I've actually ran quite a bit (though not as much as I'd like to) since writing this, so hopefully I'll be back on track and be a regular runner again soon! I wanted to post a snazzy running pic of myself (I know you mofos don't come here to actually read!!) but I couldn't find one so instead you're stuck with a pic of my friends running at a Southside Hash a few weeks ago. I forget what part of the city we were in...Isu? I don't know. Somewhere south of the Han on the blue line.
And now, a crappy, scattered post that is all over the place and only sort of about running...
The other day I ran for the first time in a long time, and while I wasn't setting any speed or distance records I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt out there, and I definitely out-performed my expectations. Of course, it is the nature of running that one day you're on top of the world and the next you're gasping desperately for air, holding your side, and wondering what the hell that strange pain in your ass/left shin/hip/knee/etc. is. Still, a mere few months ago I was on the losing end of my battle with Vince and I couldn't have run a mile if my life depended on it. My doctors had remained a bit vague on the, "Can I still run?" question, sometimes telling me it "probably wasn't a good idea," and sometimes launching into a long, boring, overly personal lecture on the quality of life for people with an illness like mine. While they couldn't seem to come to many agreements regarding treatment, prognosis, recommended dosages, etc., all of them agreed on one thing: I would, soon, reach a point where running wouldn't be an option, and so the to run or not to run question was rather pointless.
Being diagnosed with a terminal illness is...well, it is everything you could imagine it to be and worse. It is clearly a very personal event, and as such people will handle it in different ways. I don't pretend to know how it affects everyone, or what the best reaction is. I get a fair amount of emails from people who are beginning their own battles with their own illnesses or, for better or worse, ending their battles, and while I'm empathic I have no solid advice for them. At that point, really, it comes down to whatever gets you through the day. For many, it seems like the hardest part of their diagnosis is dealing with what they describe as all the things they have missed out on. I tend to keep my mouth shut on that point, because I figure the real truth is that they had opportunities to do those things everyday of their lives and they chose not to, opting instead to wait until the kids are grown, wait until retirement, wait until the grand kids are old enough to go along, wait until the economy is better, wait, wait, wait...I usually respond with some crap about being happy with the choices you make in your life, because I really do believe there's a reason we're all on the paths we're on. And that sounds a helluva lot nicer than, "Hey, a ton of good that boring desk job and 40 year mortgage on a place you can't afford is doing you now, eh?!? Good thing you've spent much of your adult life complaining about how much you hate your job instead of just taking a chance and quitting!!!"
So, while others may struggle most with the, "What if I never get the chance to ____________?!?" dilemma, for me the most difficult part of the illness was learning to recognize and live with the horrible physical limitations it put on me. While I was never exactly Olympic bound, and probably never would have been (will be) as good as my brother, I used to be a fairly decent runner. I've raced distances from 400 meters to a full marathon, always preferring the longer distances. I dreamed of joining the 7 continent club by running a marathon on all the continents. I was starting to research ultras. I was looking at speed records for various trails and thinking (and really believing) that with the right training I could totally own that record!!
And then, I couldn't so much as go to the bathroom by myself. And it only got worse from that point.
Fast forward, and Vince and I have since reached an agreement. If he wants to take up residence in my brain, fine. So be it. What's a little brain tumor among friends, anyway? I won't poison myself in an attempt to oust him. Nobody will be threatening his home by drilling through my skull. I will monitor my platelets by the amount of nasty bruises appearing without warning all over my body instead of through pesky, seemingly constant blood tests. I will not waste all of our time by dragging him to specialist after specialist after specialist hoping that one of them can finally validate the things my inner-self has known all along. His side of the agreement? No loud parties, no friends over without permission, he has to let me get outside more, and he has to keep those 15 or so pounds he violently stole from me. He's well aware that if he breaks his side of the bargain I will attack him with anything and everything offered to me, and while he occasionally reminds me of his existence overall he tends to behave pretty well.
