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If you can fill the unforgiving minute ... with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run ... Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.
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Monthly Archives: February 2009
You’ve seen those Nationwide Insurance commercials -- life comes at you fast? Indeed, it does.
Wednesday morning, I found myself in my usual location at 7:15 AM: outside, in my neighborhood, running before heading into the office for a day of writing briefs and putting out various fires. Almost 12 miles of road lay behind me as I prepared to enter the homestretch and put the last half mile or so underneath my heels.
I was having a good run. I was pleasantly surprised to wake up to the fact that the forecasted rain and snow hadn’t fallen yet. I had expected to be logging miles on the treadmill, and instead I was outside -- that alone was enough to put me in a great mood. And to add a cherry on top, the run itself was going great. Although it smelled like rain, none had fallen and I found myself in a good rhythm, clicking off miles effortlessly at about 8:15 pace -- that is a pretty good clip for me.
My run finishes along a 35 MPH one-lane road. The leaden gray sky had lightened up considerably in anticipation of the non-sunrise and I could see very well. Because I was running along comfortably, my eyes weren’t fixed straight ahead (like they often are when I’m struggling to maintain pace), but rather sort of wandered.
That’s when life -- or at least Mother Nature -- came at me fast.
Scampering across the road -- fortunately empty of traffic for the moment -- was a black and white furry creature. It was coming towards where I was running. We were on paths set to intersect.
Now I imagine ten thousand or more years ago, one of my distant ancestors was out running one morning with his or her spear and came upon this particular creature and thought: “BREAKFAST!” Imagine the surprise and horror when “breakfast” unleashed an appalling stench. I am certain at that moment it became ingrained in our instincts that the black and white striped pattern of this particular creature is the North American equivalent of what those bright colors patterns on poison dart frogs are -- danger, I am not good to eat, if you come after me you’re going to get hurt.
Of course, its not easy to just stop when you’re running. I don’t pretend to understand all the physics of it, being a history and philosophy major and all, but I imagine it has something to do with inertia and other forces I don’t quite understand except practically. I did my best and managed to come to a halt as the creature made it safely across the road and onto the sidewalk.
We were now feet apart, and I found myself desperately rifling through the stored files in my brain. What do you do when faced with Mephitis mephitis? I desperately sought some piece of knowledge from the hundreds of episodes of Nature and similar shows I’ve watched. Am I supposed to run away? Make myself look big? Play dead? Oh wait, I think that’s what you do when faced with a grizzly. What are you supposed to do when you’re eye to eye with a skunk? If I ever knew, it was lost, probably replaced with some pointless piece of trivia.
Fortunately, as I stood there anxiously trying to decide what to do, the creature made life easy. It gave me a sort of puzzled look, a sort of quizzical what are you doing here glance. It sized me up, and must have decided that this thin girl with a ponytail and running shoes posed no real threat. Having decided I was no danger, it continued to mosey along, crossing the sidewalk, and scrambling down into a wooded ravine where it disappeared.
Potential very stinky crisis averted. I continued my run, finishing the last half mile very fast, fueled by adrenaline. As much as I love nature, I'm hoping for no more close encounters of the black and white kind.
I share my anniversary of a cancer diagnosis with Valentine’s Day. You become a cancer survivor on the day of your diagnosis, or so says the American Cancer Society, and so it is at this point two years I have been a cancer survivor. I have now been through this whole anniversary process twice now and I am still uncertain how I am supposed to respond. I know I’m not alone in that because many survivors have trouble with anniversaries.
Last year, it was the fear of recurrence that haunted me most. My first anniversary of diagnosis was filled with worry and dread. It took me several days to be able to sleep well at night. As I find myself at my second anniversary, the thought of recurrence is now starting to weaken, and though I am far from confident, I feel like my odds of having beaten advanced stage Hodgkin’s Disease are improving bit by bit as each day passes. The prospect of relapse, while still there, isn’t quite as enormous as it was last year.
This year, it is something else. For many years, cancer was a death sentence. Society really hasn’t caught up to the fact that cancer is not necessarily a final sentence. I say that because there really aren’t many tools in place to help survivors cope with the large mental, social, financial, and physical encumbrances cancer places on them as they try to pick up the pieces and move on with the rest of their lives.
