The starting line.
It’s such a cliche to say, “After the marathon, nothing will be the same”, but after running my first in Chicago ’09, I was surprised to find that it was also very true. Everything HAD changed. My understanding of my own potential, my awareness of a new kind of running pain, my own sense of accomplishment, my new goals, my shattered limitations. It had all changed. I found myself referring to running in terms of “pre-chicago” and “post-chicago” quite often, as if I was now speaking in biblical timelines. Anything before the marathon was my “before christ” period.
And now, I count down today’s hours as the last of my previous life. On one side, an existence filled without the concerns of a life-threatening disease, and on the other side….something different. Something changed. That, I already know, will be inevitable. It is why I have been saying to my friends the past week,
“I’ll see you on the other side.”
Which I know…sounds sort of final, almost morbid. As if I’m referring to the other side of “life”, where one side is living and the other is the afterlife. That, of course, is NOT what I mean to convey. But I can’t deny that when I enter the hospital tomorrow morning, get put to sleep on Tuesday, and wake up a few days down the line, that part of my existence now completely absent….I will be on the other side, and everything will have changed.
I will have changed quite physically. The dying part of me will have been killed itself (we hope, completely). And other parts will be missing, whether whole or in part, excised, removed, and disposed. I will experience the new physical sensation of being gutted, lying somewhere beneath the tides of pain that will be washing over and through me. On the outside I will be missing other things, hair, a bellybutton, some skin. Most prominently, I will have a rift that extends from the top of my abdomen to the bottom, like the story embedded in a timeline, but fortunately one I will not have heard. I will be physically changed.
I will also have changed emotionally and psychologically. Though I don’t know quite how yet. I don’t know what this new sense of identity will mean, this post-cancer existence. I don’t know if I will now feel a limit to my potential, tethered to the ground by the weight of my scars, or like post-chicago, will feel unleashed, as if the sky never ends and gravity doesn’t exist. I only know that it will be impossible to enter into a transformation like this and come out the same as when I went in.
I will be on the other side.
I will face a life of great uncertainty. I will be without work and self-generated income for months. I will be physically atrophied. I will have lost all expectations of my body’s functions. Everything will have changed.
Well…Almost. Not everything.
This cancer and this operation can change me physically and this experience can change me psychologically and emotionally, but I will never have lost everything, no matter what side I’m on. This is stomach cancer after all, not brain cancer. This experience and this operation can not erase my memory of what life was like pre-cancer.
I haven’t forgotten what it was like to run 2:25 in Chicago and I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to keep going after that PR. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to run an easy 10 mile MGP run at 5:18 pace. I haven’t forgotten the feeling of finishing a back to back 4 hour trail run, coming off the trail and into the parking lot, drenched in sweat and feeling the power of gods and demons combined. I haven’t forgotten that, and on the other side, I still will not have forgotten. And so whatever has changed within me, that potential will still be there. Those memories, that drive, those goals, that return to the epic life will always be a part of me, in the distance, waiting to fill the physical void I will now harbor.
On the other side I will be changed. Broken down. Back to square one. Emptied and atrophied. It will be a new life…if only because I will be starting over.
And in starting over, there is only one direction to head. On the other side I will be empty, weak, slow….and so on the other side I can ONLY get stronger, faster. I will start with waking. I will progress to moving. Then walking. Then jogging. Then running. Stronger and faster. Stronger and faster. Until that day I stalk the grounds at the end of a sweat-drenched trail run, crush yet another seemingly impossible speed workout, and step over the finish line faster than I ever have before.
Today is my last day on this side. Tomorrow I will step into the hospital to be prepped for the operation on Tuesday, residing temporarily in space between my lives, like hovering in transition between earthly and other realms. I will not leave those walls until weeks later, stepping through the front doors and into my new life.
In the face of so many unknowns, so many potential worries and debilitating fears, I feel ready. I feel ready to face the coming pain and everything I can’t know is out there.
Bring it on. Bring it the fuck on.
See you on the other side friends.