This morning on my run, less than ten minutes in, one of my favorite U2 songs, “PLEASE,” came up on the shuffle. As I strode along the now-familiar north side of Cooper River, these lyrics struck me: “So you never felt alive/until you’d almost wasted away.” It was true; I hadn’t.
It was a hot, humid morning, even at just past six o’clock, haze already gathering along the horizon. One of those mornings, in fact, when I was seriously tempted to stay snuggled under the blankets, luxuriating in the comfort of our new central air (central what?) But, as is most often the case lately, I dug deep down into my half-consciousness, and managed to slide that first leg out from under the covers. Cancer, among other myriad changes, has turned me into much more of a morning person than I ever used to be, and I have come to relish that first waking moment of the day, when I can actually feel the surge within me, the engine of my spirit turning over. It is the anticipation of the possible, and the simple joy of being.
This morning in particular, there was added determination in that first twitch of consciousness. Yesterday, I signed up for an 8K run this coming weekend – a distance I haven’t tackled in quiet a long while, and certainly not since the heat of early summer has come upon us. I am nervous and excited, and feel driven to push myself, even just a bit. The more I run, the more I feel the competition with myself – and no one else. There is an urge now, at the end of each run, to empty the tank, to “blow it out,” as my husband says. At that moment when I feel like stumbling to a halt, my arms sagging at my sides, I reach back and push that much harder. So, just as I push myself that last quarter mile, I want to show myself this weekend that I can stretch out my distance, crank up my pace, and finish strong.
With all of that in my mind, I set out this morning. As I ran, I reviewed my performance in the Teal Ribbon 5K over the weekend. This was my third time participating in the Teal Ribbon. The first time, May, 2008, I was approaching the end of chemotherapy and had to muster every ounce of strength and determination just to walk the 3.2 miles. Last year at this time, after pretty limited rehabilitation, I ran/walked (but mostly ran) with my husband at my side, but believe me when I say it was not pretty – probably just over 40 minutes to cross the finish line.
Yesterday, with friends and family around me, I busted out at the starting line feeling strong and ready. Like today, it was a hot morning, and running without headphones provided an extra challenge. My friend Andrea, a spunky bundle of energy who ran the Boston Marathon this past April, stayed with me for most of the run, making me laugh and providing much-needed encouragement. She had been with me for the 2009 run, and as we ran, said simply, “You are a totally different runner than you were a year ago.” She probably didn’t know it, but that was one of the best things anyone had ever said to me. For whatever reason, over the past twelve months, I have used my running progress as a measure of my journey away from cancer, a barometer of wellness, and having someone outside of me see the changes and remark on that progress was a colossal boost to my psyche.
About one mile from the end, Andrea busted out, and I finished up, sagging a bit and wanting to stop and walk (but knowing I wouldn’t), on my own. In the end, I crossed the finish line in about 31 minutes – nearly ten minutes faster than last year – and, perhaps most noticeably, with a sense of delight and accomplishment that was absent a year ago. Last year, I hugged my husband and cried like a baby, still feeling the cancer demons at my heels. This time, I approached the finish line with a smile on my face, pumping my fists in the air and high-fiving Mike and other friends who were there to greet me after finishing their own runs. I saw the time on the clock and felt triumphant. For while I recognize that I am still a slow, maybe even plodding runner by some objective measure, I am, by my standards, heroically unstoppable.
The “survivor swag” at this year’s Teal Ribbon included, as in year’s past, a lovely little plant. I haven’t identified it yet (paging Judy! paging Judy!), but I got a sweet little ceramic pot for it, and planted it on Memorial Day, as part of my nightly garden-tending ritual. I love that I have something green and beautiful as a memento of my accomplishment this past weekend, and to remind me to keep reaching upward, toward the sun, and living.