The Obligation to Finish

I would always mentally prepare for a running race of any caliber, but specifically for those more challenging. I would hype myself up, visualize my performance, consider all the difficulties, pretty much lie to myself, and ultimately get hyper-psyched to attack the race. Most of this comes from a point of fear and apprehension, but what I created in the process was necessary to get me past that fear and towards the finish line. Facing down my surgery in April was no different and if you read some of the posts prior, they don’t sound much different from some of my more important pre-race posts. I believe i’ve exclaimed, “Bring it the fuck on”, in both circumstances now.

But all that is to get me to the start line and carry me through some of the rough spots in the race. At some point the reality of the situation takes over and it’s not so much a mental game as it is relying on the fitness I built to that point. When the races got hard, when the hills kept coming and the fatigue took over, I had to hope I simply had enough in the tank to get me to the finish. No amount of pre-race motivation was going to get me past the pain that takes over deep into the race. That’s all water under the bridge by that point.

The good thing is a race distance is finite. A 10k race is 10 kilometers. A marathon is a marathon. 5 miles is 5 miles (well, if you get a good race director who measures the course properly). This is to say that there is a definitive start to the race and a definitive end, so any mental preparations can be adjusted accordingly. I know what I need to do to prepare for a 5 mile race, mentally and physically, compared to preparing for a marathon. And at the start of this “cancer race”, everything seemed so finite as well, with a definitive start date and relative, but not too unclear finish date. I had something of a finish line to look towards, to prepare for, to gauge the distance of the race along the way and make physical and mental changes as needed.

Of course, the cancer course didn’t end up so finite. It’s as if I was running a 10 mile race and at about 9 miles the race director tells me they added a couple miles to the finish. That would be demoralizing and aggravating as hell, but I could probably still work through it. But then, as I near the new finish line, the director tells me they added even more miles to the course and I’ll finish whenever I get to the line….wherever that is. I’d quit. If that was how it went, I’d quit. I’d quit because I wasn’t mentally or physically prepared for that unknown, that new extension.

This cancer course has somehow turned into that very nightmare scenario, except this time I can’t quit. There is no walking off the course and coming back to finish another day or find a more finite distance to run. There is only a road that stretches out in front of me and a finish line that was unexpectedly pushed out of sight. In a race it would be futile to try and find more motivation, more mental reserves to reach the finish…but this isn’t that race. This is the one I can’t quit and so I HAVE to find more motivation. I HAVE to find more mental reserves to keep me going towards the finish line.

And I’m grateful that I don’t have to reach too deep to find that motivation. It is, quite simply, the obligation I have to my friends.

It’s a peculiar part of the human experience to give up on the self. So many find it easy to lose sight of their personal value and sink into states of self-abuse and depression. They are insecure, unhappy, unmotivated and essentially care less about themselves than they do others, making them ineffective to both. Personally, I don’t get it, but lately I have touched a small part of that world, felt the desire to “give in” to some degree and just let the unpleasantness and discomfort of the entire situation take over until it has run its course. Fortunately, I have enough perspective and self-worth that I still see benefit in taking care of myself through this ordeal, in remaining as positive as possible, and effectively turning this negative circumstance into a positive one. But lately I’ve been getting worn down.

The repetition and monotony of each day has worn me down. The blank slate upon waking every morning has left me with little inspiration. The lack of creative outlet as I struggle to build the energy for such small tasks leaves me unfulfilled. The continuous discomfort that drives out any attempt to engage in even the most basic chores has me feeling worthless. The added incisions and reshaping of my bodily landscape makes me feel almost alien and certainly less and less like my previous self. My identity shifts and erodes as the days tick by.

And suddenly I find myself absorbing the reviled “Why me” mantra I’ve tried to hard to avoid, that pushes me that much closer to a state of self-loathing, exactly where I DON’T want to be. I find myself wanting to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and wait for someone to come wake me when it’s all over with….whatever the outcome. It’s simply giving up.

And that’s not ok. So I stop and think outside myself. I think about how much help I’ve been given to this point. How many individuals have contributed to my medical bills, my expenses, my daily needs. I think about my friends who have rearranged their days to help me with simple pleasures like going to the bookstore. I think about everyone who has taken the time to prepare me the meals that strengthen me every day. I think about all the words of encouragement and the most simple offerings of support those I have never met can give. I think about all these small gestures and I’ve overcome by an incredibly motivating force…a sense of obligation.

