Whenever I get down about some mini-crisis or other, or feel overwhelmed by what life is throwing my way, my husband likes to remind me that things could be much worse and that it’s all about perspective. I usually find this extremely annoying and relatively unhelpful. Today, though, I was thinking about the truth of this. In the last 24 hours, I’ve heard of two different women (in their 30’s) being diagnosed with breast cancer after randomly noticing a lump on their own, a child getting their second round of surgery for a tumor, and had a friend post their daily medicine chart for her 4-year-old, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
And I am overwhelmed by the strength of all these individuals who struggle on, to keep going, and stay engaged. I always joke that one of the reasons I’m always running is that it’s inertia. It’s easier to keep moving than it is to stop and start. And so I see these individuals moving forward and doing the best they can, and it inspires me. As an individual who has struggled with depression, I know how easy it is to feel bogged down and overwhelmed. It reminds me of “the great nothing” in The Neverending Story, that threatens to overrun everything, or the bog of despair that Atreyu’s horse succumbs to (80s child much?). There are days, for all of us, where it is difficult to get moving, or keep moving, but some days/events/life happenings are particularly challenging.
My friend, Erin, has been in the throes of this. She recently found out that her 4-year-old daughter, Emily, has leukemia. And it’s been a whirlwind of diagnosis, treatment, and planning for a move across the country. All within 2-3 months. I met her through my running group, and she’s funny and warm and…dislikes running. Yet she has continued to challenge herself to get out there, because she enjoys the community more than she dislikes the running. She has been updating her Caring Bridge site about the progress of treatment for Emily and how their family is dealing with all of it. I loved a post she wrote comparing their struggles with her experience running a half marathon. It’s brilliant and poignant and at the heart of why we run and we are part of this community. I’m reusing it here with her permission:
On to the musings portion of today’s post (feel free to cut out here, I won’t include any additional Emily notes below)…….I was supposed to run a half marathon this weekend, but between late winter snow/ice and Emily’s various fevers my training was pretty much derailed. I had been contemplating pulling out a few weeks ago due to the training issues and an annoying foot pain I was experiencing during my long runs, but for some reason I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Or rather admit it to myself maybe, the curse of being Type A and competitive. My second half marathon last November I finished in 2:00:08 – it feels dishonest for me to say I did a half in 2 hours because I didn’t. This was my race to PR, to finally break the 2 hour mark! For a woman who struggled to run 2 miles a handful of years ago, it is a huge personal goal of mine. Emily’s diagnosis removed any doubt in my mind that I would be able to run the race.
Truth be told, I actually don’t like running. I joined a women’s running group a few years ago and they are really great people that I like to spend time with. I have no choice but to run to make that hang out time with said women happen. The group abides by a motto similar to Vegas……what’s said on a run, stays on run. It’s comprised of everything from Boston qualifiers to Couch to 5k, everyone deserving of the same support and running sisterhood. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, following most runs with coffee, drinks, or donuts. Ryan refers to the group as “the running ladies.” 🙂 Running has become a great outlet for me as a mom, wife, and person. It’s gotten to the point where Ian claims he can tell if I haven’t run in a while and encourages me to go because I come home a new person. Since I don’t really like to run, I make a point of joining the group runs. It’s just easier with company to crank out mileage. A 5:45am early bird run wasn’t happening this morning, so I squeezed in a solo early afternoon run thanks to my mom. Solo run….lots of time to think. Ugh.
As I ran today, it struck me how similar this cancer diagnosis and subsequent journey is to my experience of running a half marathon. I tried to write this post in my head as I ran to make the time go faster. It didn’t work, but I did manage to crack myself up a few times. I’m sure I was a sight. As you stand at the race starting line, you are nervous and double check to ensure you have all the gear you will need. You even pinned your bib on your shirt the night before…still can you ever feel fully ready? Are you lined up in the right pace group or being overly ambitious? You hope and pray that the past few months of training are enough to get you to the end, doubt creeps in and you push it down. The race begins and before you know it, you are swept up in the wave of people running. Everyone else is running, you have no choice but to go. You start the race feeling great and hopeful. A few miles in you wonder how the hell you got signed up for such a crazy adventure. A quick glance to the side and you see your running buddies beside you so you carry on, casting aside any doubt of quitting mid race, not only because they will give you shit for not finishing but they are also quietly encouraging you along.
By mile 8, you are starting to feel like crap, and swear you are never ever doing this again no matter what. The aid stations along the course look like a great place to curl up and take a nap, maybe even just break down and have a good cry. Instead the people manning those offer you various drinks and fuel, you keep going. By mile 10, you are cursing the name of whoever talked you in to this damn race and vow to never partake again. At this point though, you are so close to the finish what’s another 3.1 miles? Seeing familiar faces along the way, encouraging you to keep going, helps you push past the mental hurdles of self doubt. Are you good enough? Can you really finish this thing? The standard race signs (I promise you do see these at every single race) like “Touch here for super powers”, “Smile if you’ve peed yourself” and “You’ve got this” keep you going and even make you laugh a little. You see the mile 12 marker and wonder if you are hallucinating that the finish is a mere 1.1 miles away. You aren’t sure if you need to stop at the mile 12 aid station, but you do and it gives you the final boost you need to finish. Mile marker 13, the finish line is in sight! You feel like complete and total crap, like you’ve been run over by a truck. Everything hurts, your knees want to buckle, but you are going to make it. It may not be the 2 hour PR you were hoping for, but damn it, you will complete this thing!
Despite the bumps, detours, and craziness we will come out the other side of this diagnosis. Maybe not right on schedule or the type of race we were hoping for but we will. Shoot, cancer was never on MY agenda to begin with anyway, but one foot in front of the other and a really amazing support group are what’s key to completing this thing.
Here’s a picture of the ridiculously amazing and cute Emily in a cape provided to her by our running group.
Furthermore, as the season of spring and renewal is upon us, I can’t help but think again of the bridging ceremony my congregation did for its graduating high school seniors. Again, they reiterated 3 things:
- You are loved.
- You are enough.
- You are not alone.
And we are NOT alone. No matter what the struggle. My friend posted today on Facebook a picture of her whole family wearing shirts in support of a friend’s child who’s undergoing surgery for a tumor.
None of us is alone, and there is a community of love, strength, and support that carries each one of us if we let it. Whether it’s a half marathon, depression, or cancer. None of us have to do it alone, so let us inspire and be inspired by others.