little else I CAN do.

Hold The Door Open.

I’m not the type of person that wants to make friends through cancer. I didn’t feel compelled to bond with others in the experience, join support groups, or fly the flag. For reasons I’ve touched on more throughly in other posts, I just didn’t want the identity of cancer. I felt no compulsion to fly a flag handed to me instead of one I picked up. I’m just not the type of person who wants to make friends through cancer, in part because I sure as hell don’t want to lose friends to cancer all the same. Sentiment is nice, if hardly practical, so when I made friends with Denver Hutt, it had nothing to do with shrugging my shoulders against the circumstance and just saying, “Oh well, I guess I’ll tolerate this fellow patient.”

I had met Denver completely outside of cancer in both our lives. My employment situation had taken a sudden turn for the worse and as I scrambled to find work while my savings disappeared to child support payments, we were connected by the small town in a big city dynamic that is Indianapolis. The Executive Director of The Speakeasy and by some unknown social media connection, emails were exchanged and she promised to put out requests into her network. Then just a few days later our paths crossed at a coffee shop where I often worked in the morning and which sat across the street from her house. Quick, casual and official introductions were made, but we went about our ways, mine leading into my diagnosis just a few weeks later.

I took a photo of the chemotherapy clinic I would get to know with too much familiarity, posted it on social media to a growing list of friends deeply concerned about my well being, when a text suddenly came through.

“Psssst…I’m next door.”

My mind instantly went to worst case scenarios as it tends to do. She has cancer? Has she had it? Did she just get it?

I pressed her with questions and she explained they weren’t sure what was going on, but it might be pneumonia, a case so bad she had cracked multiple ribs in more strenuous coughing fits. They were running more tests and although they didn’t know what was going on, that is hardly a sign of encouragement in these sorts of situations. She asked for privacy with the information and I agreed, because just like that were friends that can only be formed in very certain terms of crisis and desperation.

The tests, of course, ultimately shows cancer as the culprit, but right off the bat her situation was unique and rife with problems. The dynamics of her case were so complex and varied that she was pointed directly to the head oncologists in their respective fields. She was the anomaly of anomalies. But I feared that wasn’t the hopeful kind of anomaly to be. Denver would have disagreed, vehemently, to my face, as she sometimes did. I liked her fire even though I got burned a couple times.

We made time to catch up on our health situations (me pausing design work and Denver getting discussion in between the rapid fire meetings she was always hosting at the coffee shops where I would work) as our non-cancer lives rarely intersected. She visited me in the hospital after my first surgery, bringing a box of Operation game brand band-aids, which sits in my “cancer box” with everything else. We continued to meet on schedule if time passed too long without a chance encounter, and our friendship expanded into territories most rarely get.

I realize now that although I’m not the type of person who wants to make friends through cancer, it’s because even people who have cancer can hardly relate. There is an obvious age discrepancy between a relative baby such as myself, in the cancer community, and the rest of the cancer demographic. I’m 39, but I’m treated like I’m 14. A different sort of pity and “what happened” comprises the tone in all the questioning. Denver was only 28 when she died.

A large part of our friendship solidified not because we had cancer, but because we now had to make serious choices in our lives afforded only to the young, and we essentially needed to make them immediately. I was relieved to hear her mirror my thoughts in our conversations, to know that the private issues I was considering were more universal than personal, but to us, they were also tainted with the very real threat of abbreviated mortality. We couldn’t talk about love in the same way others our age do. Our considerations of kids could only carry much more significant risk and reward. Our maneuvering for employment and stability, against the threatened need to live all out, felt almost sinister.

And somehow, I was the more fortunate one in our circumstance. Despite our impossibly unique connection and similarities, the 10 years I experienced beyond hers helped answer some questions more definitively. At the very least, I created an amazing child and will not miss out on a significant portion of that experience, come what may.

