Last Saturday I ran 10 miles. The farthest I have ever run, so much symbolism in those 10 miles. One mile for every year I have survived a Stage IV Cancer Diagnosis. But this is not my stopping point. This is my training for my first half marathon. It has been an amazing journey, with much sadness, but so much joy as well. I am a runner. I may be the last one across the finish line, I may be passed by every person walking, but I am a runner and I have endured and will endure until I reach the Finish line in this race of life.
August 27 –December 2004: Coming to terms with a Stage IV diagnosis of Tonsil cancer that spread to the lymph nodes on the right, preparing for treatment and enduring treatment. Tonsils out, feeding tube in, trip to the dentist and long minutes on a hard table to be measured for a radiation mask. Much of my time spent preparing my, “In Case I Die” notebook, so all is ready.
2005: The death of my “Auntie” Ruby Marlene, due to cancer, on March 22nd. We saw each other at Christmas and mentally I said my goodbye, thinking we would both be gone within that next year. We both had very little hair on our heads and my voice was close to gone from treatment. Aunt Marlene’s death was followed by the death of Judy T due to pancreatic cancer on October 25. Her husband died the day of her funeral. I was there when they made the announcement and my heart ached for their children. I had talked to their daughter Jane who I had known since she was a kid. We ran into each other at the grocery store shortly after her mother was diagnosed and I tried to give her hope, as I struggled with my own hope.
2006: In June I watched as my oldest son Levi graduated from High school. A day I thought I might not see. I remembered how he was there in the Emergency room back in 2004 when they worked to save my life. In August being overwhelmed and amazed that I survived two years, I threw myself a Celebration of Hope Party where everyone was supposed to dress in purple and I had a big ol purple HOPE cake. Lost 52 pounds along the journey and eating is a struggle, throat has shrunk to the size of a small straw. The death of my Judy B., Nov. 13, 2006 due to lung cancer reminds me yet again there are no guarantees. She said, she looked to me for hope and told herself if I could survive, so could she. I didn’t want to tell her, I still wasn’t sure how long I’d be around. The Survivor’s Guilt is sinking into my soul. It was difficult to attend her wake, to face her children, while she was gone and I still stood.
2007: The death of my neighbor Kim, November 25, she was diagnosed a few months before me with Leukemia. She had met several others with the disease and as they each kept dying she told me, “one of us has to survive”, she was talking about herself and those she had met with her cancer. I continue to wallow in guilt of surviving.
2008: Where the idea first came to me to start running, while volunteering at a race in Chicago. My daughter Halie and I both joked around about being able to do it. When I realized it was a 10K, I said, No way I could do that, but I would train for a 5k. I thought hard about this, believing this was a way to fight back against my diagnosis.
2009: Grateful and amazed I have survived for 5 years now. After struggling to run just to the neighbor’s mailbox and then walk to the next one, and then run to the next one, I ran my first 5K with my daughter. It was tough, but I was proud of our accomplishments. It was the only race I competed in that year, as I struggled through more medical issues. This year also brought more sadness at the death of my dear friend Sandy W. once again at the hands of cancer. If I ever had a best friend I’d say it was Sandy. We preformed our last Missy and Sissy sisters routine shortly before it went to hell in a hand basket. Sandy and I giggled and giggled one Sunday morning as we waited to perform, we didn’t talk about cancer. We both had Hope that morning.
2010: My 50th birthday! Once again I’m amazed I’m still here so I threw myself a “Surprise birthday party”! Happy times, happy days, I do not think about dying every single day anymore! But then something showed up on my annual Pet Scan and I was scheduled for a neck dissection on the left side. The good news was it wasn’t cancer, the bad news all the lymph nodes had to be removed to be checked, because of “my history”.
2011: The hardest year of all, losing my Mom to this damn disease called cancer, on August 2nd one day after my Dad’s birthday. I’m grateful she held on one more day. Watching her the days before her death were difficult beyond measure. We had fought this fight together all these 7 years. I lost a little of myself that day and wandered for a bit in my memories of these years and once again wondered why was I still here. And so I decided it was time to run more! I ran my first Warrior Dash Obstacle with my daughter and then that 10K I had talked about in 2008. I ran that one by myself and yes the person most surprised I finished was I.
2012: My grief at losing my Mom started to take over and I stopped running, but then a tragedy struck my friend Jill’s family when her son Andrew was killed. Andrew was a runner and he had a “To Do” list. I started running again. I couldn’t run for myself so I ran for Andrew, but mostly for his Mother who had lost a son, from a daughter who had lost a mother and I logged 50 miles in Andrew’s memory. In his death, he touched many lives and I started running with a purpose.
2013: I met my new friend Carolyna while volunteering at Zombie run to earn money for our Relay for Life Teams. Becoming friends with Carolyna allowed me to run some races in Chicago that I wanted to run, like the Hot Chocolate run and thanks to this amazing woman she got me to think I could actually run a half marathon. And I thought why not? What have I got to lose? Nothing, either I run it, walk it or crawl it! I want to do this! Thanks Carolyna for being my friend and making me believe in me.
2014: This is the year, this is my year. My goal this year was to run at least one organized race every month. This was the year I drove the farthest for a race. All the way to Peabody, MA to run in memory of Patrick and find a new friend to cherish named Shannon. This year, August 27th marks 10 years of SurThriving cancer. It has been marked with tears both of joy and grief. I am grateful to be alive, yet I have lost so many. I have family and friends still dealing with diagnosis and I hope and pray we will all still be standing in another year, Paige, Sandy, Marty, Dale (on his second time after surviving for over 10 years, Pete, Tom, Sheryl (who has been fighting almost as long as I have), Becky, Bruce, Diane, Michelle, Linda and Jo Jo (a friend of a friend, that I do not know, but has remained in my prayers with all the others on this list). Someone has to survive. And this year I warrior on! I will run, and I will run the farthest I have ever run. I run for Andrew, I run for my Mom and all of the ones I’ve lost and all of the ones still standing, but mostly I run for me. I am a Warrior, I am here, I am standing and I will warrior on.