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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: June 2010
I fear this is going to be one of those long and rambling posts. (Consider yourself warned.) I spend the majority of my time writing briefs. (I am typically the responding party and they are rarely brief it seems.) I rarely talk much about what it is I do because, frankly, it just isn’t that exciting. Consumer law is not exactly a glamorous business; I spend most of my time buried in cases involving the Uniform Commercial Code (the UCC is the law that governs the sale of goods) and staring at blurry copies of repair orders. I consider my work a job, not a calling, and I don’t find much satisfaction or meaning in it at all. Truth be told, if I had known this is where I would be five years down the line, I wouldn’t have spent the time and money to go to law school. It is a really bad time to be any young lawyer, let alone one with a big ugly gap from cancer. Just some advice to anyone who happens to be reading this blog and is thinking about going to law school – don’t go and definitely whatever you do don’t get cancer!
I didn’t really write this intending to complain about my job (though I guess I just did haha). I’m happy to have a job, just like pretty much everyone in this economy. The reason I mention my work is there is a theme I hit upon over and over again in my briefs that’s relevant to this post (hold your horses I’m getting there), and that’s the theme of restitution. Basically what I “do” is represent injured consumers in breach of warranty actions. I argue that the seller has breached the warranty and accordingly the consumer has been deprived of the “benefit of the bargain” – in other words, that the seller should have to pay damages to put the buyer back in the same position he was before the seller didn’t fulfill his legal obligations. So it really isn’t about looking for a windfall; it is more about giving the buyer the value of what he bargained for and did not receive because of the fault of the seller. It is more complicated than that, of course, but boiled down to its essentials, that’s what I “do.”
The “benefit of the bargain” is what I want back from cancer. Simply, I only want back what I had and what was taken by me from cancer. I am not looking for a windfall. In the running realm, I really just want to be able to run like I could before. I really don’t want or expect anything more. (See it only took me two paragraphs to get on track!)
Cancer is a really ugly foe. If cancer were an opponent in a race, cancer would be the dirty runner who steps on the back of your shoe, who tries to spike your foot, who elbows you in the ribs and knocks the wind out of you, who will trip you when the officials backs are turned if presented the chance, who will try and cheat by running across the infield. Laws and statutes exist so my opponents can’t fight too dirty (though of course in my admittedly biased opinion some of them try). But there is no law that applies to cancer; cancer is the Devil and our earthly laws don’t apply to it.
So of course when you go to the table to “bargain” with cancer for your life (and if you’re a runner, for your running as well of course), cancer doesn’t give you good terms or even fair terms. Cancer gives you essentially what we lawyers call a “contract of adhesion” – we’re all consumers and thus I’m sure you’ve encountered at least one (probably many) in your life. An adhesion contract is a fancy name for essentially a take it or leave it contract where the stronger party sets the terms and presents it on a take it or leave it basis. Think of your cell phone contract or when you buy a car. If you want the cell phone or the car, you basically take it on the seller’s terms and you sign what they put in front of you and that’s that. You may have a little wiggle room, but not much. Take it or leave it. Similarly, if you want your life and you want to run again, you have to take it or leave it on cancer’s terms. You do get an advocate in the negotiation process, of course (i.e. your doctor) who tries to get you the best terms possible. But the Devil is the Judge, Jury, and Executioner all in one, so although you might have an extremely skilled advocate arguing the case on your behalf, you’re still left solely at the mercy of the Devil. If you want to live – and hopefully run again — there is almost never any choice but to take the Devil’s terms as written despite your protests and the doctor’s protests.
What price does the Devil ask in exchange for your life? It varies depending on what kind of cancer you have, but the Devil’s terms almost always involve you making a long journey through the Devil’s Valley of the Shadow of Death. The Valley is filled with the type of terrifying, snarling beasts that you could only conjure up out of your worst nightmare. Cerberus, the three-headed hound of hell. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Surgery. Some face one, some face all three. They tear at the very fiber of your being and threaten to consume you and you have no choice but to confront them with your hope as your sword and shield. Your stay in the Valley could be four months or eight months (as mine was) or it could be years. And most frightening perhaps of all, the Devil sees to it that some of us never make it out of the Valley at all; they only escape it through death.
