A man running along an uphill path

Remembering My Race with Cancer

A few weeks ago, I went for a long walk with my family. My son suggested a spot that he liked, a park on top of a very tall hill that offers a beautiful view of our town. To get to the top, you walk along a wide trail that wraps around the hill. It’s about a mile walk to go up, but the view at the top is worth the hike.

I’m very familiar with the hill and the trail. Every year on Super Bowl Sunday, a local charity sponsors a 5k race that starts nearby, goes up the trail, and then back down. It’s a lot of non-stop uphill running.

I’m very familiar with that race, too. The last time I ran it was three weeks after I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a slow-growing but incurable blood cancer.

Running with cancer

My diagnosis came as a surprise. I was 40 years old, and in the best shape of my life. As I had gotten closer to 40, I had vowed to take better care of myself. I was running three days a week, and motivating myself by entering local 5k races. Free t-shirts are a big motivator.

When I was diagnosed, I was already signed up for the 5k Super Bowl race up that big hill. Like many follicular lymphoma patients, I was mostly asymptomatic when I was diagnosed. Other than a bunch of swollen lymph nodes, I wasn’t feeling too many other symptoms. None that were keeping me from running, anyway.

So a couple of weeks after the diagnosis, after all of the biopsies and blood tests and doctor appointments, I turned the calendar and saw that the 5k race was coming up in a week. Somehow my head was clear enough to think it through: there was no way I was going to miss that race.

It was the hardest race I’d ever run – the first half was up a steep hill.

And it was the best race I’d ever run. I broke my personal record by almost 2 minutes.

Back to the present

So as I was walking up that hill a few weeks ago, I was thinking about that race. My wife was thinking about it, too. She took me by the arm and asked if I had remembered it.

“Of course,” I said to her. “I ran the best time I’d ever run for a 5k.”

She thought for a minute. “I guess you ran so fast because you were running away from the cancer, huh?”

I laughed. “Running away from it? I was running right at it. There was no way I was going to let it beat me.”

Two ways of seeing

I guess that kind of sums up the ways we deal with cancer. Some of would rather run away and put it out of our heads. I have a friend who had Hodgkin lymphoma who refused to even look at the hanging bag when she had chemo.

And some of us would rather deal with it head on. I have another friend who has documents every day of her breast cancer with a photo on Instagram. Good days and bad days, she shares it all.

These days, I don’t run anymore. My body can’t take it like it used to. I’m happy with the 2 mile walks that my wife and I take with our dog every morning. My doctor is happy that I’m up and moving.

And whether we run toward our cancer, or run away from it, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. For me, these days, I kind of walk quietly beside it, and do my best to enjoy the view.

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