It’s a common question runners have to answer.
As in, “Why do you run? Why do you run a mile? Why do you run 5ks? Why do you run marathons? For goodness sakes, WHY?!”
A common response by runners to this question of “Why?” is often as simplistic as the question.
“Because I can.”
Admittedly, it’s something of a tongue in cheek response, answering taunt for taunt, but the reality is, the reasons why individuals choose to run are quite varied, complex, meaningful, and deeper than just, “Because I can.” Personally, I always tried to give the question a more dignified response, touching on the actual, very real, deeply felt reasons as to why I do choose to run. Depending on the moment, it could be about that feeling of superhuman strength, it could be for the power and health it affords me, it could be about the camaraderie I feel among others, it could be about engaging with the natural world, it could be about making the most of every day by seeking a passionate intense experience every time I step out the door. It could be all those things, but not just “because I can”.
Suddenly, one of my fundamental reasons to run is simply, “Because I can.” And I mean it. But I don’t mean it just because I have discovered an ability to run or an enjoyment of running, but because it was conveyed to me that I could very well NOT be running right now. I could very well not be BREATHING. It was relayed to me that I could very well be dead by now if it wasn’t for taking risks, modern medicine, and dumb luck. So when I say, “I run because I can”, it doesn’t always veil anything deeper than that. There are moments now, when I’m out running, that I can step out of my thoughts and realign to the surroundings, feeling the cold air upon exposed skin, listening to birdsong and the rhythm of my breathing, and become absorbed by an intense sense of appreciation for the act, for being out there, for running, no matter how much I may be struggling in the moment. I know, fundamentally, I’m doing it because I can. And that’s all I need anymore.
Because I know what it is to “can’t”. I know what it feels like when you can’t do something as simple as sit up in bed because a knife ran down the middle of your abdomen and split you in two, rendering all muscular strength void. I know what it feels like when you can’t walk to the kitchen because the effects of chemo have filled your feet with such sensitivity and pain that you almost fall over as soon as you try to stand up. I know what it feels like when you can’t go to the bathroom because all the drugs and toxins have shut your entire digestive systems down. I know what it feels like when you can’t imagine or plan your life a year out because it isn’t guaranteed that you’ll be alive for that long. I’ve known too much of what I can’t do.
But then, I know what it is to “can”. I know what it feels like to say, “I can walk, then run, then keep running.” I now know I CAN help my body get stronger and repair the damage done through surgery and chemotherapy. I know I CAN run a mile, then four, then ten, then feel the sensation of never stopping. I know I can start to build my life back, to get healthy again, then to surpass some base level of fitness and start to push towards superhuman status again. I know I can feel unstoppable, unkillable, yet again, because I’m doing it right now. I know, above all else, I can get better and better no matter how much, at one point, I couldn’t get better. I know I’m not confined.
THE FINANCIAL SIDE OF CANCER
And yet…I am, in ways. I can live against cancer and feel in love with my life again, but I also know I’m never done with cancer, especially right now. This disease still confines me, if not physically, then financially. And that is the point I want to drive home here.
Cancer is bad enough. Not being able to imagine your life into the future, knowing your perceived timeline has been potentially cut short, and the emotional weight of navigating all that is bad enough. But then there is the treatment. The physical deterioration of surgery and chemotherapy can never be understated. No one, except those who have gone through treatment, can really understand how bad it is, how it can crush the spirit of even the strongest character, how you may carry the scars and damage the rest of your life. But those are the parts of cancer everyone knows. This is what the public always hears about and the cancer patient initially dreads. We think about shaved heads, dark corners, and funerals…but that’s not the end of it.
If it’s not those stresses, then it’s the financial damage. The first blow to one’s sense of calm is managing the healthcare component. There are surgery costs, medicines, treatments, unforeseen problems that many assume they will encounter. Fortunately, there are programs and institutions to help alleviate as much of these concerns as possible. There is healthcare, debt forgiveness programs, charity services, etc., to help manage the medicinal side of cancer. But it doesn’t end there. If you are lucky enough to get through all that, you then have the burden of general living expenses, and this is the part most people DON’T consider, patients and public alike.