But for those fortunate to somehow survive that long journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the lucky ones for whom the treatment works and disables the cells trying to consume you, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask for enforcement of the Devil’s part of the bargain, right? You did your part, suffered cruelly. Now you want your life back. Seems only fair right?
Remember just whom we’re dealing with here.
I thought like when I finished treatment that I would get my pre-cancer life and running back. But it quickly became apparent although I held up my part of the bargain the Devil wasn’t going to pay up easily. The terms changed; it became not only do you have to survive a walk through my valley, now you have to also climb up my mountain. (Or maybe those were the terms all along but they were written in invisible ink or in print so tiny I couldn’t read them.)
Bruised and bloodied after your journey through the Valley, the very last thing you want to do is go up a mountain. But there was no choice, so I started up the mountain. Sometimes it is so steep you have to crawl on your hands and knees, and sometimes you get a stretch where you can break into a run up the switchbacks. But the mountain just keeps going.
In terms of a return to my pre-cancer life, I don’t think I’ll ever reach the peak of that mountain. I think that will prove to be an eternal mountain – an endless climb. Too much damage was done to go back. I am not the person I was before cancer and I never will be again. I’m always going to be dealing with the fall-out of being a cancer survivor. Life will always be harder for having had cancer in my mid-20s. That’s something I can’t change.
But the runner I was before cancer … now that is a peak I feel like perhaps I may someday ascend and reach. In the fall of 2004, I ran my last race before I started to get sick from what turned out to be cancer. It was a 5K and it is my PR at 20:32. I don’t particularly like running 5Ks (does anyone who isn’t a sadist actually “like” running 5Ks?), but I have used that as a benchmark because I’m still a little leery of training for longer races with my immune system (even though I run plenty of crazy miles as is running hard is a little different) and it seems like a safe distance. 5Ks are also inexpensive and readily available around here. Plus it was my last true pre-cancer race.
Slowly but surely I’ve been whittling my way towards that mark. Summer of 2007 (which was the summer I was undergoing treatment) even though I was trying to run, I really don’t think I could have run a continuous 5K at any pace because my lungs were so badly banged up. Fall of 2007, I managed a 26.5 minute 5K. Spring of 2008, I managed to break into the 23s. Fall of 2008, I managed to break into the 22s. Spring of 2009 I started to consistently break into the 21s.
Of course, progress hasn’t been a straight line. Actually it has been far from a straight line or steady. Sometimes it feels like two steps forward and one-and-a-half back. Sometimes it feels like I’m literally crawling on my hands and knees up the running mountain or just trying to hang on so as not to fall too far back down. The Devil certainly likes to throw in the occasional trap (like the whole business with my eye or pneumonia) and I’m still not that adept at picking up those traps. I tend to get into cruise mode and miss seeing the trap as I come around the curve. Because I’m not adept at picking them up early, they tend to send me sliding down the mountain and I have to fight my way back up again. But still, it is progress. The steady decrease in 5K race times show the progress. Sometimes you get so caught up in the day to day that you miss the trend. The trend over time, though, is towards improvement.
That brings me up to now, out of treatment nearly three years, with my “post-cancer” 5K PR sitting at 21:25. I ran it a couple weekends ago and I did a bunch of things wrong including lining up wrong and picking a race on a hot day and still trying to recover from pneumonia, but I’m still proud of it because it means for the first time that cresting the mountain which seemed an insurmountable task in the summer of 2007 is now less than a minute away. A minute is a lot of course, in the 5K. It’s about 20 seconds per mile. Still, I feel there is potential. I haven’t yet conquered the problems with my erratic breathing (have some ideas on it now) and I’ve done no formal speed work.
Will I get to the top of the mountain? Not sure. If there’s anything I’ve learned it is the Devil doesn’t play fair. There is no way to know what traps might lay around the next curve; I just hope I pick up the trap (and avoid another slip) and that it doesn’t mean another trip through the Valley. But whether I get there or not, I am certainly going to keep trying. I want my restitution and the benefit of my bargain with the Devil and I’m not going to give up in life or running till I get it. And if the Devil doesn’t like it, well, like the old song goes, he can go sit on a tack. :)