Monday, April 15, 2013

If It Weren't For Cancer . . .

This post was going to start like this: Oh for god's sake, not another post about running. I formulated some ideas for this post as I was out enjoying a beautiful spring run on a day off. Then before I even made it inside my house, Stacy told me the news from Boston.

I don't know what I can add to the discussion that will consume us. There will be grief, sadness, anger, frustration. There will be relief, joy, appreciation and gratitude. Many will feel some of those emotions. Some will feel all of them. It seems a natural human reaction to tragedy to gauge our proximity to the event. We measure the degrees that separate us from disaster.

Three years ago, when cancer was something I witnessed and not experienced, I finished my Boston Marathon in an official time of 4:11. The first explosion went off at between 4:09 and 4:10 and the second one shortly thereafter. But for three years, I would have been running down Boylston Street in smoke.

I had though of volunteering for this year's race -- to thank all the Dana-Farber runners for their dedication and fundraising. I was going to ask to be at the finish line to help escort runners from the finish line back to the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge headquarters. In the end, my boys are off this week and I wanted to spend some time with them... and not have to deal with the crazy traffic that usually ensues on Marathon Day. So instead of volunteering, or even working today, I took a vacation day and spent it suburban Rhode Island.

Crazy indeed.

Friends and family who know the Dana-Farber connection to the Marathon (and my connection to running and Dana-Farber) have reached out to me and Stacy to make sure I'm okay. When one found out I was fine, she commented, "You must have a guardian angel watching over you."
"Yes," we replied. "It's called cancer."

If it weren't for cancer -- for six months of chemo, would I have been running the marathon today? If it weren't for cancer, would I have turned a milestone birthday (50, last December) into a reason to run? I've done that before. If it weren't for cancer, would I have been as concerned about taking time off to drive my kids to soccer camps and dentist appointments and ice cream shops on their school vacation week.

Who knows? It's likely that my knees and my wish to remain married would have kept me from another marathon. But it's hard to think of what decisions I would have made if I didn't have cancer. It's hard to think of how I even thought before I had cancer. And, in some respects, it's pointless to try.

There are thousands of decisions over the course of my life that took me to Dana-Farber five years ago. And who knows whether any decisions I made in my life had any affect on my developing cancer. It's likely.

I'd like to think that there is some kind of positive life force -- karma, God, human conscience, whatever -- that balances things out. But at times like this, it's hard to see how things balance out. It's hard not to think that it -- all of it -- is anything but serendipity. A string of connecting decisions that map out our fate from day to day, from year to year, from cancer diagnosis to safety.