Saturday, September 22, 2018

Cancer and Ultra Running: Going at it Alone

I was afraid that the 2 weeks leading up to my doctor appointment would drag on and the day would never come. Even with two babies who went far past 40 weeks, I am still not very good at waiting.

The first week did drag on, but this past week I was assigned a really fun and engaging work project that reignited a love for what I do. All of my focus went to that project and I didn't spend much time ruminating on the appointment and the tasks that will happen over the next few months.

Today though, I've spent some time reflecting on all that has happened so far.

My first surgery was on a Thursday and just one day before I was to volunteer at a 100-mile race being held a couple of hours away. I figured it was perfect because I wasn't going to be able to run that weekend anyway. What I failed to consider is the care that is required for a GYN procedure combined with the campsite bathrooms and a 32-hour race. I still don't really call it a surgery, but that's exactly what it was. I downplayed it to myself and to the very few people who knew about it.

Volunteering that weekend was both good for me emotionally and posed some challenges. On one hand I was pretty distracted as I gleefully supported runners to complete the race. On the other hand I went straight into that situation without really processing what happened. I kept it pretty quiet. Only my parents and two people at work even knew I was going through this.

The surgery didn't last very long. I went into the outpatient center, a place I had been before because of a work connection, so it felt familiar. I had to wear two of those hospital gowns, get an IV and answer the same questions about 15 times.

What is your name?
Why are you here today?
What procedure are we doing?

I walked into the operating room and it looked just like they do on TV. I put my legs in stirrups and they brought me a warm blanket because I was freezing. It was this small team of 4 women and I said "Is this what you all do all day? It's like a tribe of lady doctors all in this together."

I don't remember much after that. I felt relaxed and tired. I woke up and transferred to the rolling bed and they wheeled me into the recovery room. The nurse said she was going to leave to go get N.

After she walked out of the room, I sat there alone. I had so many emotions surrounding what just happened. As I processed it all in those few minutes, I also realized how very alone I was. I have felt nothing but support and love from my tribe. People from every corner of my life have filled me up with words of strength and offers to help. N walks beside me through this all and stands strong when I can't. Yet when I sat in that room completely by myself only interrupted by the sound of the humming florescent lights, the truth set in.

I am doing this alone.

It was only me in that bed having that surgery. It's me and me alone who answers the phone when they call with the next set of news. As supported as I feel, ultimately this is a path I must travel myself.

It was in this moment when she left the room that I realized all of this. I didn't feel weak, or that I couldn't do it. Just the reality of what I had to go through set in. I also felt a huge relief and cried at the realization that it was over. Of course we all know the outcome of that biopsy, and it's not quite over after all.

Those few minutes in the room alone were a beautiful time for me. As I reflect on it now I'm reminded of time during my first ultramarathon when I was alone on the trail. No one but me and my thoughts and the ground beneath my feet. Thoughts of "Can I really do this? Am I strong enough? I can't do this. I need to stop. No, I don't need to stop. I can finish and I can finish strong".

The trail was full of other racers and lots of friends and family supporting and cheering for me, yet only I actually ran the race. Me and me alone.

I have my second ultramarathon in 7 days. It is a tough course that I have ran pieces of numerous times. It has been a dream of mine for a few years now to finish this longer distance of the course, and I am so excited to toe the line and see how my body will perform. I have some nerves as I would before any race, but I am not worried at all. I feel strong and confident and ready to take on the challenge.

I have a sense that being diagnosed with cancer is somewhat similar to facing the challenge of an ultramarathon. Next Saturday I will feel nervous and uneasy at the start line, but I'll start anyway. I'll have moments where I'll feel strong and am gliding peacefully across the single track, and there will be moments when I'll wonder if I can do it and question my own strength and stamina. My friends and like-minded strangers who have been through this before will be at the aid stations ready to help me in anyway I need it in order to complete the challenge. My boys will be at the finish line to celebrate with me.

Yet only I can run the race. Only I can walk this path. Supported by many, and also alone.

And it's okay.

"If you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone."
~Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road