There is a significant gap of aid in our economy that swallows a great many people going through various economic adversity. That gap is a space where an individual can’t make enough money to comfortably make ends meet, but they make too much to qualify for any sort of government aid. I’ve found myself close to and firmly in that gap throughout my life, while also watching friends and loved ones fall into it all the same. It’s an awful place to be. For some, they were laid off from their job with no safety net to catch them. For others, they simply had a child and needed to navigate the healthcare system with inadequate health insurance. Others, like myself, were swallowed by the gap when unforeseen health problems sprung up. This gap between qualifying for government aid and being paid enough to not need aid is far larger than most realize and tends to grab many intelligent, self-reliant individuals without warning. Personally speaking, for cancer patients, that gap is not only a reality, but also another emotionally frightening stressor added to the rest.
To highlight this with my own experience…I’m doing great, physically speaking. My cancer is not growing (as of the last scan) and I am not on chemo at the moment. My surgery and treatment were also so extensive and costly, not to mention I entered the world of cancer without insurance, that I was eligible and aided with full coverage through Medicaid and Food Stamps. Now, I absolutely would prefer to NOT rely on these programs, but I’m certainly glad they are there and helping me through this. That is not the end of the story though. Although my medical bills are covered at this point, after surgery and during chemo I was unable to work and so could not generate the funds to pay for my mortgage, utilities, food, and other expenses. I, however, managed to cover these expenses through fundraisers held by friends on my behalf and I am endlessly, wordlessly grateful for this communal aid. I could NOT have covered my expenses without this help and I shudder to think what I would have lost without them. Additionally, I cringe at the tragic situations many others find themselves without support structures to lean upon, emotional or financial.
It is this “general living expenses” aid that is so crucial to cancer patients while undergoing their treatments, but is often unrecognized by the public. If it’s not cancer or chemo, then it’s the heat bill.
I want to reiterate, one more time, how crucial it was that friends and the wider community came to my aid after diagnosis and raised money for my general living expenses. The generosity of the extended community allowed me to eat well, keep my house, and take care of my son when I had him. And it wasn’t just that I could cover those expenses, but that it also gave me a buffer of time to concentrate on my physical recovery after surgery without undue stress. Dealing with the effects of surgery and chemo were bad enough, but I was fortunate that I didn’t have to stress about finances and working while dealing with the rest. That is immeasurably valuable. Covering general living expenses for cancer patients allows them the space and comfort to focus on “the fight” and this is part of the cancer experience I feel is often overlooked among the many other issues we address.
BECAUSE WE CAN
Right now, “I can”, meaning I am able to get by and concentrate less on my struggles and more on others, which brings me to the final point of this post. I’ve felt very driven to address this oversight in the cancer experience and take the opportunity I’ve found for myself to help others in their own fights against the “unseens” with cancer, such as paying the bills, getting good food into their bodies and alleviating the stresses of making ends meet. With this in mind, I’m organizing a fundraising effort outlined below.
This fundraiser was motivated by watching a friend suddenly fall into that economic gap I outlined above. She was rediagnosed with a second type of cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment after her first surgery, and although she had a relatively successful fundraiser before all this began, the unexpecteds have begun to pile up. She’s had longer hospital stays than planned, side effects of treatment that have necessitated further drugs and potential surgeries, with no end in sight. In short, she needs financial help, and I want to offer that to her, to help her pay for general living expenses on top of the medical bills, to alleviate the stresses she shouldn’t have to worry about as she concentrates on her physical self.
As a young adult with cancer and immediate financial need, she became eligible for a grant through a program created by Family Reach, an organization that addresses these financial concerns to which I’m trying to bring awareness. I want to raise a considerable amount of money for Family Reach, which focuses on providing financial aid to cancer patients for medical costs, but also general living expenses through open-ended grants. These types of organizations and programs are so crucial for the reasons I addressed above, and they seem to be too few, in my opinion. I know how valuable they are because I benefited and still benefit from the same generosity offered to me through my friends, but there are so many without a community as large and generous as mine, and need this support. So I’m asking for your help…or at least asking you to ask for other’s help.
In short, I’m going to raise $50,000 for Family Reach.
To detail this number, we could formulate endless ways this amount of aid can benefit patients and their families, alleviating the concerns in their life that take away from concentrating on the energy they need to just stay alive. For $50,000, we could:
– Pay rent/mortgage ($500) for 10 families for 10 months each.
– Pay utility bills ($250) for 10 families for 20 months each.
– Pay for groceries ($500) for 10 families for 10 months each.