Denver had a greater fire in her than me. She was more blunt than I had ever experienced before, and I get the feeling this was not dictated by the immediacy of cancer. I respected that, and although my care for one of her abrupt health changes had me choosing words unwisely, which afforded me something of a period of shunning, I took it as a sign of our genuine friendship.

More than all the discussions we shared, the questions we bounced back and forth, the life considerations we tried to hash out together, the greatest part of our friendship was the comfort I had in knowing that I wasn’t going this alone. I know I’ll be ok to go it alone. And I know I have so many in my life who are making sure I don’t go it alone, but there was something different about the friendship I had with Denver, that it wasn’t just the unique perspective our relative youth afforded us in this crisis, but the comfort I had knowing that when things got sad, when the motivation waned, when the fire died down, that she had experienced the same and if needed, I could always call to meet up at a coffee shop, which although consistently ended in tears for her, I knew was important. I knew it was some way of us saying, I’m still here too.

Laura walked over to my bedside in the ICU and said through choked words, “Is it ok to give you bad news in the hospital?”, her way of saying that something was terribly wrong and I needed to know, no matter how unideal the situation might be.

“Denver died last night.”

Maybe I was fortunate to be emotionally clouded by so many drugs, distracted by having to manage my own pain, or even hearing a bit about “the writing on the wall” from a friend and even Denver herself just a week prior. I didn’t have much of a reaction. I figured this day would come. I gathered some more of the specifics and let the information pass through me, filing it for consideration later.

I didn’t really know what was to come of her passing. She was pretty adamant that wasn’t going to happen, and I wasn’t about to discount her drive to make it so. I guess she wore off on me in that way, in that was the one worst-case scenario my mind didn’t jump to. “What would it be like without Denver going through this too?”

It’s lonely.

That’s all I can say. I won’t have an impossibly organic connection to someone like her again and the opportunities to hear my life and death considerations reverberate back to me from her own consciousness is gone. That comforting, shared moment has come and gone and in a way, I face this with one less person to consider the experience.

It’s going to be lonely without Denver around, knowing our chance coffee shop encounters are of the past, but as with all our friends who have had their lightswitch of consciousness abruptly flipped, we know it’s the remembrance of their spirit with which we continue forward, and the last thing Denver would ever accept from any of us is dejected resignation. She would demand we do something good and probably unreservedly scold us to our faces if we didn’t comply.

She ended her last blog post with the most simple and practical of advice that is only right to share again. I get the feeling she had the sense this might be her final parting post, which makes the advice that much more pertinent.

“I will ask that you smile at strangers more this week. Be kind simply because you are a kind person. Judge a little less. Hold the door open.”

I know first hand she practiced what she preached, in part because she was on the receiving end of some pretty selfish cruelty when her coughing fits were met with uncaring hostility from a public with no idea what she was experiencing. I loved her idea to create a button to wear that said, “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious, it’s cancer,” but I also know she was not one to pick up the identity flag either. She wanted to be acknowledged only for her acts as an individual, and so for all those that knew her, do consider being kind, judging a little less, and for goodness sake…HOLD THE DOOR OPEN!

It’s gonna be lonely without you Denver.

This is the New Year

I stopped marking New Year’s Day as a life reset, an arbitrary time line to think back on the past year and make plans for the future. As a person who seems to always be scheming and planning for the future, while looking to the past for mistakes and successes, I never felt the drive to make resolutions or put any degree of importance in planning my life in a haphazard last second fashion dictated by cultural pressure to do so. The experiences and lessons of my life are on a continuous timeline, a trajectory that is rarely broken by moments that demand resets or slates wiped clean.

But I had never felt the, quite literal, physical reset that takes place during my treatment surgeries. I had never had my slate wiped so clean it was as if it had never been written on in the first place. These surgeries have now come in such succession with a similar erasing effect to my life, that it actually does feel like a reset, and it gives me that odd perspective of putting all the time between them in perspective, to think back on and take perspective from, to look ahead and figure out how I’m going to write on the slate from day one. In effect, these surgeries have become my New Year’s Day.

