The temperature has been cold here lately. Genuinely cold. Brutally cold. -35 degree (F) wind chill cold…and I hate it. I don’t hate it, however, like most of Facebook hates it, complaining about putting on an extra layer just to drive to work in a heated car and into a heated office complex. Or how parents hate having to actually be parents and entertain their kids as day after day of school is called off. Or hating the cold because hating a change in temperature has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. No, I hate it because I can’t be in it.
One of my favorite rewards of being an everyday runner was experiencing the very subtle changes in the seasons, shifting from one range of temperature to another, taking in the smells and visuals that accompany these changes, and yes, finding out what it really feels like to run in the extremes of Summer and Winter.
The extremes of Summer have their own distinct forms of suffering – the sensation of breathing through a wet blanket, the chafing that comes with excessive sweating, the slow burn of sun on skin. But all that is relatively tolerable. Winter, on the other hand, isn’t so forgiving. There is both a physical preparation in figuring out just the right amount of clothing for any given temperature, but also a mental effort just to get out the door and hit that point in the run where pain and discomfort warm up, literally, to an invigorating pace. Then there are those negative wind chills, where any tiny bit of exposed skin burns with the pain often felt after getting stung by a wasp. There are ice drops that form and pull down at the end of eyelids. There are icicle stalagtites that shoot upward from the breath trying to escape your face mask. And there is, of course, the machismo that comes with the post-run brag about putting down another 10 miles when the city has warned everyone to stay inside for their own safety.
Honestly…I miss that. I miss those subtle shifts in the seasons and I miss those moments of extreme adversity that offer both new experiences and yet another opportunity to overcome. There is a reward that only a relative few of us know from forcing ourselves into those circumstances, from scoffing at the treadmill and preparing to do battle both against and in concert with the elements.
And damn I miss it, because I’m trapped inside.
Over two weeks have passed now since I ran my last 5 miles on the treadmill, confined to the indoors from the accumulated cold sensitivity of my latest chemo treatment. It’s funny, because I wrote that on my calendar, “5 miles”, as I decided to start keeping track of how much I end up running each week, as both encouragement for myself and to see how I’m handling each session of treatment. And although I planned on getting up the very next day to add another “5 miles” to the calendar, I knew the second I put my foot down that the day would be left blank. My feet were in pain. Great pain. I felt them a little on the treadmill the day before, but sometimes the hand and foot syndrome attacks me rather suddenly and intensely, and I’ve learned that when my feet feel a certain way in the morning, there is going to be no running that day…barely even any walking. Since that day my calendar has stayed blank. Not a step of running. And that’s when I realized I’m not only trapped inside from the cold sensitivity, hiding from the dangerously biting air, but that I’m now also trapped inside my own body.
The deterioration of my hands and feet has hit a point that I can’t simply grit my teeth and fight through. I can’t start running and hope the adrenaline numbs the pain. I can’t tell myself to suck it up and just go. This time it’s too much, far too much. This past week has been so incredibly bad that the moment I step out of bed I have to take incredibly soft steps just to get to the bathroom, to make my coffee, to somehow work up the will to go to work where I’ll be standing and moving on my feet all day. This is all very sudden and I’m trying to find a way to deal with this emotionally.
As I explained in a recent post, the side effects have gotten so bad that we had to take out one of the drugs from my infusion and alter my Xeloda schedule so that I can hopefully manage the pain and not become completely immobile. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, especially considering how much I’ve talked about running and being physically active in the recent month or two, but this has come on quite suddenly and put a little scare in me, to be quite honest. Each step, all day, is like walking on sandpaper, sharp pebbles, burning asphalt. If I step on any uneven surface in the morning, even a folded up towel after getting out of the shower, my body threatens to buckle under the pain. After some significant work to get my socks and shoes on as painlessly as possible, I can then at least move around for a couple hours with a little less abrasion, but the weight only builds on the pain until I’m seeking relief at any opportunity.
I’m still having trouble accepting that this is my body, that I’m breaking down like this. I’m a fucking distance runner, damnit. Just last week I inadvertently hit the buttons on my watch up against a box, triggering a sequence that brought up one of my last speed workouts prior to diagnose, that I had never erased.
5:30, 5:35, 5:26, 5:28, 5:24. Mile splits.
I looked at them with a mix of both excitement and pride, yet frustration and dejection. They were like reading the times of another runner, another person. It’s been that long and I’m not convinced I’ll get back there again, no matter how deep a fire still burns within this body. It’s a fire that is trapped inside me, continuously smothered by the accumulation of poisons that prevent me from using my body in the way I so desperately desire.
And yet, I still have complete freedom in my mind. I am entirely conscious, able to process and reconcile my situation, draw value from the experience and attempt to relate it to others. In that, I can hold onto some sense of not feeling trapped, of being able to progress in some way, mentally and emotionally if not physically. But that scares me too. Because I can’t bare to lose that.
My sister wrote a blog before and during her cancer experience, and one of the hardest parts was reading her last posts where the drugs were taking over her ability to communicate well, to be aware of her reality. It was consuming every part of her, even the seemingly untouchable part that lets us endure through some of those worst pains and depressions. I don’t want my mind to become as trapped as my body.
Last night was rough. I searched the internet for ways of alleviating my hand and foot syndrome, but the suggestions seem to be more akin to appeasement than actual solutions. On the contrary, the clinical descriptions of the symptoms were less hopeful and only stated that the pains would go away after the dosage was dropped or eliminated from the infusion schedule, something we haven’t done yet. And so my physical situation feels worse than it ever has at this point, at least as far as side effects go. I continued looking and stumbled across some blogs where people detailed their fruitless efforts at dealing with Xeloda side effects and as I continued down some of their worm holes I found myself reading story after story of physical digression, until some of the posts started to mimic my sister’s in their lack of lucidity. Their mind was going along with their body.
And there I had to stop. I went to bed fighting back tears brought on by a sense of futility.
I woke the next morning with very little relief in my hands and feet, spending the morning building the drive to get ready for work, to prepare for a day of physical activity that I knew was only going to get worse as I stayed on my feet. I felt trapped inside, in my body and in my circumstance…
But…well, there are small victories that I have to rely on right now. I tapped the Instagram community for suggestions on physical activity that doesn’t involve my hands and feet. It was suggested that I resort to swimming, but the water would only make things worse for me. Yoga was suggested, but ANY pressure on my hands and feet is out of the question. All I could think of was doing core exercises I used to do to supplement my running, and so that’s what I did. I pulled out my padded mat, turned up the metal and got a very small workout in that had me putting most of the weight on my butt and back instead of my hands and feet…so…that’s something. It’s not much, but at least it’s not giving up…and that’s something.
And when I got home after work today, when all I wanted to do was go to my bed and lay down, taking all the pressure off my useless feet, I decided that the 30 degree weather and the little will I had left to be physical would be well spent shoveling my elderly neighbor’s walk, if not only because she no longer has the ability to do so (something I’m trying to avoid), then at least to make myself feel a little less helpless. And so that’s what I did.
Now I wait. I wait to see how my feet will feel tomorrow. If I’ll wake up with bloody creases in my fingers again. If I’ll struggle to pull on my socks. If I’ll remain trapped inside, inside my own body, or if there will be a little more relief, a little light creeping under the door that might give me hope that I can get out of my indefinite state of relative helplessness and, even maybe, back into the cold winter air to remember what a biting air feels like on my ankles.
I genuinely hope you are of the sort that finds the same reward in loosing your chains to get outside, to feel the subtle changes of the seasons and to overcome the adversity when things get downright dangerous. I may be trapped inside right now, but I’m quietly cheering you on.