When I tell people I’m attempting to run a marathon, I usually get the same reaction: “WHY?”
It’s not easy to articulate. There are many reasons, and not all of them are rational. Bucket list? Yes. Health benefits? Yeah. Cheaper than a gym? God yes.
But the biggest motivator for me to run this marathon is simple.
It’s my dad.
In November 2014, my dad was diagnosed with stage 2A colon cancer. Tom and I were still living in Springfield. I remember the phone call. I remember Tom’s face. I remember wanting to hug my dad more than anything in the world.
I’m a very lucky person to have had the most incredibly supportive and understanding bosses in the world. They literally said, “Just go. Go be with your family, and take all the time you need.”
I went, and Tom followed soon after. A lot of that time is hazy. Hospitals, doctor’s offices, x-rays. So much waiting. Waiting for appointments, waiting for doctors, waiting for test results.
I blinked and suddenly we were at Mayo Clinic, scheduled for surgery the following morning.
It was snowing outside, cold and bitter. We ate our Thanksgiving dinner in the hotel restaurant. I wore red lipstick to try and lift spirits.
We woke early for surgery prep. I remember the color blue. Blue walls, blue hospital gown, blue socks.
My father hates the color blue.
Mom and I waited in his hospital room that would become our base camp for the next several days. “Divergent” played on the TV. Shailene Woodley’s face swam before our tired eyes. Kind nurses updated us with messages from the operating room which we tried to decipher like shriveled up tea leaves. I think nurses are actually angels who have decided to inhabit the earthly world for a while.
We waited the longest hours of my life. Then word came he was out of surgery – and that he was fine. A few small hiccups but they were certain they got it all. The surgeon came to speak with us and walk us through it step by step. Another angel, a red-headed one.
I’ll never forget seeing him. A vision (in blue) being wheeled down the hall in a bed. You never really grasp the concept of your parents’ imminent death until you see them lying in a hospital bed, wearing an open-back gown and those paper-thin socks. His eyes still lolled a bit from the anesthesia and he was groggy as hell. But he was awake, and he was safe, and he was tumor-free.
Those first few nights after surgery were brutal. The doctors warned us he may experience some nausea, and experience it he did. We spent a majority of the first night keeled over the toilet, dry heaving and worrying he’d pop his stitches (he didn’t). What can you do? Nothing. There was not a single thing I could do to make it better, to make the nausea stop, to give his body the rest it so badly needed. I remember saying over and over, as if chanting, “Breathe, breathe.” A mantra for us both. I tried breathing with him, in big, audible gulps. Nothing worked. The nausea wouldn’t stop. It rolled over him in waves and my heart broke as I watched his spine undulate with dry heaves.
Sometime early morning (5:00ish I’m guessing) they were able to give him some anti-nausea meds and it finally subsided. Such sweet relief, it was almost palpable. Mom came back from the hotel (poor woman needed some serious shut-eye) soon afterward and it wasn’t long before the surgeon came to check up on him.
He was recovering well.
We stayed in the hospital a few more nights. I can still hear the sounds in his room. His monitors. The hissing from his air boots (to keep him from getting a blood clot). The sound of the door to his room opening. The squeak of the (horribly uncomfortable) chair beside his bed where I slept in a fog, unsure if I was awake or dreaming.
I couldn’t stay forever (though I wanted to). I had to head back home to work and my life. I didn’t want to leave, it felt like we’d been safe inside our little bubble, battling cancer with our Mayo troops. Like if we stayed in that hospital room forever, he’d get well, be healthy. Never die.
But he had bigger battles to fight. Though he was healing well from the surgery, chemotherapy started soon after he returned home. I consider him lucky to have been able to take his chemo orally, in pill form, but it still wreaked havoc on his body. He had blood blisters all over his feet and aches in all of his joints. It felt like my father was aging ten years in a matter of months.
But he and my mom pushed through. She took him down to Florida to finish his chemo and get some much needed r+r. Sometimes I think in the battle against cancer the toughest soldiers are the family and friends of cancer patients, and mom is nothing if not tough. Her resilience helped him make it through all six months of chemo.
I’m happy to report today that dad is cancer-free. He has a clean bill of health, though I can see the toll it’s taken on his body. He walks a tad slower, his movements just a little heavier. Still manages to kick Tom’s ass in tennis though 😉 I wouldn’t be able to articulate my gratitude for dad or his health for all the tea in China, but I will say that this whole endeavor has made me appreciate every single second I have with him. There is nothing like a case of cancer to highlight the frailty of human existence.
So, what does this all have to do with running?
Well I’ve chosen to run the marathon for a charity called Gilda’s Club, which provides free cancer support for the whole family, the whole time. Their motto is: “So that no one has to face cancer alone.” Established by the late Gene Wilder for his wife, Gilda Radner, their goal is to provide a place where men, women and children whose lives have been touched by cancer, as well as their families and friends, can feel they are part of a welcoming community of support.
Running is hard. It hurts. I look at the blisters on my feet and think of Dad’s blood blisters from chemo. I feel the ache in my hips as I push through my training and am flooded with an image of Dad, bent over the toilet at Mayo, his stomach convulsing involuntarily with dry heaves. I watched cancer try to take down my dad – it didn’t. Dad won the fight, even though it felt an impossible battle. He pushed through, and so do I. He took one more breath, and so do I. That first night after surgery the nurses actually had him get up and walk a few feet to help prevent blood clots. If dad could take one more step, then so can I.
I don’t know if I’m a runner, but I know I’m running for a cause. We are a lucky family, with plenty of resources and people to support us throughout dad’s fight. Not everyone is as fortunate. Places like Gilda’s Club give those less equipped whatever it is they need. The tentacles of cancer reach far beyond the patient to both family and friends, and Gilda’s Club ensures no one feels alone in the fight.
So it is with pride I will don my Gilda’s Club shirt on October 9th and begin the journey of 26.2 miles. I’ve done (most of) my training and am hoping sheer willpower can provide me with the rest. I know dad’s battle with cancer will inspire me to keep going, even when it’s tough, even when it feels like I can’t. Because he did.
Also, I was able to meet – and surpass!- my fundraising goal (thanks to all who donated!) but if you’d still like to, you can donate here. I feel proud to raise money for this organization.
For all those who helped us win Dad’s battle – thank you. To my husband Tom, who was (and is) my greatest supporter – thank you. To everyone at Gilda’s Club, who makes both cancer and the marathon seem just a little less scary – thank you. My heart is full of gratitude.
And to myself! You can do it. See you out there on race day.