Tonight, then, is something of my personal New Year’s Eve, as I admit myself into the hospital at 7am tomorrow morning to begin pre-surgery preparations that will officially begin Tuesday morning. And when that process is all said and done, I’ll wake up into that nightmarish world of Morphine, disorientation, a body destroyed and weakening, pain and misery…and start into something of a new life again. Literally, I’ll be starting over.

But first, I have almost a year and a half to reflect upon, which I’ve been trying to do these past few days, surprised at just how much has happened in this latest time between surgeries. So much has happened, and so significantly, that my perception of the past year has become muddied, and I regret almost forgetting or not appreciating each experience as it unfolded into the next.

There was finding myself on the cover of Runner’s World just a month after my last operation. There was the Cape Cod Ragnar with my teammates on Strong Hearts Vegan Power. There was the Ultra Benefit Run for Family Reach. There was my training towards a competitive half that hit my goal of going 1:20. There was the sudden pacing role to 3:05 in the Monumental Marathon. And those are just a small handful of the running accomplishments I managed to build during this period. This doesn’t count all the friendships created, the charity money raised, the adventures I’ve had with Laura, the exponentially growing relationship with my son, and the many projects I’ve fostered and begun leading into this next pseudo-new year. To dwell on each would take more time that I have to devote and probably lead to a continuous memory stream I’ve inadvertently suppressed. Suffice to say, I’m thoroughly satisfied with what I’ve made with my time this past year and a half.

The continuous thread of these experiences, however, is running. And of everything I’ve devoted my efforts to this past year, getting stronger from surgery and measuring that progression through my running fitness has been my proudest accomplishment. It’s worth detailing to me.

I explicitly remember the first time Laura and I went to our local trail system after surgery, so she could continue her training towards the Monumental Half Marathon and I could spend some needed time in the woods, if only  just walking the trails. Of course, I ended up testing my body against the terrain and completed a tenuous jog / walk effort that felt so wonderful and left me wanting more.

From there I gently increased efforts when I felt the ability to do so, sometimes setting the incline high on the treadmill and walking until my lungs threatened to give out. It was as encouraging as it was embarrassing, but I knew it was a necessity to build myself back up.

Until finally I found my way back outdoors, when the weather had turned towards winter, and I could attempt incredibly slow and weakened runs around a 3 mile loop of our downtown canal. Each day I started with a weakness in my body that felt like I had just completed a 20 mile hard effort, but I was just beginning. I struggled to lift my legs and my torso hung over my abdomen in a slump. I shuffled through a 9:30 to 10:00 minute pace, while still feeling my heart rate push itself into rapid beating that demanded I start walking to calm back down. I could complete 3 miles with a handful of relatively demoralizing walk breaks interspersed, almost as inadvertent intervals.

Over the next month though, I continued the consistency and slowly, very slowly, I could complete the 3 miles without walking, then extended the distance to 5 miles. Even then, I approached 6 miles as if it was a new long run distance, unsure I could complete the distance without sitting down to recover my ability to keep going back to the car. With measured patience though, I pushed at the distance and week after week I could look back and see progression. I could see my strength coming back, my form becoming taller, my paces dropping. 9:30 became 9:00 became 8:00. I was getting somewhere, no matter how relatively frustrating compared to my past.

That’s when I started actually training again, looking for that moment when I could firmly say I had “Flipped the switch” and my body was cooperating with my ambitions. I pushed harder and harder, felt my body getting stronger, touched on moments that felt like my past self, and entered into the Spring as a compromised, but legitimate runner.

That’s when I let loose. Mileage crept back into my base of 10 miles a day, leading into the expected routine of speed workouts and long runs, and I knew I had found the runner I had been since before diagnosis. I knew I was strong and capable again, even if it was all going to come to an end again. But it wasn’t the time to dwell on that reality yet.