An obligation in it’s most positive sense, mind you, more as a manner of reciprocation than a state of servitude. I don’t necessarily OWE anyone anything, but it would be supremely selfish and of such a great insult to have received these countless gestures of support and encouragement, and then just push them aside and give up on the process of becoming healthy and building a valuable life in the face of cancer. I have an obligation to those that trust in my efforts, who have sent along their support believing that I am doing my part just as they are doing theirs. I have an obligation to get out of bed each day, do my best to work through the discomfort and figure out how to build the most valuable life I can while struggling through the weight and discomfort that blankets my days. To succumb to a darkened state of self-loathing, “why me” wailing and general disavowal of the life I’ve tried so hard to build isn’t too far removed from an act of temporary suicide…and that’s not ok.

I could be that person who gives up on themselves. I could be that person so frustrated at my misfortune, so worn down from the pain, so saddened by my compromised life that I stop caring about myself. I could stop trying so hard. I could stop trying to retain parts of my old life. I could stop riding my bike, running when able, reaching out to support others, managing my daily schedule, and everything else that makes me who I am, but I wouldn’t be doing this in some social vaccuum. I wouldn’t just be giving up on myself. I’d be giving up on everyone who trusts me to very much NOT do that. I would be ignoring the obligation I have to all of you who write me kind words, tend to my needs and help me keep the life I had pre-cancer. And for that I thank you.

The course I started running has changed, has been altered, and the added distance and finish line out of sight has undeniably taken its toll on my motivation to keep going. I’m newly physically worn from the added distance and all the same mentally, but along this altered course are all of you cheering for me, trusting in me to keep going, sticking around even though that 5k just turned into an ultramarathon…and for that I thank you. I know I’ll finish this race. I know I’ll complete this cancer course, no matter how many changes may add to the distance, because even if I can’t rely on my own stories, my own motivations, I have the obligation to the rest of you to keep going. As long as you stick around to give me encouragement, I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And for that I thank you.


11 responses to “The Obligation to Finish

  1. Awesome post. As a regular reader of your blog, I am cheering for you. You got this ultra. Keep moving forward!

  2. You do your best and be the person that you are, Scott. That’s all anyone asks of you and why we are cheering you on and reading. Sometimes you have to walk in the race of life, and other times, lie in bed looking at the ceiling, wondering what this is all about. You were hit hard by a medical procedure and by drugs and by the cancer. Just one foot in front of another is all anyone can do on a good day–anyone, and all of us.

  3. Great analogy. I had never thought of it this way before. Keep running…we’re cheering for you!

  4. I’ve been reading your blog for several years, Scott, and remember a comment from a few years ago in which someone asked if you subscribed to any particular approach to running. You responded that you pretty much favor the “ole one foot in front of the other” approach. I’m glad to know you’re sticking with it for this new type of race. .

    • Ginny, sometimes moments of desperation lead us towards coping methods that are a little, well, questionable. My “one foot in front of the other” method has worked for me up to this point, so I’m just gonna keep going with it. Thanks for reading and I’m continually excited about all your new projects. Take care.

  5. You are right that this is a little different than many races, as the distance/outcome of this journey are so unclear. But one major thing that this has in common with your racing experience: MIND OVER MATTER. One doesn’t become the kind of runner that you are without having an incredible ability to put mind over matter. To turn the brain off and just.keep.going. To endure. To go faster when the brain is screaming “stop.” The signals that you are getting from your brain are a little different than the more customary, “I’m thirsty,” “my hip hurts a little, ” etc., but they are still signals from your brain, and you know how to tune them out and keep going. That is my wish for you, that once this chemo begins, you can look at the chemo protocol like a race and just keep going, until it is done.

    • Thank you Monica, and it is true, the practice I’ve had enduring mentally has given me great benefit through this process. I’m currently readjusting distance expectations at this point and will get back to finishing soon.

  6. Great to see that you are still blogging – don’t forget that we have list of PMP blogs on our website to which you can add yours and then share the list on your blog.

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