Not Running in 'The Race,' but Feeling Good About Participating in Other Ways

My leukemia diagnosis was marked not so much by one day but by a chain of events. They are all tied to running, and to a lesser extent, tennis, culminating in the 10-K road race where my whispering doubts about my fatigue during running increased in volume.

Trouble keeping up

I had been having trouble keeping up with my running partner but wrote it off as her being super fit. But when I was 10 minutes slower than usual during the Saint Patrick’s Road Race in Holyoke, Mass., in 2003, I knew something was wrong. I didn’t think it was serious though; I thought I wasn’t training properly or eating well.

I made an appointment with my doctor. Friends thought it was excessive, but I followed my instincts. One thing led to another, and I found myself getting a bone marrow biopsy.

On the day that my local hematologist called with the results, I had just come in from tennis. Since it was doubles, I didn’t feel tired like I did when running. It was one of the games I had before work.

Hearing the results on the phone

I don’t know the exact day or date, but I can replay what he said. That if he told me to come into the office, I would know something was wrong, so he might as well tell me. That I had acute myeloid leukemia, and that, although it sounded worse, it was actually “better” than a chronic leukemia, because it could be cured. That there was no way of knowing for sure how it happened.

That race is the focal point of that whole period in 2003. And when the race comes around every year (except the past two years when it was canceled by COVID), I have mixed emotions.

I am glad that my fatigue and poor time in the race got me to the doctor while I was still otherwise healthy. I am sad because it marked the end of life as I knew it.

I finished, but last

I ran the race a few times after cancer. The last time I ran it, in 2017, I had the honor of finishing last. At least I got something out of it by pitching, and writing, a story for Women’s Running, on what it’s like to finish last.

In the days leading up to this year’s race, I texted my kids that I had run 4.5 miles and wondered if I should do the race. One responded that if I finished last, so be it. I was only kidding though! I’m not in that kind of shape.

Staying involved, but not racing

I don’t know if I’ll run it again, but I do know that I like to stay involved. That means driving whichever of my kids is running and picking them up after they’ve had a beer or two. This year that meant being Mom and Driver for my son, Ben, two of his friends, and the wife of one of them.

One said that while I was waiting, I could do the two-mile walk. Don’t get me wrong, I like walking. But as a self-identified runner, the idea of going to a race and walking was against my instincts.

I dropped them off, parked the car, and wandered around. The streets were packed. The volume was loud. I found the walkers and went a little way with them. I bought a hot dog. I ate an apple. I accepted a bag of free donut holes from a Dunkin’ guy. I hoped I didn’t get sick.

I walked back to our meeting place, in front of Francie’s bar, right about the time that they were finished with their beers. I drove them back to my house.

Later, after they went out and got something to eat, a couple of them came back and hung around at the house. My three kids are all grown now, and it was so nice to have one of my sons and his friends around. That son slept over. What a treat.

Satisfied with my accomplishment

After the race, when I looked at my phone, I saw that I had walked more than five miles. Not 6.2 miles, but not nothing.

But that wasn’t as important as being helpful to my son and his friends. I’m always Mom, but this was Mom in Action. That and being involved in race day as a healthy person. The months after my last transplant, when I wasn’t even able to get out of bed, seem like another lifetime. The year after it, when I never would have bought a hot dog on the street, seems pretty far away too.

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