Make that 3.1 miles closer!
Today, I ran my first 5K since 2002. Back before I had kids, when Jorge and I were free-spirited, go-to-the-movies-on-a-Tuesday, sleep until noon, type of people, I ran. I ran about 20 miles a week – roughly 3-4 miles 5x a week. I loved it. I was in great shape — the best shape of my life.
I remember that first race so well. It was a memorial race for a firefighter who had died while in rescue on 9/11. The information on the website said, “Registration begins at 7:45am; race at 9:30am”. Even though I had pre-registered, I showed up at 7:30am. I showed up even before the race organizers did. Jorge and his brother, Pedro, were up with me and ended up sitting on a sidewalk for nearly 3 hours on that morning. I did end up finishing, and somewhere in a print (yes, people, this is pre-digital camera) is a picture of me finishing at 32:00. I was so proud – I had stayed at a 10-minute mile and felt strong!
Nearly 8 years later, and well over 50 lbs later, I finished my next 5K. Learning from lessons of my past, I showed up at 9:00am for the 9:30am start time. In tow, my two little girls and the well-wishing support of my hubby (who was stuck at home with our sick baby). I felt nervous. I just wanted to finish. And, it’d certainly love if I could finish in a respectable time. For me, that respectable time was “any time before the race officials packed up and left.”
When I embarked on the Marathon B4 Mastectomy, I blogged about how I wasn’t going to run this for anyone but myself. But, last night, I decided to run this in honor of Becky Matthew. Becky is Richard’s wife. And, while our prayers for Richard’s strength have been offered over the past 1 1/2 years, I can’t take my mind off of Becky this week. In the last few years, Becky has become the mother of a child with cancer and the wife of a man with cancer. All this in addition to the usual pressure we all feel as women, moms, providers, care takers, professionals, and the multiple other roles we play in our lives. She has struggled to make decisions to save her child’s sight, and just last week came to peace with the decision to call hospice for her husband. This week, Becky has had to make decisions about Richard’s funeral arrangements, how to emotionally box up his belongings, and sitting with the quiet in her home. While there are beautiful moments of Richard’s passing, the peace he now has, stories his relatives have of “knowing” Richard had passed and such, a new journey is beginning for Becky. She’ll use different strengths now.
And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Becky and Richard also have a daughter. While I never could admit this prior to having my own daughters and son, there is a difference. I’m finding myself engaging in some tough conversations with my older daughter about her body, self-esteem, confidence, school, hair, friends — you know, the usual. Even without these conversations, I know for sure that Becky has given her daughter one of the most precious gifts; her daughter has seen her mother be strong, tender, vulnerable, kind, accepting, and faithful.
It was important for me to have my girls there. My son, I doubt he’ll ever remember this period in my life, our life, his life. But, my girls, I wanted them to see me. As I was heading to the start line, my younger daughter insisted that she was going to run with me. My older daughter had to hold her back.
I had plenty of time on my run to think. Over the 3.1 miles, I thought about the start of my mastectomy journey. When I had trouble breathing, I thought about Becky and what she must be doing right now. When I took the time to look at the houses, the trees, and to say “hello” to the people getting their morning newspapers off of their driveways, I thought of Richard. When I had to walk on the many uphills, I thought of myself and the significance of this journey. And, when I attempted to sprint in the home stretch, I thought of my girls. I thought of whether or not they would have to embark on their own mastectomy journey in the future. And, I wanted them to see that I was strong.
I ran with my friend, Chuck, for the first mile, and as he quickly pulled away I found myself alone. Runner after runner passed me. I was tempted to turn on my iPhone and listen to music, but instead, I wanted to listen to my body. I didn’t want to be distracted by Kanye or Diddy. Didn’t want to get lost in the dance beats of Missy Elliot or Beyonce. I didn’t want to sing along with the cast of Glee. I wanted to hear my footsteps, feel both my breath and my breathlessness, and listen to the silence of aloneness. The benefit of being at the back of the pack meant no one could hear me say aloud, “One step closer. One step closer.” But, what was I one-step-closer to?
As my body was about to give up, I turned the corner and saw the finish line. I could hear the cheering of the small gathering of people along the end of the route. After all, I was nearly the last one to cross, and the supporters had all gone inside with their loved ones. Though my breathing was already shallow, I knew I needed to end strong. I ran with whatever strength I had left, and crossed the finish line at approximately 38 minutes — a full 2 minutes faster than I planned. As I ran into the ribbon area, a woman turned to me and said, “You’ve got someone following you.” Before I could turn around, I felt tiny little hands grab my pant leg. The familiar little hands were my younger daughter. She’s mini-me. We look alike. We sound alike. We have the same long toes, light skin, and bossy attitudes. While the odds are 50/50, I pray that we do not have the cancer gene in common.
“You did it, Mommy! You did it!” said my younger daughter.
“I sure did, Jada. Now, watch out. I think I’m gonna puke.”
“That’s okay, Mommy. But, first can I have your iPhone? I want to play a game.”
My older daughter must have seen my “what did you just say??” look on my face. She’s terrifically keen in social situations. “Good job, Mommy. That was pretty cool,” in an effort to return some self-esteem back to me.
“Thanks, Jo. Do you think you can join me next time?”
While I’m looking forward to Jo joining me in a run, we already have begun a long journey together. I already know that I passed the VHL gene to her. And, when she’s 21, we’ll find out whether or not she has inherited the BRCA gene from me, too. She’s been through a lot, more than I can ever imagine.
I’m really thankful that I’m one step closer to decreasing my risk of cancer. There have been a lot of milestones along the way — losing weight, running regularly, getting over this never ending sinus cold, weaning my son from breast feeding, and now this 5K. I’m about 4 months away from my mastectomy. In just a few weeks, I’ll be having my mammogram — the first medical test in preparation for the surgery. It’s here. It’s real. It’s going to happen.
Each day is one step closer to my surgery; one step closer to a reduced risk of cancer.
Peace, love, and baby steps,