My alarm went off at 5:45 this morning, but for some reason I was already awake, probably triggered by the anticipation of meeting a busy day with a run first thing. Of course, no matter how awake I was or how prepared I was to head to the gym for a run, the routine of excuse making began a dialogue in my head.
“It’s going to be a busy day…you don’t HAVE to run.”
“That pain in your leg is probably still there, maybe you should wait another day.”
“Rest is good for you…it’s probably better that you sleep in.”
But this time I managed to muster my own responses.
“Yeah…but I haven’t run in three days. I know it will feel good.”
“Yeah…but I’m sure my leg will be fine and it won’t keep me from actually running.”
“Yeah…but…but I actually am hedging my bets that activity is probably better for me right now than rest.”
And finally, the one that got me out of bed.
“Look, you’ve been given the privilege to start the marathon tomorrow..and the people that gave you that privilege did so because how you’re handling this whole experience…not just because you got cancer…and if all those people can make the sacrifices to get up and run tomorrow, then the least you can do is get up and run today.”
And just like that I was out of bed, going through my morning routines and heading to the gym for a run, inspired by the countless friends and runners taking part in the Monumental Marathon Saturday morning. I got to the gym, made it to the treadmill and, wouldn’t you know it, the run felt effortless. I decided to arbitrarily put in 5 miles and was instantly cruising, my lungs expanding and contracting without strain, my legs feeling relaxed and strong….but then…my feet. Just halfway in and I started to feel the familiar pain and abrasiveness to the soles of my feet. And it got worse each half mile. This was after a full 3 days of rest, which tells me the side effects are still lingering pretty heavy in my hands and feet. Still, I knocked out each mile with ease throughout the rest of my body and finished the full five miles, invigorated by the effort. However, I was still left hobbling a bit, unable to favor one foot or the other as they both hurt equally. The frustration of the awareness that these side effects are starting to really inhibit my ability to run consistently and so stay as strong as possible dug itself deep within me for the day, constantly reminded with the weight I put into each step.
Still, it felt good to put in that effort, to in some way share the running experience with everyone coming into town, who will hear my words just before I signal the start of the race.
That afternoon I attended the expo to listen to a presentation and see teammates and friends. What I didn’t expect was the near continuous meetings with friends and acquaintances that I’ve known from the running community or through social media. Many recognized me and had read the welcome letter that was sent out to all race participants last week and the attention took a little getting used to, but I was grateful and humbled by all the thanks and encouragement I was given. Through it all though, it just felt good to be in that environment, surrounded by the organization booths, hearing about everyone’s progress, watching all the nervous tension and building excitement. I only wished I could have experienced those feelings myself. Instead, I was left talking about my cancer and problems with treatments, unable to offer a story of survivorship, to deliver the hard truths about chemo complications and the final questions that remain hanging above me. It’s somewhat awkward getting so much attention spawned by a disease I had no part in actively creating, which I understand the attention is actually about how I’m handling the experience, but it’s harder for me to separate the two. I don’t WANT to be the guy with cancer. Hell…I don’t even want to be the guy who NO LONGER has cancer. I want to be the guy running for a PR again.
I left the expo after what seemed like non-stop conversations with friends and strangers alike, suddenly left alone as I walked to my car….except not alone, still with my fucking cancer again. And somehow that realization made me feel even MORE alone.
Last week I ran into a friend at a coffee shop, who informed me that he was diagnosed with ALS 2 years ago and has been given an ESTIMATED life expectancy of 2 1/2 years. I was stunned. He admitted he doesn’t tell a lot of people about it unless it’s necessary, but we then went on to have the type of conversation individuals facing down our mortality tend to have. It was a comforting conversation, even if that sounds weird, and one thing he said has stuck with me since.
“Other people just can’t understand. I mean, they can get it, and they can think about what it’s like, but until you’re ACTUALLY facing it down, they just don’t understand what we have to deal with.”
And it’s true. There is so much to this experience that goes untold, which is a big reason why I try to be so candid and descriptive through my writings, to share the good and the bad, to detail the story so others aren’t so blindsided should they find themselves facing a similar situation. And yet, I still can’t possibly explain all the emotional intensity of this experience, again, both the good AND the bad. And maybe I’m cursed by honesty, but lately it seems like a greater deal of this experience has been bad…to potentially worse.
Which is, in part, why I’m so grateful to be a part of the marathon that will begin tomorrow morning, to be included in the build up, to attend the expo and at least be in the vicinity of the excitement, and to even directly start the race. Because things are rough right now and I often feel alone, if not in company, then at least in facing my own circumstance…and that’s something I’m unable to shake. But sometimes I get a reprieve, like when I’m talking to my teammates about their hopes for the race or their problems with training or…well….ANYTHING that isn’t cancer. Anything that isn’t an ultimate consideration of if I’m going to be alive to see this race again in a year, 2 years, or 10.
So maybe the people that allowed me to be the Honorary Starter tomorrow just felt compelled to offer a nice gesture to me, or felt sorry for me (I trust that isn’t the case), or just felt I would be a good addition to the festivities….I don’t know, but for me, the whole experience holds a much greater meaning and I’m deeply grateful to a part of it all. So although I’ve said it many times in the past, it will never be enough, but thank you. Thank you to all my friends and NEWER friends who compel me to keep to my previous life as much as possible, to take me away from the considerations of cancer, and allow me to focus on what makes my life worth living. Every small gesture is actually quite large.
So although I often find myself alone these days, it will be a great reminder that I’m certainly not when I see you all at the start line tomorrow. Thanks for sticking with me through this…I’ll see you at the finish.