Sunday, April 29, 2018

Survivorship and Cancer to 5K

When I became a runner in my mid thirties, suddenly a lot of common metaphors made sense. We are always hearing things like "Run your own race." "Stay the course." "Get to the finish line" These common themes are all throughout historic literature, even the Bible, that liken life to a race and our individual journey, is like that of a runner. One can read these and have a clear understanding of the context and metaphors but unless you have actually run a race, I don't believe you that you can grasp the full picture.

Anyone can run. Well, anyone with legs can run. It's not something only certain people can do. It's like walking only faster. And unless you have a handicap you can walk and if you can walk, you can run. Now before you start sending me PMs about health conditions, bad knees, back issues, etc I know that there are certain challenges for some people and one should always always always get clearance from your doctor. But for the sake of this piece just go with me. Anyone can go out and run or walk a race. However it's a whole other ballgame to train for a race. To submit your entire self to a process and commit to training even when the race is months away, it's raining outside, and you want to binge watch Netflix on your couch instead of getting out there and preparing for race day. Doing that for months is way different than walking a race with a friend who talked you into it the week before. 

This past January I had the opportunity to actually train with a coach for the first time. Prior I had self trained using google, tapping into knowledge from my favorite instructors at the Y, and using an app on my phone. This time, I was able to train with a coach through the Ulman Cancer Fund Cancer to 5k Program. It was exactly what I needed coming out of chemo, external radiation, internal radiation, multiple surgeries including a radical hysterectomy, bladder and vaginal reconstructions, and being diagnosed with chronic condition. I knew I wanted to run again but I didn't know how to start. When I would start on my own, I was too overwhelmed with the physical and emotional challenges of what I had been through. BUT it was one part of my pre-cancer life that I was determined to try and reclaim if at all possible. By submitting myself to an expert authority and trusting the process, I have been able to start running again! And just this month ran my first 5k since healing from reconstruction and being diagnosed with stage 3, acute Chronic Kidney Disease.
Ulman C25K Goal Race

During this race, I kept thinking of all of those life metaphors I was referring to. Before when I ran, I definitely understood the meaning first hand, but just like every other single thing in my life,  cancer shifted this perspective as well.  Cancer has unearthed this inner fighter in me that I had no idea was there. Fighting through treatment is a given, but no one tells you that Survivorship is a fight too. And it never ends. It's what your life looks like after cancer. And we all want to be there right? Like you want to survive and be declared cancer free. Everyone wants that, but no one tells you that your life is going to be turned upside down like a snow globe and you're going to be left to figure it out. And you have to fight. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually you have to fight for Survivorship. There are parts of your old life that you must let go and resign yourself to the fact that it is no longer. There are other parts that take a while but can be reclaimed with time...for me that's how it's been with running. It certainly doesn't "look" exactly like it did before as I lack stamina and core strength that may or may not get better, but I'm doing it. And it feels great.
Ulman C25K Goal Race

When I'm training or running a race now,  I remember those metaphors and my favorite two are "Run the mile you're in" and "No one can run your race for you." After cancer life and Survivorship is so completely overwhelming at times. There's permanent side effects to manage daily, there's chronic conditions, there's fear of it returning, there's the balance of the desire to live in the now with not wanting to be irresponsible, survivors guilt, I mean the list goes on and on. I for one am learning to take life in bite-size chunks. I make plans and goals but I'm much more calculated in getting there because time is valuable to me. I realize time in this world is limited. I strive to live in the present and run the mile I'm in...enjoy the mile I am in, make the best of the mile I'm in, and if I get to my next mile I'll deal with it when I get there. 
After cancer, I'm also extremely cognizant of the fact that no one can DO life FOR me. This became so real to me during radiation treatments when the radiology techs would put me in my mold, line me up with my tattoos just so, and CLOSE THE DOOR. I was alone. No one could do it for me. They helped me and those first couple of sessions we had some come to Jesus moments, but the bottom line was no one could do it for me. It had to be me, in the room with the radiation by myself. 
Survivorship has also lead me to being a patient advocate. As I make my way around the cancer community I have quickly learned that my cancer, my treatment, my story is different from the next person. It is unique to me. And my Survivorship is unique to me. While there are similarities, how I am able to thrive in Survivorship is not the same as how next person processes and lives what they are left with after cancer. "No one can run my race for me" it's mine to decide how and take action.

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