I scheduled my first scan since surgery last week. I will be going to the hospital, pushed through this magnetic donut looking contraption, and then return for a follow-up appointment on New Year’s Eve to get the results. We do this because, obviously, it’s the least invasive way to know what’s going on inside of me. And that’s something I want to know, if for no other reason, because I hate not knowing. I’m of the Type A persuasion, where I want plans, calculations, facts, and understanding, and so I REALLY don’t like just going forward with cancer while not knowing what might be going on in my body. The scan, purportedly, is to tell me what’s going on inside my body, whether the cancer is shrinking, whether it is growing, or whether it’s just hanging out as it has been the last year. Of course, one of those outcomes is more preferable than the others, but I have no control over that. I do want to know what’s going on inside of me, but not just because I’m curious about the present state of my body, but to also know what to expect in the coming year.
I’ve been off chemotherapy since 3 weeks before my surgery, not counting the 5 days of infusions I had in the ICU, and my biggest fear right now is having to go back on it. I’ve gone against my own good advice and gotten too comfortable being away from chemo, not feeling so awful every day and stopping any additional side effects from accumulating in my body. It feels, relatively, great. So part of me knows that chemo is what might have been stopping my cancer from growing and possibly saving my life, but that other part of me hopes it wasn’t, but that something else was at work and going back on it would just be excessive and unnecessary. Because right now, not being on chemo, has given me a window of opportunity in my life, to get back to doing what I love to do most without restriction.
Even as I type this, the cancer cells might be reproducing. I don’t know. And beyond that, I don’t even know what is happening in my body after all the damage surgery inflicted on my insides, or how long that damage is going to last. I don’t know if cancer is growing and I don’t know if my digestion will ever be the same again. I don’t know if my current inability to transfer oxygen efficiently through my body will ever reach previous levels again and I don’t know if the numbness in my feet from neuropathy will ever dissipate. Unfortunately, no one knows. Not me and not the experts. Every cancer patient I’ve talked to about these side effects from chemo and surgery have different stories about recovery, so no ultimate conclusions can be drawn, and I don’t like that. I don’t like not knowing what is going on in my body and what to expect in the future.
Running has trained me to not only be incredibly in tune with my body, but to also expect certain progressions in fitness through consistent and directed training. Within reason, I know the outcomes and expectations of running a certain number of miles a week, of doing two speed workouts and one long run each week, and testing myself along the way. Unfortunately, cancer growth and cancer treatment aren’t so predictable, which is why we do these scans at the very least, to see what’s going on inside the body in one specific regard. We test the body through X-rays to determine what our plan of action is going to be, and although this is always nerve-wracking in some regards, it’s necessary too. I know that I’ll be comforted with the results of this test, even if the results are not what I desire. At least I’ll know what’s happening and I’ll have scratched that Type A itch pestering my consciousness.
I do, however, still have this window of opportunity afforded to me right now, which I’m taking full advantage of again. I’m working with my coach on a dedicated training plan leading up to a half-marathon in May – the goal being to set a “during cancer PR”. I’m back to 7 days a week of running, a long(ish) run of 12 miles, a 50+ mile load, and two speed workouts…just like the good ol days…sort of. Just as I don’t know what’s going on in my body with cancer, I also don’t know what’s going on in my body with running. Everything has changed. The expectations are fundamentally different and we’re learning as we go now.
Where before, when I took a sufficient break from running, getting back into it would be slower, but a turnaround would come quickly and I’d be back to high-performance levels and significantly increased mileage without concern. Now, however, that’s just not the case. Admittedly, I’m only four months out from surgery, with three months of running (it still shocks me to recognize that timeline), but the return to normal expectations is simply not coming and I don’t know why. I mean, obviously I know it’s because surgery completely ruined parts of my body, temporarily at least, and because I have cancer, and because chemo is a red blood cell killing poison, and because laying in bed for a month while barely eating atrophied my muscles, but how to combat all these performance killers is highly elusive.
My body’s ability to regenerate despite all these setbacks is an amazing process, but fitness still remains a consistent battle, a mystery in regards to what we had learned from past training progressions. Recovery is severely compromised and my coach and I decided to switch from one day of recovery between workouts to two for the time being, until the body is forced to get stronger and makes all the necessary adaptations we are striving towards. My range of effort is also significantly restricted, where going from easy pace to threshold seems to come with a simple incline or push in effort. There is no “moderate” pace at this point. There is easy and there is hard…and I don’t know why. I don’t know what’s going on inside my body…but there are changes.
I’m making fitness progress, it’s just very slow. And although I don’t know why it’s so difficult, I do know it’s happening…because we are testing the body. My first 5 mile moderate runs quickly degenerated into very slow efforts, but we kept testing. My next run turned into a 2 mile effort before I had to stop and recover, followed by another mile before recovery, and then the final push. But we kept pushing and we kept testing. The next time I got 3 miles in before I had to recover and finished with a 1 and a half push. And we keep pushing and keep testing. It’s the only way to know.
I hate not knowing what’s going on in my body with cancer, whether it’s holding steady or spiraling out of control, and I equally hate not knowing what’s going on in my body with running, whether I’m ever going to “flip the switch” and run back into the 5:00’s again or stay struggling like mad at 6:45. There is only one thing to do, however, to formulate a plan for the future and work towards the hopeful outcome…to test myself again and again, to get the scans, to run the miles, and finish this process one way or another.