That began my ambitions towards the ultra run, that although didn’t go so well, went pretty damn amazing considering. Then came the Runner’s World Half where I hit my 1:20 goal and felt that distinct race environment that feels so much a part of my being. And finally, I found myself leading a handful of runners to Boston Qualifiers in the Monumental Marathon, pulling them into a 3:05 marathon.

As I ran towards this surgery and the opportunities to push my progressions ticked away with each day that neared, I knew I had to just focus on staying strong for the reset that was to come. Of course, there is that part of me that so much wants to see how far I can keep taking this progression, how much faster I can get, how many more new running frontiers I can find…but that’s not my reality. My reality is making the most of each period of time I have between surgeries, and I’m more than satisfied with what I built during this one.

It was amazing to feel my body go from a limp noodle to a strong, swift mechanism capable of finding it’s way into 6:45 / mile 10 milers at conversation pace, to feeling the fear and adrenaline that marks competitive racing, to experience that race distance degeneration when you’ve held your abilities all the way to the finish line with nothing left to spare, to simply finding the ability to lay into a run when you feel the energy demands it.

I know some people might still harbor that suggestive reservation for me, thinking that maybe I should take it easy, or at least back off during these times between surgery. I mean, cancer and the ravages of the operation are enough to endure, right? So why add more adversity and obstacles. I get it, but I don’t agree. I can’t do anything about surgery or cancer. Those are battles to fight for other people, my surgeons and oncologists. I just have to endure those. My battles are what come after, and the only way I know how to fight those battles and make the most of my situation is to run them out, to take the effects of surgery and reverse them to my benefit.

I never lose sight of what is about to happen, and there is a part of each run that knows what is to come and is carried out with the intent to build against the ravages just a little bit more. Because, honestly, tomorrow is when my new year starts, when my body is erased, and this is what is to come.

My muscles will atrophy as I lay in bed for weeks. I’m unable to eat appropriate foods and nutrition not supplied by an IV drip, so I slowly waste away before I can take control of my diet again. My abdominal muscles are literally cut in half and it’s unreal they manage to fuse themselves back together. The chemotherapy destroys every cell, good and bad, throughout my body. The processes of my organs must adjust and readapt as they are shut down, or completely removed, necessitating all kinds of unpleasantness. And there are the ravages of the medicines and treatments themselves. My tastebuds become hypersensitive and the only palatable foods are bland and tasteless. My eyesight periodically goes blurry and doubles over on itself for over a week. The morphine creates hallucinations and draws me into a world that flips between only nightmares while I sleep into a reality that isn’t much different then back again, over and over until I’ve lost sense of time and space. My sleep patterns completely flip so I’m up all night and sleep during the day until they slowly readjust. The pain pills only work for so long and I count down the minutes until I can take another, seeking just enough relief to not become addicted. Sitting up from a lying position in the morning to just walk 10 feet for yogurt and then back is a significant effort that leaves me motionless for most of the morning. And..

Well…on and on.

I’m a shell of my former self…but then there is running. There is something to get back to. There is the knowledge of progression, of stressing the body, of understanding and FEELING strength develop. There are markers through pacing and distance that are undeniable measures of progress. But it’s not just about that reversal of what surgery has done to me, but actually enjoying the experience of using my body and being in the world in a way I can relate, in a way I understand, in a way that defines my existence and happiness. The only difference with running post-diagnosis and pre-diagnosis is the added benefit to overcoming surgery. In the end, I still do it (against some people’s wishes) because I deeply enjoy it.

This is why the majority of the experiences that defined this last period between surgeries consisted primarily of running. There is little else to say about that.

I can only say my New Year starts the moment I wake up from surgery, in a state that is hard to imagine being worse than it is. The benefit, of course, is that it can only get better. I’ll be destroyed, undoubtedly, but I also know, and proved this last year and a half, that we can get strong again. If I have any resolution for this New Year…it’s that.

See you on the roads and trails next Spring.