The ways that Vince reminds me of his existence are subtle. Dizzy spells. Periodic black outs lasting no more than the amount of time it takes me to hit the floor, wake up, and wonder what happened. Deteriorated motor skills that cause me to trip, stumble, spill things, break things much more often than the average bear. My memory is much worse than it used to be, especially for certain parts of my life. I sleep more. I'm quite a bit moodier than I used to be. These reminders are OK with me. I can, and do, live with them. Already my body has compensated for them, and they have become such a part of my daily routine that they feel normal. Indeed, it is hard to remember a time when I didn't periodically black out, or have dizzy spells, or went through a day without dropping/breaking/spilling half of everything I touched. People who knew me before and after pretend they don't notice. New people in my life joke about my clumsiness. I prefer the latter.
It is the emotional reminders and moodiness that I continue to really struggle with. Vince seems to have gobbled up much of the security, self-worth, and ability to cut myself some slack that I worked so hard to develop during my pre-teen and early teen years. Sometimes, in the dead of night when I'm unable to sleep I replay conversations I've had with friends (usually Ant and Stephanie) and I realize that I sound every bit as insecure and needy as a questioning, unaware 12 year old. I wonder how they are able to put up with me. I wonder if they remember that I wasn't always like this, that I used to be confident enough to take on the world at a moment's notice, that I never held myself back because of fear and rarely, if ever, sought attention and approval in the ways that I often do now.
This doesn't only affect my personal relationships, it affects my running as well. I don't feel like I'm good enough to be part of the running community, which is crazy because runners are some of the least judgemental people on the planet. I shy away from leaving comments on blogs that are asking for any kind of running related advice, because I feel like I couldn't possibly contribute anything worthy. I have years of personal experience, and I read the same blogs/websites/magazines/books that everyone involved in the sport does. In San Francisco, where recreating in any manner is taken so seriously that I wonder how anyone there has any fun anymore, I found myself thinking ridiculous thoughts like, "I'm not stylish enough to be part of this running community!! I can't drop 300 bucks on an outfit just to run in!!!" Not being stylish enough to run?!? Jeez.
If allowing myself to finally recognize my physical limitations was tough, allowing myself to be healthy again has proven to be a thousand times tougher. A sneeze is never just a sneeze. A mild headache is made worse by the panic that comes along with it. I have yet to find a way to allow myself to be healthy. To allow myself to push my body beyond a set comfort zone instead of stopping at the slightest ache "just in case." My odds of getting that sick again are slim, but I just can't stop over analyzing every little ache, sniffle, bit of fatigue...what if I'm out of breath because_____, what if I'm so tired because ______, what if that headache isn't really a result of all the beer last night but is really_______ ? These questions relay themselves in my head like an unwanted mantra, and as tired as I have become of them, I can't make them stop.
Lately, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how all of this affects my running. I still think of myself as the runner I was before getting sick, but the truth is I am no where near that level. I feel bad and beat myself up internally for not pushing myself more when I'm on the trails. I should be doing speed work!! I should be strength training!! I need to increase my mileage!! Still thinking of myself as an endurance athlete, I set totally unrealistic goals and soon become unmotivated when I realize that I am not even healthy/conditioned enough to complete the 1st week of the training plan, let alone the speedwork and long runs that will be coming up shortly. I just can't seem to find a balance between giving myself enough time to heal, and saying, "Enough is enough!! Either start running seriously, or find another freaking hobby!!" Right now, an achievable goal for me would probably be a 10 or 12k, finishing in a fairly moderate time. But that's something I used to be able to do backwards with my eyes shut. It's an enormous challenge for me to allow myself to go back to a level that I feel I should be past, even though there is no other way for me to improve and reach the point where I was before.
I think, for me, that running is a key part of my full recovery. And by 'full recovery' I mean the emotional recovery as well as the physical. As much as I would love to be kicking Brownie's ass in some obscure ultra-marathon in the middle of nowhere, or joining him on his rim-to-rim-to-rim Grand Canyon trail run, even more so I would like to feel like the person I was before getting sick. I'd like to take the part of my brain that clings to relentless amounts of information about lymph nodes, platelets, cell counts, MRI's, and medicine to handle the side effects of other medicines and replace it with the positive, secure thoughts about myself that I used to have. I'd like to give myself permission to start over. To feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in completing something that used to be easy for me. To finally show Vince, once and for all, who's really the boss of this operation.