The email popped up in my inbox.
“Knobstone Trail Half-Marathon”, it read. My inner dialogue responded, “Yeah! Let’s do that!”.
But quickly reality chimed in, “That’s a bad idea. You know Knobstone is hard. You’re leg isn’t healthy. You’ve had a full week of not running waiting for it to heal….and it’s the Saturday after your next infusion.”
Left alone with my own thoughts, reality won out. I decided to NOT sign up.
Then another message popped up on my Facebook account, this time from a teammate. I paraphrase, “Hey man, I’m doing Knobstone. If you come along, I’ll pay your entry fee. Just let me know.” And before I could really think through the same obstacles that kept me from signing up on my own, I had non-verbally committed…because…well..it seemed like a good thing to do! Despite all the bad reasons that stood in my way, I figured it was a good short-term goal to help me overcome those obstacles in the immediate sense. Bad ideas be damned…I was going to turn this into the best idea.
After a deep tissue massage by a friend and a week off of running, I went out for 4 miles on Monday. A little tightness persisted, but the aggravation didn’t get out of control. Then came Tuesday, my 7th of 12 scheduled infusions. I woke up at 4:45 and began my new ritual of riding my bike trainer for an hour prior to the infusion, unscientifically trying to determine if it makes me feel better or worse for wear after I’m flooded with toxic chemicals. It at least invigorates me first thing in the morning and keeps me more alert for all the poking and prodding I get upon examination.
I headed to the office for the infusion and the meeting with my oncologist to get the latest news from the last CT Scan. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting good news. I’ve been having issues with my abdominal area along with weird digestive issues that are remeniscint of what I was feeling just before diagnosis. In short, I was worried the mucin had multiplied and was beginning to crowd my abdominal cavity again, making small tasks like eating increasingly problematic. But, well, the scan read pretty much the same as the last time….which I’ll try to explain to you here.
Basically, the cancer inside me is not growing…nor is it shrinking, meaning I’m remaining nuetral. To the oncologist, this is a positive sign. It means that in SOME WAY I’m responding to the chemotherapy treatments, which it was alluded to at the last meeting that most people in my situation DON’T respond to the chemo. So…that’s good. And I’m told, “You’re not normal. Just keep doing what you’re doing”, which is exactly what I was doing pre-diagnosis. Eating well, living well, running, staying active, staying intense. Just…living my life.
On the other hand, staying nuetral is only good for so long. It’s good for NOW. But what does it mean down the line, say, after the 12th treatment? If the cancer has STILL not shrunk by that time, does that mean the inevitable “curing” surgery is held off…and then what? That question still lingers.
On the other OTHER hand (I got a lot of hands), I’m responding VERY well to the chemo treatments (knock on wood), and so my oncologist is not going to “tone down” the dosage. For a lot of cancer patients, their overall quality of life begins to wane under the pressures of chemo side effects as the accumulation develops and so the dosages are scaled back, but that means the cancer then has a greater potential to GROW! Umm…no thanks. Dose me up. And that’s the good news in my situation, that because I’m having minimal problems with cancer side effects, they are able to continue supplying me with the complete dose and so the chance of shrinking the cancer remains the same. That’s an undeniable positive.
However, those concerns about side effects don’t disappear…which brings me to this upcoming race.
After getting home from the infusion I got back on my bike trainer for another hour to sweat out the discomfort and overall gross feeling that comes with a flooding of toxins. As the day wore on, I still felt pretty good and figured with the trail half on my schedule that I could stand to go to the gym for some lifting in lieu of trying to run (I never run on infusion days), and that also went well. Oddly well. I simply was not feeling as worn down and gross as I normally do the day of an infusion. Because of this encouragement, I felt going out for my scheduled run the next day was a good idea…but I was concerned. I was concerned because those side effects were going to have accumulated again, and this time I was going to be battling a severe drop in temperature, which has me more concerned about not being able to run this race (or any upcoming races) more than anything else.
One of the immediate side effects of my infusion drugs is an extreme sensitivity to cold. If my arms so much as get chilled, I have an intense feeling of “pins and needles” or electrical shocks throughout my hands. It gets to the point that I literally can’t use my hands for anything. I can’t hold onto my bike handlebars, unzip a coat, hold a pot, etc. It’s impossible until I warm back up. So that was my first concern..staying warm. This cold sensitivity, however, also affects my ability to ingest cold food or drink. I can’t so much as drink room temperature water without having a painful scraping feeling run down my mouth, or the sensation that my lips have frozen and hardened into a painful cracking sheet of ice. It’s absolutely surreal, and so for the week or two after na infusion I have to ingest only warm foods.
So in relation to running, I was concerned about breathing in the cold air. I can deal with running through pins and needles in my hands, but cold air potentially freezing the insides of my mouth and scraping down my throat is a run killer. There is no working through that and with the morning temperatures threatening in the 30s…this was going to be interesting. But there was only one way to find out how it was going to work.
I left the gym wearing tights (first of the season!), gloves, arm warmers, a long sleeve, and a windbreaker. My first steps were tentative…but then…I don’t know…it was weird.
I was running like I used to run. Before I was diagnosed. Before I had any nagging injuries. Before my legs were heavy with effort. I don’t exactly know why it was different…but it was. I was light on my feet, strong, smooth, effortless. And my hands didn’t have pins and needles in them. I have no idea what happened that morning, but everything came together….until I hit the cold wind. Then I felt the side effects.
My hands felt a little bit of electrical shock, but nothing that was worrisome. The bigger concern was my face. Suddenly it felt like I was stung on my ear, or as if someone had held an ice cube to it for a painfully long time. Then the feeling spread to my cheeks, my chin, my nose, until my whole face felt like it was freezing up into a mask of ice that might just crack off and come shattering to the ground. But it didn’t. It just felt…weird. Really weird. And I can run through weird. Even if that weird is mildly painful.
Then I felt the distinct sensation of the inside of my mouth freezing up, which gave me pause and had me considering if I should turn back, but then just as quickly it went away. The warmth of my breath seems to hold back the pain of cold sensitivity and I can apparently manage through that too.
And just like that, I had tested the boundaries once again, met them head on, and ran through them. It was that simple. I didn’t back down from the fear that these side-effects were not worth risking…but instead decided that the reward of running would be much greater should they prove to not be so, well, problematic. And from that point on the run continued absolutely stellar. My legs stay strong and smooth and I ran through those 6 miles like I was in taper mode leading up to a marathon.
This morning was much of the same. The legs were a little heavier than the day prior, and the side effects were all the same, this time the pins and needles consuming any exposed part of my face….but I was still able to keep running, all 8 miles. And tomorrow is 10. And Saturday is…well…MY FIRST RACE BACK.
Sort of. Let’s not romanticize this. There will be minimal “racing”. I’m just running this to finish. I’m just running in the race environment, to push myself, to run past the perceived obstacles of cancer and keep to the life I had before diagnosis. That’s all I want.
I could go on. I could go on about the 6 month recovery time I was told I would have to endure after surgery back in April. I could go on about how fortunate I feel to be able to do what I’m doing when others can barely get out of bed. I could go on about the example I want to set for others. I could go on….but….I’ll just leave it there. I’ll just plainly state that this Saturday I’m going to run a race, in the face of cancer treatment…and it’s going to be my first race back.
I don’t know what may lie past the finish line of Knobstone, but I do know I’m at least making it to the start….and that’s huge for me.
I’m going to do my best to turn this bad idea into the best idea.