Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mile 6 of my Cancer Marathon

Last mile I spoke of the moments of brilliance that occur during a race. Those moments are pretty awesome but my running friends know quite well they are often accompanied by periods of darkness.

Dark moments can happen anytime during a race and creep up on you without warning. One moment you are merrily running along and then – BAM! Your legs are heavy, your feet are made of concrete, you shoulders ache, your arms tighten up and what once was easy is now hard.

Self doubt creeps in. I’m thirsty. I’m tired. I didn’t train enough. I over trained. The weather sucks. The guy next to me breathes too loud. I feel a blister coming on. My shorts are chafing. I’ll never be able to keep this pace. I’ll just slow down a bit right now and make up for it in a mile or two. They mismeasured the course because that last mile was way too long. I hate this course. I hate running. I can’t do it.

And as predicted, a period of darkness crept up on me as I was still basking in the glow of mile 5 of my cancer marathon.

It started with this dry hacking cough I developed right around the time we were in Cincinnati. I would get into this coughing fits that would rattle my whole body. It felt like I had an itch at the back of my throat that I just couldn’t satisfy. No matter how much I coughed, no matter how many cough drops I consumed, it would still be there. So that was annoying.

Then I developed neuropathy which for me presented as 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 the cancer. So that was another annoyance.

So I went into my last chemo treatment a little agitated about this whole stupid cancer thing. Per usual I met with my oncologist prior to the treatment. Since it was my last chemo treatment, we started discussing next steps i.e. radiation and testing.

The radiation protocol was what I expected and I’ll get into that next mile. The testing discussion, however, catapulted me into the darkness. My doc explained that bone lymphoma are tricky in terms of testing because the bone regrowth will show up as activity on the PET scan. This activity can be difficult to distinguish from cancer activity. So long story short, I won’t get my final PET scan to determine if the cancer is gone for at least 4-6 weeks AFTER radiation is complete.

I’m a checklist kind of girl. I keep a detailed to-do list for both work and home and get deep satisfaction on checking things off of it daily. Because of this mentality, I’ve been dreaming of the day when I can check “Beat Cancer” off my list. So it bummed me out that it might not be for some time that I get a definitive answer on whether the cancer is gone or not.

That got me thinking, which is always a bad thing. You’re technically not cured from cancer until you’ve had 5 years of clean scans. My little baby Porter will be in kindergarten before I can truly claim I am through with this whole cancer nonsense. That just seemed insurmountable.
So for a week or two I was in that dark place. Unhappy. Discouraged. Angry. Wanting to quit the race and go home and eat ice cream on the couch.

But as often happen in a race, something happens to break you free of the chains of darkness. When it does, it’s like your whole body and mind opens up and screams “Running demons - You may have had me down, but I’m not out, there’s a race to run and I’m going to do it”

In my case, that something was getting off crutches. I may or may not have got off crutches a little early than prescribed by my orthopedist but we’ll keep that between us. Let’s just say it’s not realistic to have a mommy of a 3 year old and a baby on crutches for 12 weeks. Obviously, my orthopedist is a man.

I had a little pain at first but it quickly subsided. I think it was the muscles readjusting to bearing weight again. I no problem doing a good bit of walking a few days after being freed from the walking sticks.

I feel like a new woman without those crutches. I can now go wherever I want whenever I want. I can carry my baby and care for my kids without assistance. I’ve visited my basement which I hadn’t done in two months. I don’t have to worry about landmines on the floor, also known as matchbox cars and Little People. Stairs are my friend once again.

And most of all, it’s one less reminder that I have cancer. I’m closer to my old self now and I like that.

In addition to being a total pain in the ass, the crutches were kind of signal to others that something was wrong with me. While I lost the hair on my head, I never lost my eyebrows or eyelashes. I also did not loss any weight (seriously, couldn’t I have gotten at least one positive benefit from cancer?!). So with a baseball cap on, I didn’t have the “cancer look”. I looked totally normal with exception of the crutches. Now that the crutches are gone, I’m one step closer to being back to a regular person in my own eyes and in the eyes of others.

On a related note, when I was at my last chemo treatment they had a therapy dog visit the patients receiving treatment. I’m not a dog person but the dog was cute and well-behaved so I relented and let it come into my room. I even petted it. When the dog and its handler left I thought to myself, “Well, isn’t it nice they do that for all those sick people”

It was probably 15 minutes later that I realized that the cute dog was there for me – I was one of those sick people. That’s how it’s been for me – a mental struggle between understanding I am sick and also wanting to get on with my life and be normal.

I’ll continue to grapple with that but for now I’m glad I’m out of the darkness and back in the light. Next mile will be Mile 7 or “How Carmen became radioactive” :)


"It’s always darkest before the dawn."


TAKA LAKA said...

Wow, I cannot imagine myself going through that painful process. But, any story about cancer survivors inspires me because they truely know how to live their life.

Everyone should look up to person like you.

I hope you will keep on running, and good luck with your future races.

good luck! =)

Anonymous said...

It IS always darkest before the dawn, but even the dark can be great and meaningful.

I meant to "ooooh" and "ahhhh" you on the lack of crutches the last couple of times I've seen you. Lookin' good, sis!