My 11 year old son hasn’t had an honest to goodness “real” vacation since he was just 11 months old. When he was 2, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Tonsil cancer, just a couple weeks after my own mother’s cancer diagnosis. From 2004 until my Mother’s death in the early fall of 2011 we were dealing with cancer in one way, shape or form. While my cancer has not ever returned, it did not keep me from seeing the Doctors, yes that’s plural, on a regular basis. Lots of P.E.T. scans and blood tests and medical procedures along that journey, including a partial neck dissection that has left a rather large scar on the left side of my neck. I keep waiting for someone that doesn’t know me to ask about it, so I can say I was in a knife fight, or you should see the other chick! But I haven’t had the fortune of someone being so rude as to say, hey where’d ya get that?
My mother’s cancer on the other hand kept rearing it’s ugly face periodically along our combined journey. My Dad and I were her caregivers. God bless my dad because he never got a break while I got to come home and sometimes pretend she wasn’t dying. But in the end I sat on the side of her bed and told her it was okay to let us go. Vacations got overlooked mostly, except for the once in a while weekend trip, but those don’t count as vacation for a kid.
Five years ago, I took up running, I got it in my head that this would be good for me mentally if not physically as a way to say, “take THAT you stinkin’ cancer!” See if you can make me sit in my house feeling sorry for myself for the crap that came my way. I have said it before I am not an elite runner. I don’t call myself the Turtle for nothin’. The only time I bring home a medal is when there is only three in my age group, and sometimes I don’t bring it home then. But it never has been about winning, it’s about fighting. I accept my Turtle status with much pride.
Although I’ll never get any faster at running I have from time to time picked up Runner’s World Magazine to see what’s going on in the world of the elite runners and look with longing at the Marathon races they advertise. I only set out to run 5K’s in the beginning and for some ungodly reason I’ve decided to try a half marathon this year. I am by no means physically or mentally ready for that, but I’ve decided this is MY YEAR! I might not be able to get off the couch next year, so I’m doing it one way or another of my own accord, even if it means running, walking or crawling on all fours.
A few years back, looking over an issue of Runner’s World (I’m pretty sure it’s where I first saw this race, but then googled it to read more) I saw a tiny little blip about a small town race in Peabody, MA. It was in a tiny little box with the title, “Sweet Swag”. It said the race’s namesake preferred Converse shoes before he passed away from esophageal cancer.” Well that hit me, my cancer was in my tonsil, but Patrick’s was close enough to have an impact on me, and the fact that Patrick liked Converse shoes. I had always liked them, but had only recently at the time of my reading that blip gotten my first pair of Chucks, thanks to my daughter! She gave me the gift certificate for my birthday when I told her how much I liked the pair of Wonder Woman chucks I’d seen. I keep them in their box and only bring them out in good weather and have been seen sporting them to Church on a Sunday morning, because what better way to honor God than in a awesome pair of shoes. They take turns with my lime green cowboy boots.
Well I was hooked and went looking for more information on that race. Never expecting to do it, but hungry to read more. I found Patrick’s sister Shannon’s webpage on the run and read about her promise to Patrick to do something to help spread awareness about esophageal cancer. I was moved and touched by her determination and love for her brother. I tucked it all into my heart and let it stay, thinking about it from time to time from October 2012 when the Sweet Swag article was published until that following May when the next Patrick Downey 5K took place. I found myself back at the site and then finding pictures of that day’s race. I think the pictures were posted on Facebook as I recall, but my brain doesn’t always remember things right. I found myself smiling at the faces of these people I didn’t know coming to the finish line in this little home town race to honor someone who had died because of stupid cancer. They were a 1000 plus miles away from me and I wanted to be a part of it, but I couldn’t. I fully believe having come so close to dying makes a person decide to do things they wouldn’t normally have such a strong desire to do and sometimes those desires can be a bit overwhelming for their lack of common sense. Welcome to my head.
I felt I couldn’t afford to take a trip like that just to run 3.1 miles and turn around and come home. But I have never wanted to run a race as much as I wanted to run this one, so it stayed tucked away in my heart, until summer when my Mother in law came to visit. While she was here I mentioned this race in an off handed way. I can’t remember now, how it came into our conversation. We must have been talking about my running and the races I’ve competed in and I just shared from my heart how I wished I could do this race. I told her I knew I couldn’t afford the trip, I told her I knew my husband, her son, couldn’t take this trip, due to the limits of his job, I told her I didn’t know why I wanted to drive all that way when I could run so many different races here around my own home, I said, who spends that kind of money to run a 5K? This race some how affected me, knowing that a sister did this all for her brother, because he died from stupid cancer. I have a brother and I thank God I was the one that got cancer and not him. He’s my baby brother, I couldn’t possibly watch him go through what our mother and I went through. Well, my mother in law looked at me, here in this room I’m sitting in right now and told me, “I’ll go with you! I’ll help pay the expenses!” The split second I realized she was serious I did not hesitate to say, “alright! We’re going!” Something I never thought would ever happen was going to happen. I was going to go to Peabody, MA to run a 5K race in memory Patrick, a brother lost, over 1000 miles from my home and then turn around and drive those 1000 miles back home and say, “yeah I just did that”.
Over the months I spent a lot of time finding things to do around that trip, tourist stuff, whales, Boston, cannoli’s from Mike’s Pastry and lots of statues of memorial. But this trip was all about making it to Peabody and running those 3.1 miles. I had no idea if I would ever have this chance again, and my 11 year old deserved a vacation.
On May 11th, 2014, Mother’s Day, my 11 year old son who got an awesome vacation in the deal, my Mother in law, who, if possible, gained an added spot in my heart (I already loved her so much) and myself all showed up in Peabody, MA at about 6:56am, parked the car next to a little sign that read, “Patrick’s Lair”, walked across the street to the Common with a friendly guy we just met and stood in line to get our Bib’s. We moved into another line to pick up our “Sweet Swag” of the race, free, red, high top, Chuck Taylors in memory of Patrick.
I ran the race, I hope, with mostly a smile across my face, wearing my 2012 Andrew Kuebrich Hero Run shirt, because in Andrew’s death I was still calling myself a runner and running in my old Wonder Woman Chucks to prove I could do it. I thought of Patrick, missed my Mom, loved my Mother in law for giving me and my 11 year old this gift and wished I could see the faces and feel the hugs of my two adult children who were too many miles away from me this Mother’s Day. Driving all those miles to run for just over 47 minutes was all worth it. I stopped to take a picture for a family who was running wearing fairy wings who were excited to see a pink house knowing it went well with their wings and my 77 year old Mother in law passed me while she was walking and I was running. But I learned just short of 10 years ago, sometimes life throws you some crap, so you gotta change lanes, just be sure you “Use yah blinkah’”, especially when driving through Massachusetts on your way to Peabody. Cheers Patrick, I wore those red high tops to Church last Sunday! I looked awesome and you were on my heart.