Sunday, February 23, 2014
Yesterday was beautiful. That rare February New England day, when two-month high piles of snow start to melt as the thermostat tops 50. A great day to shed the long pants, gloves and hat, and go out for a long run.
I wasn't alone.
I saw many runners enjoying the weather. Some, perhaps lacing up their shoes for the first time in a while; others basking in the reminder that spring is around the corner. But forecasts say we'll be back in single-digit lows within a week. And I'll still be outside running.
I hate treadmills. Yes, I can run faster on them because there's no wind resistance. Yes, I can watch the Winter Olympics on the dashboard screen. Sometimes, they're a necessity. I was listening to Dana-Farber's Dr. Rosenthal talk about integrative therapies, and as he talked about the benefits of meditation and what meditation was, I realized that for me, running is meditation. And it's hard to meditate when you're surrounded by other people, watching television and there's a loud, pounding accompanying your steps.
But a dislike of treadmills may keep you pounding pavement when it hits 30 or maybe 20 degrees; but something else has to be at work when the wind chills are approaching zero.
For me, I'd be lying to say that there isn't at least a little bit of "real runner-itis" at work. I've been running since discovering at sleepaway camp in Maine that I was pretty good at it. (Note: when I say pretty good, I need to qualify that. Except for one second-place finish in one track event in ninth or tenth grade, I've never won any race, qualified for any marathon or done anything remarkable in 40+ years of running. But when I'm running through Boston in the bitter cold, I do feel a bit of ego-induced satisfaction -- of proving to myself that I'm a real runner.
In the past that's gotten me out and running in all sorts of weather. But absent the need to train for an April marathon four years ago, in times of extreme cold, I've turned to the treadmill. This year's been different.
I've said before in this space that since my diagnosis and then chemo, running for me helps me prove to myself that I'm alright -- that I'm healthy. This snowy, cold New England winter, though, running for me has become more than just an act of assertion, it's an act of defiance.
Whatever the universe brings - lymphoma, snow, single-digit temps -- if I can run, I will.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
That was me one year ago today. My last round of chemo. Feb 1, 2013. What better time for a return to my list of 10 Things I Learned From Cancer. (The first two lists are here and here.) This time sprinkled with links to some of the more expanded version of the idea.
1. Numbers are irrelevant. People place an over-sized emphasis on numbers - in everything I suppose, but particularly in cancer. You can look at the number of people diagnosed with your cancer, the cure rate, the progression-free survival rate, the chance of recurrence, the chance of secondary cancer. Stem cell transplant patients gratefully celebrate the day they received their transplant as their new birthday. I write a blog post for the one-year anniversary of the end of treatment. It's all meaningful... and meaningless.
2. People want to help. They may say stupid things. Ask ignorant questions. Tell tales or relatives who died of cancer, were cured by wacky diets. They just want to relate. The ignorance used to bother me. Now I try embrace it. To me, the more ignorant the question, the more removed they are from cancer. Good for them.
|One of my favorite photos of the boys |
enjoying an ordinary moment
Living in the moment isn't just about trying to squelch anxiety about what the future may bring; it's also about not living in a permanent nostalgia for better days. But the thing about living in the moment is that some moments are harder than others.
4. I'm sometimes amazed at the pettiness of otherwise good people.
5. Cancer doesn't necessarily make you better, but it can bring out the best in you. It can amplify what's already inside of you.
6. Everyone needs something to help them get through the diagnosis. Something beyond the family support. Beyond the friends. Beyond the professional help. Call it a hobby, a passion, a pursuit, an interest. It's just something that you can call your own. For me, it's not this blog. It's running.
|Matthew and I after |
a Father's Day run
7. Ego can be a terrible thing. It can get in the way of lots of good intentions.
8. Cancer advocacy is hard work. I often get to work with cancer patients who are advocates for cancer awareness, research funding or health care legislation. After being forcefully immersed in the cancer world — through diagnosis, treatment, recovery and who knows what else — choose to surround themselves with the topic through volunteerism. That's not easy.
