Running Scared (The Cancer Version)

Let’s talk about running….because, finally, THERE’S SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT!

I don’t know what happened to me physically, whether it was the cumulative effects of my consistent bike training or if I just “flipped the switch”, but suddenly I’m stronger and more able than I ever have been since surgery. And IT. FEELS. AMAZING. I can’t even convey how normative I feel being able to get up every morning and do something physically strenuous and rewarding, then be excited to get up and do it again the next day. Again, I don’t know what happened, but it did and that’s all that matters.

It started somewhere before my son arrived last month when I was riding 20, 30, then 40+ miles each day, and although I would still get incredibly winded on any minor incline, I was able to continue on and finish the rides. Then each day of our vacation out East began with another long bike ride, sometimes cresting bridges that rose at such a degree that I thought all my muscles had gone into oxygen debt at the top and I was about to fall over…but…but then each day I found myself getting over the bridges with a greater ease. Something was changing within me. I was getting my lungs back.

Feeling quite encouraged by all that, when my roommate suggested we ride to Bloomington, Indiana, 60+ miles away, I jumped at the chance, though I was sufficiently worried that I was going to get clobbered by the hills and my lungs would near explode halfway up. I told them to go ahead and I’d meet them there, so imagine my surprise when I was able to top out every hill without even thinking of putting a foot down, and then continue on. Something had undeniably changed. And although I didn’t make the whole trip the first time, the second was euphorically successful (scroll down to the previous posts to read all that).

That’s when it REALLY hit me. The switch had flipped and my body had turned on,

“I bet I could go for a run now.”

Granted, I was still very worried about the dejection that might follow should things still be so compromised that running was STILL out of the picture, but there was only one way to find out. It took me so long to get to that point from past runs I had attempted, where although the hour long trail run I deemed a success was encouraging, it was only later that I realized the all-powerful numbing effects of Vicodin actually made that possible, because it was only a couple weeks later that I tried to run 2 miles around the block when I only made it a mile in 8 minutes before I had to walk/jog the last mile just to get home without collapsing. It was a punch in the gut. And I didn’t dare try again until I knew things would go a little better.

So I suddenly found myself stepping back onto the familiar treadmill at my local Y (thanks to all that donated and allowed me to get my membership back!) and pushing the bright green “GO” button. And so that’s what I did. I went. And kept going. And…well….I COULD BREATHE! My heart rate hadn’t skyrocketed at the 8:00 pace I had set the treadmill to and when I hit 1 mile everything was still completely manageable. I could take deep breaths and feel my lungs inflate fully, where before they would get about halfway and then just give up and deflate in the face of the effort, leaving me reeling for breath. But not now. They inflated fully and I exhaled slowly, my legs kicking over and over, beating out a familiar rhythm on the spinning rubber belt.

I was whole again.

If there was any missing puzzle piece of my life that kept me feeling at the mercy of cancer instead of the other way around, my inability to run was it, so to put this piece back in its rightful place is a victory I can’t even begin to describe. And it happened to suddenly that I’m still processing it all, yet feeling on top of the world all the same.

But one run is just one run. To make sure it wasn’t a total fluke, I went back to the gym the next day and ran 2 miles again, with just as much ease as the first, almost convincing myself to keep going once the machine ticked over to 2 miles, but knowing I was still muscularly weak in a number of running muscles, I played it safe and cut the run off. But ever so slowly, I’m now building. The next day I ran 3 miles at 7:30 pace. And today, well, today I ran OUTSIDE. SHIRTLESS. And for a full 4 miles that felt a little more difficult than I had hoped, except then I realized I was dropping 6:45 miles and finished the entire run under 7 minute pace without really trying.

And so here I am again, working to shrink the ratio between cycling miles and running miles, tipping the scales back towards my running identity, erasing that ridiculous looking cycling tan, and preparing for the Adirondacks Ragnar Relay with 11 of the most awesome vegan runners to ever run that event. And although my next infusion is this Tuesday, the fourth of 12, and although all this leads to another body destroying surgery down the line, for now I’m myself again. Building and building. Stronger and stronger. Faster and faster. And it feels AWESOME.

And yet (yeah, there’s a catch), I won’t hide that I’m running scared. I had my first CT scan this past Wednesday. I refer to it as my, “Let’s see if the chemo is working” CT scan, because that’s what it is, and on the 28th of this month I’ll sit down with my oncologist to get the results. Now, one part of me thinks,

“It HAS to be working. I mean, damn, I just rode 120 miles! And I’m running sub-7 minute miles now! And I feel almost as normal as pre-cancer, so how could it NOT be working?!”

But another part of me says,

“Remember. This means nothing. You can be this physically fit and the cancer can still be growing, can still be taking over your body and plotting it’s next attack. After all, you were running 30 trail miles just days before diagnosis, when things were REALLY bad.”

So yeah, I’m not going to say I’m not scared. I’m not so scared that I’m emotionally crippled, mind you, but I’m also not going into this meeting expecting high fives and NEC reports. I’m going to go in with weak knees and sweaty hands, hoping that the poisons are doing their job and we can keep going as planned until this whole pile of absurdity is dead and gone.

But until then, well, there’s nothing else to do but continue putting one foot in front of the other, quicker and quicker until I either hit the wall of my own physical limitations or cancer mountain bursts from the ground in front of me again. I’m hoping for the former, but know not to rule out the latter. Not until my oncologist gives me the green light.

And you can bet that when he does, I’m going to take off from the starting line with a violent pent up force. For now, however, I’ll see you on the roads, whether on my bike or on my feet…always moving forward.

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4 responses to “Running Scared (The Cancer Version)

  1. I truly hope you receive great news on the 28th. đŸ™‚

  2. Great news that you are running again! It must feel fantastic.

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