No, not me….it’s in quotes…it’s my sister’s words. From her sort of famous writing on living with breast cancer. Read it at the end of this blog if you want.

That synchronicity thing popped up again. I knew my sister died in the month November…but that’s all I remember. Just not good with dates, never have been. A lot of tangentially related things the in the past week, and especially the past 24 hrs made me think of her. I didn’t even remember what year it was she died….. but again, I don’t remember dates. I had to look at the bookmark made in her memory, with the date on it. Then it all made sense… it was yesterday, 3 years ago. For some reason I had to look it up, after watching a roach dying on the floor.

It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that when something happened isn’t as important to me as what happened. Anyway, there was a posting on Facebook this past week of a photo of her. Then there was the movie I watched last night- “Terms of Endearment”. I just recorded it knowing it was an old movie, maybe it won an oscar, and Shirley McClain was in it, and I like her. A big reminder at the end of the movie the young woman (Debra Winger) dies of breast cancer leaving a young family behind. And today I realize that I was watching it 3 years to the day that my sis died of the same thing. wowie zowie!

So, you’re wondering about that roach? 20 minutes ago I got out of the shower, dried, and then saw it laying on its back, legs pointed up in the air,  in a slow crawl. It was right by an open door to outside, so I am hoping he came in that way. But there he was, usually creepy, fast, and grossing people out…but flat on his back, alone, and dying. (I scooped him up on a sheet of paper and tossed him outside to become one with nature…)

For an instant my sister popped into my head. Then I saw on the morning news about the Ironman competition here in Tempe today, and how the last leg is running a marathon. