Looking Back: Mile 5, Bone Cancer to Boston Marathon

In August 2016, I celebrated seven years of being cancer-free.

Seven years is a lifetime. And it was just yesterday.

I was only thirty years old at the time, juggling life as working mom of a toddler and infant. And, oh yeah, training for the Boston Marathon during the in-between.

I had exactly two options at the time. I could crawl into a corner and die. Or I could continue moving forward with life. I chose the later.

During that time, I chronicled my Cancer Marathon through a series of Facebook posts. I will be re-sharing a few of these posts this month. I hope they encourage you, no matter the difficulty of the life race you are currently running. You never know what you are capable of until you try.

* * * * *

During a race, you can have moments of brilliance, and of course its counterpoint, periods of darkness.

During the brilliant moments, your body feels good, and your mind is content. You can’t help but think ahead to the finish and extrapolate what your time will be if you keep the pace.  It’s not quite a runner’s high, but it is a deeply satisfying feeling. These moments are what makes running so enjoyable and addictive.

. . .

Last three-week cycle was pretty tough as I was sick from various illnesses and very tired. I started this cycle off pretty tired as well but started feeling much better into the second week. Thankfully I didn’t have to battle any extraneous illnesses this go round, leaving my body able to concentrate 100% on healing from chemotherapy.

With the hysteria about the Swine Flu in full swing, several of my friends (albeit those with a sick sense of humor) have teased me about contracted that as well. I guess given my track record the last two months of coming down with anything and everything from the benign (eye infection) to the not so benign (cancer), it really isn’t too farfetched to consider!

I have finally mustered up enough energy to start exercising regularly. I can’t tell you how much that has moved me forward both physically and mentally. After a month and a half of being a cancer couch potato, it was nice to feel like a normal human being again.

. . .

I mentioned earlier that I had to have bone biopsy surgery for them to confirm and type the cancer. While I had to be put under for it, the actual surgery was pretty routine. They made a small incision on the left of my knee and went in and took a small sample of the bone. Closed me up, and that was that.

As expected with any invasive surgery, my knee was pretty tender and swollen afterward. However, it did not get any better with time. The swelling and pressure inside the joint were so severe that I had lost pretty much all range of motion in my left knee. This made it difficult for me to do any activity whatsoever.

Lymphoma impairs the body’s immune system. In my case, I think the cancer was preventing my leg from healing properly from the surgery.

My orthopedist wanted me to see a physical therapist to work on regaining some motion. However, due to scheduling issues, I couldn’t get a PT appointment until after my first chemo treatment.

Incredibly, at my first chemo appointment, the drugs went to work on my leg immediately. My leg started feeling looser while I was still sitting there with the drip in my arm. By the time I got home that night, I had a lot of my range of motion back and by the next day, I had a full range of motion back.

As exciting as it was to get some mobility back, it was much more exciting to see such an immediate impact from my treatment. I knew exactly what it meant – the cancer was quickly finding its way out of my body.

I still went to the PT appointment the next week. My physical therapist confirmed what I already knew – my range of motion was back to normal, and I didn’t need to be there.  However, being on crutches for such a long time has caused a deterioration in my left leg strength and flexibility, so she wanted to address that while I was there.

Coincidently, my therapist ran cross-country at a rival college the same time I was at running for my alma mater. We compared notes and determined that we had competed against each other on several occasions.

Like myself, she’s a marathoner now. Thus, I knew she would completely understand, and not take offense, when I said that her PT exercises were pretty lame.

She agreed and offered to call my orthopedist’s office to get clearance to do more rigorous strength and toning exercise. She was able to negotiate Pilates exercises as long as it was not weight bearing.

So I started doing 20 minutes of Pilates every day I felt up to it. But of course, that was not enough…

I called the orthopedist’s office myself a few days later and was able to further negotiate clearance on swimming.  But I first had to run it by my oncologist. He said that he’s never actually had a patient swim during treatments, but he saw no medical reason why not. So off to the pool I was!

I started out slowly with a 12-minute swim. I quickly worked up to swimming 30 minutes straight. I’m no Michael Phelps so 30 minutes straight is huge for me, cancer or no cancer.

I felt great in the water but was tired later in the day. But it was so worth it. At a minimum, just to see the faces on people as I hobbled onto the pool deck with crutches and a bald head. (Cancer bonus: no need for ill-fitting, uncomfortable swim caps!)

. . .

Shortly after I was diagnosed, I contacted the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to see if I could get involved with Team in Training. TNT is basically a fund raising vehicle for the LLS. In return for raising money for blood cancer research, you get free coaching to complete your first marathon, triathlon or century bike ride.

I had always seen the purple TNT jerseys at races but did not know much about it. When I was diagnosed, I felt a compelling need to do something productive. TNT seemed like such a logical fit – combining my diagnosis of lymphoma and with my love of running.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society asked if I would be an “Honored Hero.” Basically, one person would run their marathon in honor of me and in return they could use my story to assist their fundraising efforts.

Or so I thought.

I went to the TNT kick-off last week and found out that ALL (not just one) the TNT runners for Akron Marathon would be running in honor of me. Talk about pressure! Now I can’t be a whiny wimp about cancer because 30 or 40 people are running 26.2 miles for me!

Seriously, it’s a very cool thing, and I am honored that I get to share such a personal experience as a marathon with them. I told them to keep me updated via email about how their training is going. I hope they do so!

. . .

This past weekend Vince and I headed down to Cincinnati for the Flying Pig Marathon. This was the marathon I was training for when I found out I had cancer. So it was a little weird to be there as a spectator instead of a competitor.

Vince and my two friends from college, Libbie and Lisa, all did the half marathon.  So many people make excuses why they can’t do something as challenging as running 13.1 miles. Too much work, kids are too little, whine, whine, whine.

I think all three of them exemplify that if you want something bad enough, you can find a way to make it happen. Obviously, Vince has the challenges of working full-time with small children and a sick wife. Libbie is a doctor balancing crazy work hours and a full of energy toddler. Lisa has a demanding job as a nurse anesthetist and equally demanding job as a mother to a toddler and baby.

All three of them had a million reasons not to do the race, but they did it anyway. And they tore it up despite a tough and hilly course and less than ideal weather. It was so inspiring to see them out there getting it done.

For as much excitement I had for my husband and friends, I have to admit I had a little bit of bitterness for the other competitors. I guess since I didn’t know them, it was easy to project my anger at cancer on them. As the strangers ran by I couldn’t help but wonder if they truly appreciated the fact that they could run and compete. I’m sure they did, but I couldn’t help being a little resentful.

I was struggling that weekend with the emotions of being at the race as a non-participant and I was struggling physically as well.

So that kind of sucks.

What also sucks is that I have developed neuropathy or numbness in my fingertips. (Chemo can also make you get it in your toes, but so far I’m all good down there) You know how your finger feels a day or two after you smash it? That’s neuropathy but in every single finger. It’s not a big inconvenience (doesn’t impact my ability to Facebook, for instance) but just a constant reminder of cancer. So that’s another annoyance.

I couldn’t stop coughing, and my fingers were without sensation. To add insult to injury, Cincinnati is one of the least disabled-friendly cities out there. It is extremely hilly and trying to navigate its steep streets on crutches is absolutely ridiculous. By the end of the weekend by armpits had been rubbed raw from the friction as I slowly propelled myself up the city’s hills on one leg and two crutches.

Nevertheless, being at the marathon totally motivated me and I started making a mental list of the races I want to do when I get better. 5Ks, 10Ks, Half Marathons, Marathons, Ultras, Triathlons. I want to do them all! Just daydreaming of running makes my heart race and my legs tingle. I can’t wait to kick cancer’s ass and get back on with my life!

. . .

I’ll leave you with a saying that was on one of our cross-country team t-shirts during college. I think it sums pretty well running’s delicate balance between pain and joy:

“I like to run; it makes me smile, I think I’ll run another mile”

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