It is that burden that weighs heavily on my mind lately. I thought I was doing well approaching my second anniversary, but I was very mistaken. I woke up in a dreadful, bitter mood today. I am a pretty easy going person and it is unusual to find me in such a mood. But yes, cancer survivors have bad days too. I think people automatically assume that having had cancer you’re always living life to its top, living like there is no tomorrow, not wasting a drop of life on negative emotions. It is not that way. It cannot be that way if you are going to go on and live life. For example, although I’m more serene now then prior to cancer, I still get impatient with small inconveniences just like everyone else. Cancer doesn’t suddenly ennoble you for the rest of your life.
Instinctively knowing I needed time alone and not wishing to inflict my gloom upon others, I laced up my shoes and hit the road alone, even though it was snowing lightly, to try and discover the origin of what was bothering me so much that it would put me in such a gloomy and petulant humor.
I puzzle through my problems on the run. Personal, professional … the solution to all complexities in life may be found on the run.
I started to sift through the last few days, and realized quickly that all the Valentine’s Day stuff lately has been bothering me. It is this constant in my face reminder that people are celebrating a day of tremendous misery for me. February 14th is not a joyful day to celebrate romance, at least not anymore for me. Happy Valentine’s Day? What’s there to be happy about?
I had turned into an unadulterated, bona fide, dyed in the wool Valentine’s Day grinch. And just to be clear, it isn’t because my shoes are too tight or that my head isn’t screwed on just right. (Some might question the latter, though.)
I think there is some justification for my feelings. In many ways, cancer destroyed my life. It isn’t just that I can’t run as fast. I mention burdens that survivors have to carry. They are heavy. I’m fearful for the future. I can’t plan anything. The reason I haven’t run a marathon post-cancer is because I can’t commit to anything that requires thinking more than about a month or so ahead of time.
Every day life is also just much harder as a cancer survivor. Take something like finding a job -- already not a simple task in this economy. How do you deal in your late 20s with the fact that since you graduated from law school you haven’t really had any long term positions because you‘ve been sick? How do you explain why you have a large gap in your employment? Do you lie? Do you tell the truth? What do you say? And would you even really want to work for someone who wouldn’t hire you because you had cancer?
And personal life is harder too. Friends have gone; many I no longer can identify with or I just find that we drift apart because they do not understand me now. Part of the problem is I don’t think people quite understand how I cannot just pick up and move on as though this never happened. Cancer changed me and I jump between the extremes of wanting to pretend like it never happened and needing people to at least acknowledge the horror of my experience and appreciate that I cannot be the same.
Then there are the bills. They just keep coming, just like the snow continues coming. I swear -- there are four certainties in life: death, taxes, snow, and medical bills. I’ve pretty much decided that I’m going to call up and offer to settle up with the Cleveland Clinic by offering my first-born son. (I’m only half joking.)
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that really the genuine cause for my unpleasant mood boiled down to I was feeling sorry for myself.
Fortunately, I find it difficult to stay in a bad mood when running. Something about the rhythm or the endorphins just seems to shake the gloom away.
As I ran along, my irritable mood gradually softened and diminished until it was altogether spent, lost under the therapeutic hammering of a thousand cadenced foot strikes. For all the distressing and stressful elements cancer has brought into my life, on the other hand, I am still alive. And if that is not something worth celebrating, then what is?
For all the challenging aspects that have come with being a cancer survivor, there are so many favorable things that have happened in the two years that have passed since I was diagnosed. And the good outnumbers the bad. Some of the good things are so simple -- like being alive and able to appreciate the beauty of a butterfly, the cheery cry of a cardinal, that feeling of gliding along at the end of a good run. Others are personal accomplishments -- writing a winning motion for a grateful client, triumphing in my age group at a local race (albeit an extremely tiny race for that rare and amazing feat to come to pass), getting a photograph published.
Out running, having identified my trouble and arrived at a resolution, my mood changed from anger to actually feeling good. Running brings clarity, at least to me. Life may be harder, certainly, but life is there.
I am alive. To live and to love. And even to sometimes complain.
Happy Valentine’s Day.