And so on. The value of this type of fundraising is measurable in this regard, but as someone who has gone through (is going through) the cancer experience, I can tell you it’s the IMMEASURABLE value that really matters. It’s the piece of mind that comes with navigating the emotional weight and darkness of cancer, by not having to worry about losing your house, having the utilities shut off, not having high-quality food in your house, not being able to contribute to your child, that REALLY matters. This ability to concentrate on cancer instead of struggling through everything else is crucial to coming out on top of cancer.
And so I’m asking for your help.
I’m not a cancer survivor. I’m a cancer “surviving”, as in I still have cancer, and I’m still moving forward. I have regained many of my physical abilities since my last surgery, enabling me to strive along with the cancer patients who currently CAN’T fend for themselves, and with those abilities I plan to do what I CAN. I’m not going to lie, this fundraiser scares me as much as it excites me…but that’ s the point. If I’m going to ask for donors to contribute on the behalf of others, I’m also going to do my part to “sacrifice”, to push my limits, to give as much as I can and make sure I’m not leaving any effort unspent. I’m going to reach beyond my perceived abilities to do something amazing while I can. This event is going outdo anything I’ve accomplished to this point.
The farthest I have ever run at one time is 45 miles, and that was on a treadmill. I attempted a 50 miler at the Vermont 50 race, but DNF’d as I wasn’t prepared for the mountainous terrain and destroyed my quads halfway through. For this benefit though, I’m going to complete that 50 miler (on more forgiving Hoosier terrain), and then another and another and another…for 7 days straight. I know, this might come across as arrogant naivety, but I’m a little more calculating than that…a little. I believe I can do this. I know it won’t be easy and it does legitimately worry me, which is exactly what is driving me to do this. I know I’m going to prepare and I know I’m going to struggle, but I also know I’ll get through it no matter what…because I’m running for something way beyond personal acheivement. I do know I can pull this off though. It’s one thing to run fast and expend all my energy and strength, so I know that when I slow myself down, I can run and endure for long periods of time. And that’s what I’m going to need to do for this event.
This August I’m going to run down the State of Indiana, covering 50 miles (give or take) each day. I’m going to do this self-supported, either pushing a jogging stroller or pulling a trailer (to be determined), and stopping in cities along the way to give a speech titled, Because We Can. It’s going to be hard. Real hard. It’s going to be FAR harder than if I attempted it before cancer, but I hope it will be that much more rewarding and inspiring (towards raising funds) that I’ll be doing it with cancer. I try not to wave the cancer flag too much, rather selectively doing so in attempts to either address a social issue or help others, and so this time I’ll be flying it for both. I want to be recognized, in the end, for many things…cancer being very low on the list…but this time I do want to put this out there, that I’ll be doing this run not as a cancer survivor, but as someone WITH cancer, how is still attempting to reach outside their perceived limits to accomplish something greater and even more rewarding than ever. I want to do this for myself, yes, but more so to offer the same potential to others while asking assistance for those unable to attempt such feats on their own due to the confinement, physical and financial, of cancer.
So please….consider donating. Consider sharing. Consider doing more than you think you can…if only because YOU CAN.
Because We Can – A More Fire Run
This August, I will be running from the NW point of Indiana to the SE point, essentially just East of Chicago to Louisville. I will running self-supported, pushing a jogging stroller filled with supplies, approximately 50 miles a day, for seven days straight. I will be starting from the shores of Lake Michigan at Dunes State Park and heading to (in order) Rensselaer, Lafayette, Kokomo, Indianapolis, Bloomington, Seymour, then Louisville. At each city I stop for the night, I will be giving a talk titled “Because We Can”, addressing these issues of general living expenses support for cancer patients, highlighting the work of Family Reach, and hoping to inspire others to give and live through the Because We Can mantra.
I want to raise funds for my beneficiaries, yes, but I also want to spread the idea, through words and action, that the limitations we place upon our actions are often fabricated and illusory. I want to be one more example of unbridled living, of the possibility that we can be better, that we can be kinder, more engaged, more passionate, if not because we are driven by other motives, then simply because we can. For, we are lucky in this regard. There are those among us that CAN’T pursue their passions due to the confinements of so much real adversity, whether that is cancer, economics, or something else unavoidable. But while we CAN, we SHOULD.
Maybe, somewhere down the line, people will stop asking, “Why?”, and instead just offer encouragement, but until then, it’s legitimate and powerful to answer with, “Because I can.” This August I’m going to answer that question in both word and deed. Please feel free to share this fundraiser with your friends and wider community and check out the following websites for more information, ways to follow along, and to donate. Thank you for caring.