I’ve had quite a memorable few days. There have been things to celebrate, new challenges to manage, and some soul soothing along the way as well.
It started with round 2 of chemotherapy on Wednesday. For fear of the mental anguish I suffered after round 1 we adjusted the chemo cocktail (as I’m affectionately calling it) to mostly exclude steroids. Steroids are used in my care to keep nausea at bay. However, when I’m on them I feel like I have one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. I feel out of control and very very uncomfortable. While I was happy to have the opportunity to avoid those feelings, I was nervous to step into possible uncontrolled nausea at the same time. But this is a game of inches and I have to be willing to experiment with what works and what doesn’t in order to find the right balance.
Fortunately, Abby, a friend from law school, accompanied me on the first half of my chemo round. Abby is a highly qualified chemo date as she also hates cancer and is smart, collected, and exceedingly kind. She helped me come to the decision that the risk was worth the gain, so no steroids it was.
All things considered, this round went better than the first. I forced myself to sleep more, I ate a little better, and I was aided by some extra IV hydration on days 2 and 3 post-infusion. The IV fluids were done in anticipation of the 10k I had planned for Saturday and am very glad my medical team helped me get out ahead of things prior to race day. The nausea was manageable, resting was working, and everything was on track.
Once you’ve made all possible physical preparations possible, the next thing to consider when doing the race of a lifetime, is your mental game. I knew this race was going to wring me out mentally. Six miles is a long way when you’re feeling healthy, let alone when you’re battling a recent chemo infusion. But it was important for me to participate to show solidarity for others who are struggling through their own demons and to also reaffirm some of my own strength despite my diagnosis.
So I called in the big guns.
A good friend of mine worked some magic with his airline miles to help me fly my best friend from high school, Tricia, out to support me during the race. Tricia has known me the longest and has been an enduring source of inspiration since we first formed our friendship nearly 20 years ago. I knew she would do 2 things for me: 1. Fully support my mission in the way only she can, and 2. Keep me out of harms way.
The list of things that can go wrong when undertaking a race like this is not long, but it is something to keep an eye on. Diziness, vomitting, fatigue, light-headedness were all on the watch list. Fortunately, my crew swelled from Tom, Tricia and me to include sister Jess and Frankie. We were a motley crew determined to get out there and make the best of the day. And we sure did.
I won’t say it was easy. It wasn’t. I won’t even say it was fun. It certainly wasn’t at times. There was a point I had to put on my headphones and listen to some superhero music (not lying and not ashamed) to keep putting one foot in front of the other. My body hurt from the injection they gave me to stimulate white blood cell production. It feels very much like I have fallen down a cliff the day before. Everything just hurt.
But I will say it was worth it.
When I was feeling my worst I started pulling up the people who have written to me to tell me how this blog has effected them. My purpose in writing here was to both work through my own feelings about this time in my life and to also be some small measure of comfort for others who have their own struggles going on. For me, it’s a place to meet to surrender our defenses and just be. And it seems to be working. So in those difficult moments, I thought about every brave heartache people have shared with me and I took another step forward for them. I carried a lot of hearts with me and was both inspired and moved by the faith and courage you all have sent me.
And, somehow, I finished.
I even jogged my way across the finish line! One of the reasons I love this race is because of the post-race atmosphere. All the runners hang out in hopes of winning one of 4 prize trips to Ireland. There is a DJ spinning music and it is a general party feel. It’s fantastic. People are happy, proud of the hard work they put in, and celebrating the first race of the season under their belts.
One of my friends told the DJ about my story and that I had completed the race. The DJ then decided she wanted to share my accomplishment with the crowd. Right before the age group she called me up to the stage in front of hundreds of cheering spectators. They clapped and whooped and chanted my name. It was surreal. It was touching. It was one of the best moments of my life.
When people are in your corner, you feel like you can do anything. At this point, I’m starting to believe that I really can. I will not only beat cancer, I will come out better for it. From the cheering crowd in Bozeman to the Missoula crew that walked in solidarity with me, I am feeling so lifted up in confidence and gratitude. And I’m once again humbled by the realization that none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t exposed my vulnerability in this scary, uncertain time. I had to open the gates in order to let the love in. And the response has been overwhelming and life changing.
So that’s something to sit with. What happens when we let love in? Is it scary and sometimes painful to be so vulnerable? Of course. Is it worth it?
Give em’ hell.