It might seem a little calloused to hear some of my friends’ first response to my latest news, which is to ask if the cancer is preventing me from running before the operation. Rest assured, I LOVE it when they ask this, because as runners, or as friends who know my passions well, it shows they really understand me and how important it is both physically and mentally to engage with my passion. They know that despite all the other looming potential negatives of this situation, the IMMEDIATE downside is the ability not to run. That’s what I have to deal with right now, so they are rightfully curious.
So let me clarify. No. No, I am not running right now. I CAN’T run right now. Despite some of my earlier posts alluding to everything being business as usual and feeling normal on the whole, considering the circumstances anyways, the growth of this cancer has left me unable to run, which is actually incredibly fortunate because it was the pain that left me unable to run that sent me to the St. Vincent’s Sports Performance in the first place. Not wanting to lose another day to a potential injury, I jumped at the chance to get checked out, which led me to the surgeon, to the CT scan and now to the oncologist. Running got me to this point, probably quicker than if I wasn’t so motivated to not miss a day of physical progression.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t run. Pardon me for getting a little process-oriented here, but this is what is going on inside me right now that has stopped me in my tracks.
Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (I hate how easy it is for me to spell the correctly already) or otherwise known as PMP, starts as a polyp-like growth or tumor on the appendix. It is a slow growing cancer that breaks through the abdominal wall, ruptures, and spreads mucin throughout the stomach and abdominal area. A clinical summary describes it like this…
“Pseudomyxoma peritonei is a very rare type of cancer that usually begins in your appendix as a small growth, called a polyp. Or, more rarely, it can start in other parts of the bowel, the ovary or bladder. This polyp eventually spreads through the wall of your appendix and spreads cancerous cells to the lining of the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum). These cancerous cells produce mucus, which collects in the abdomen as a jelly like fluid called mucin.
We don’t know what causes this type of cancer. Most cancers are caused by a number of different factors working together.”
The description sounds relatively tame, but the greater problems involve the cancer growing and accumulation of mucin (“Jelly belly”) in the abdominal area, effectively putting increasing pressure upon the abdominal organs. It’s hard to determine exactly what damage has been done to any internal organs until the operation begins and the organs can be viewed directly, which may entail the removal of said organs (appendix, gall bladder, spleen). In the interim, however, the mucin creates an overall feeling of both bloat and pressure, so even minor jostling of the abdomen/core creates discomfort and pain.
Before I had a more accurate diagnostic theory, and before I understood the actual process of what was going on inside me, I was in great pain and very limited in my movement. I was having a terrible time sleeping at night as any position involved great pain and pressure. I was walking slightly bent over, trying to cradle and protect my abdomen, taking the most gingerly steps down stairs or off curbs. Driving was problematic as I braced for every bump in the road. Putting any food in my system would bring on near immediate pains moving throughout my abdomen as the food made its way through my intestines. I was, rather quickly, a physical mess.
But then I figured out what was going on and recognized the mass and mucin in my belly was to such an extent that all my organs are under continuous pressure, so any time I put food into me, I’m essentially pushing back on that pressure and causing the pains and limited mobility. Initially, I was eating full-on meals like normal, mimicing my past eating habits that centered around fueling for longer runs, so the amount of food I was taking in was causing intense pressure and putting me into near debilitating pain, especially at night when my stomach was already full from eating throughout the day.
And so I changed all that. Very quickly I started eating less, a decrease in appetite related to the PMP helped that, switched almost entirely to easily chewed/digested foods and eat them in small portions, as if in grazing mode. Breakfast is now quite minimal, bananas are my best friend (like usual), and I’m trying to eat nutrient dense foods that pack it all in small portions. You’ll be relieved to know that peanut butter is, of course, not a problem. 🙂 If I do slip up and eat more at night than I should (did a little anxiety eating last night), I pay the price the next day. Overall, it’s not my preferred way of eating, but the benefit of not walking around in pain, or even compensated in any way is totally worth it.
But…I still can’t run. I’m debating testing the fates and riding my bike around the block to see how my abdomen handles it on an empty stomach, but running…that’s out of the question. The jostling and the impact is simply too much. Even an empty stomach is still an empty stomach surrounded by a dumbhead tumor and it’s stupidface mucin friends.
So, to summarize friends, no..I’m not running. But it’s different this time. It’s serious. So I can handle it. This is not a confusing injury I’m just waiting to heal itself so I can get back out there and put in work. This time it’s a “condition” that not only won’t heal on it’s own, but actually get WORSE, and I know what is needed to “fix” it, to get back to functioning health, and to then get back to running. Because yes, I’m getting back to running. That’s all I can see…a void of my life post-operation, that at SOME point entails getting back to running, hard and fast. I don’t know when and I don’t care what unsatisfactory timelines might be offered to me, at some point, I’m going to run again. And that’s what I see through the void. So I’m ok with it.
And so when I see OTHER people running right now, I’ve stopped cringing at their ability, their freedom to do what I so desperately want to do. Now I just smile internally, knowing how great they are suffering, how great that suffering feels. I internalize the pleasure of their ability. And when I read my teammates training logs and see their race performances, I don’t reel with jealousy and frustration, but celebrate along side them….because right now this is my only connection to running. And when Facebook friends tell me they were thinking about me while on the run, I briefly see myself on the trails too. They are my most uplifting messages and I thank them. And by the power of Instagram, I find myself on other’s trails, at other’s races, and can get just little snippets of the running visuals, roads and singletrack snaking off into the distance. A couple weeks ago, if this was just a confusing injury, this stuff would have driven me nuts, but now it’s driving me forward. So thank you, facebook friends and strangers, instagram friends and strangers for giving me a connection to that culture while I stare at an indefinite span of non-running.
I am not running right now. I can’t. That is the bad news. The good news is, I can see through the void, and off in the distance I’m growing smaller and smaller.