9. There will always be mental hills and valleys. It doesn't matter how many months or years you're out from a cancer diagnosis, there will be nights when it's inordinately hard to deal with the thought; there will be days when it's but a distant memory. When you're on top of the hill, it's easy to see that landscape. When you're down in the valley, it all looks like mountains.
10. It's great to hear stories of follicular lymphoma patients who are 20+ years out but there's only one cancer that matters. Mine.
Friday, January 24, 2014
For the six months that I had chemo, I didn't have a single cold. I don't recall a sniffle, a scratchy throat, a stuffed up nose. Nothing. True, I lost my voice for a day after every round, but as everyone else in the house went through boxes of tissues that winter, the joke was that I was the healthiest person in the house.
Except for that cancer thing.
This winter I've had a couple minor colds -- which have quickly resolved themselves. And as the last one fully exited stage left, and as I had that great, post-cold day when you suddenly realize, 'oh, this is how it feels to be healthy," I started thinking about symptoms.
People process symptoms wildly differently - from paranoia and hyperbole to indifference.
But a cancer diagnosis muddies the water here (doesn't it always). In the BC (before cancer) days, I remember thinking that there are so few days when we are 100 percent healthy. Few days when there is absolutely nothing physically wrong with us -- no scratchy throat, or runny nose, or headache, or insomnia, or fatigue, or indigestion, or sore muscle, or achy joint, or dried out skin, or scraped knee, or blister on a toe or whatever. These minor aches and pains came and went, but they barely registered as anything but an annoyance.
But in the AD (after diagnosis) life, even the most trifling of troubles can send you scurrying through the maze of self-diagnosis, with a cancer-related complication at every turn. Paranoia? Maybe. Anxiety? Sure, a little of that.
There are so many stories of the grave consequences of undiagnosed symptoms. And in the middle of the night when your mind is vulnerable and your thoughts unchecked, it's easy to turn an upset stomach into a cancer recurrence.
Symptom awareness comes with the territory, I suppose, and there's only a thin line separating it from anxiety. The trick is staying on the right side of the line.
A Note about This Blog: With this post, I'm starting (or attempting) to start a more regular schedule of weekly posts. When I started the blog back on 7/1/11, the idea was that I would post when I felt the need. That was pretty frequently two years ago; it's less so these days. So with a regular schedule, I hope to get back to a weekly Friday night/Saturday am post.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
In a few short weeks, it will be a full year since my last round of chemo. It seems like forever. I don't have another scan until September; my blood work looks fine; I remain, despite my tendency to think any ache is lymphoma-linked, symptom free. I am essentially living the same life I was prior to June 30, 2011.
I tried to think the other day of how I felt before I was diagnosed. What a day was like when the thought of cancer was as distant a thought as winning the lottery? I could only fantasize about either -- and the lottery was the better choice. It's been 2 1/2 years and it seems like this is how it's always been -- which doesn't mean I'm always thinking about cancer.
But when I am thinking about cancer, and in particular, my cancer, I occasionally think about dying. I think any cancer patient who says they don't is either trying to protect someone or very, very good at optimism. When I do, it's always the prospect of missing out on things I'm looking forward to that's the saddest. (Ric Elias talks about this in his short Ted Talk, 3 Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed , which is worth a view.) When we're young, we think we're invincible; when we're older, we often think of ourselves as immortal -- that we're always going to be there.
Even when the prognosis is good, cancer removes any illusion of that immortality.
It's not that I often think of dying, but the idea of not being here will sometimes invade my thoughts at my weaker moments. It's been said that fighting cancer is as much a mental battle as a physical one. I'm not sure about that. But I do know that when I'm feeling tired, infected with a touch of symptom paranoia, or otherwise run down, it takes effort, real mental effort to keep those negative fantasies at bay.
It's always tempting to live from appointment to appointment rather than take each day as it comes -- to carpe scan instead of carpe diem. When I find that temptation hard to resist, I resort to the best therapy I know.
I run for the exercise. I run to stay in shape. I run to counterbalance the ice cream I might eat later. I run to infuse energy into my body, to boost my mood, and my productivity. And some days, I crawl out of bed at 4:45 am and take a train into Boston so I can run to affirm my health.