I knew a year and a half without chemotherapy between surgeries was going to be a completely different life than the one I experienced previously. The day to day relief would bring me to a new emotional baseline and the physical gains made from running without restriction couldn’t be ignored either. My considerations were just how much running progress I could make in this window of opportunity, to start, but then how would it feel to lose it all yet again.
Initially, being able to run, to progress, far outweighed my disappointment in losing it all, knowing the inevitability that was to come, but as the surgery neared and my fitness seemed to reach new levels, almost exponentially, as if I had flipped the switch inside me, the realization that it was all going to disappear the moment I laid down on the hospital bed began to wear on me.
I certainly didn’t think I was going to get back to sub-1:20 half shape. I didn’t think I would be strong enough to make a go for a relatively fast marathon if I decided to race one. And I didn’t think this progress was going to offer the promise of even greater competitive running fitness. But that’s where I am, looking forward like I have so many times in the past, recognizing that staying consistent with my running and training would only bring my times lower and lower and lower. How low? Well, that’s what I’m trying to find out.
The inevitable and total regression back to square zero, losing every bit of fitness and strength I’ve worked so hard to gain, will be lost and it’s putting me into a state of dejection I thought might come sooner or later. It would have been one thing if I had stayed in that place where my running and strength training was only to prepare myself for the upcoming surgery, but at some point I crossed a line, and running became about striving for more competitive goals than anything else. Running became about running itself again.
The fact that I was able to get to this place is not lost on me. I’m ecstatic that I’m strong enough to step to the line as a competitor, not an imposter trying to hold onto dreams passed, but at the same time, this excitement of this reality only heightens the dejection of losing every bit of progress for which I’ve fought.
It’s not to say I’m not prepared though. The cancer experience, from day one, has taught me that everything gets taken away. If not your life, then any expectation you might have had. Nothing is stable. Nothing is permanent. Your ability to work, your expectations of relationships, your self-reliance, your physical state. Everything gets yanked from beneath you without warning, and the fear it seeds deep within isn’t shaken so easily. I’ve lost that naive sense of expectation and and an understanding of what the future will hold. I’ve come to live more in the day to day and month to month when I allow myself the privilege.
I’d like to say I live in the year to year, but that’s where everything goes hazy, gets risky. It’s also probably the emotional saving grace of this surgery, because I’m so tired of not being able to plan ahead, to figure out how I’m going to provide for my son’s expenses, for how I’m going to provide for my own expenses, and this surgery is my hope, as dangerous as that is, for opening my life back up again.
I’ve found myself responding to so many friends lately, asking me how everything is going, with the repeated story of an upcoming surgery and my hopes going ahead. Sometimes I get lost in the excitement of the conversation, thinking about a future through rose colored glasses, where I can get a job with reliable income, have a predictable routine, forget about cancer that much more, and plan. Plan for more than 2 months out, and just feel stable again. Hovering in this in between surgery realm is kinda like perpetually falling, wondering when you’re going to hit bottom, and so not getting too comfortable in your relatively intact state, always managing a low level stress and anxiety, anticipating impact.
And I’m just done with it. I want to be past it. I want to look at my life the same way I want to look at my running, with limitless potential, only the most unavoidable restrictions lying ahead. But in the same way I know all this work towards competitive running is coming to a halt, so will my life again, just before I get to rebuild yet again.
I can’t help but daydream. I can’t help but want my state of being an anomaly in this cancer experience be that much greater of an anomaly. I have another MRI before my next surgery, so my surgical oncologist can see what he’s up against again. I can’t help but imagine the scan coming back with severe tumor regression, or NEC when I’m feeling especially hopeful, and he sits with me in the follow up, outlining a plan of indefinitely delaying the surgery and only checking back in with scans…letting me get back to my life as if cancer is gone.
But those are daydreams, and risky ones at that.
And yet, I still have just under two months before I start over, and there are things to do. I get my son for both Thanksgiving and Xmas, and I find it hard to think anywhere past our time together, not to miss a moment of it. There are friends to see, strength to build, and running to do…which is funny, because I thought the Runner’s World half I ran was going to be my last temporary hurrah of running, putting it all on the line, literally, and then my schedule opened up again (there’s that inability to plan) and I was able to pace the Monumental Full, and now I have two more months with nothing scheduled.
Honestly, I’ve been a little reluctant to look at any races within this time as I’m not sure I’m prepared to gear up for them with such little time, but there are opportunities to be had. One of the runner’s I coach is going at a 50 miler and then a 50k just a couple weeks later. The pacing duties at Monumental lit a fire under me to help others as best I can if I can’t do that much more for myself, so I’ll be crewing / pacing him in his attempt for a 50 mile PR. I’m also looking to make the most of our Winter Run Groups and the White Pine Distance Training group before surgery, in hopes that the momentum will carry on past surgery and into the new life that waits ahead.
And really, there is something ahead, so I’m hopeful for that, whatever it is. I can’t really see past the haze of surgery as to what that looks like, what my abilities will be, what my treatment plan will look like, what is to be expected, but there is something there and I just have to wait out these next two months before I can determine if future plans are possible or not. For the time being, I can daydream what that might be like, whether that’s financial stability, life plans with Laura, more time with my son, and a wide open window of running progression where I can finally hit the ceiling of my abilities once again.
Here’s to hoping. But first, there are people to see and runs to complete. I may not be able to plan for a future, but I can plan for tomorrow’s run, and that’s something.