Sunday, February 23, 2014

Running through a New England Winter

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

1 Year Post-Chemo: 10 More Things I've Learned From Cancer

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
3.  We try so hard to have the perfect moment, that we forget the most ordinary moment can be its own perfection.  It's easy to mistake quantity for quality. Last year, for example, we went to Disney World, in between my fourth and fifth rounds of chemo. It was tempting to try to cram everything in -- to make sure we mapped out every moment to make sure we saw and did Everything.  But we didn't. We had a loose plan. We saw lots. We missed a bunch. It was a great trip.  

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.

-- Michael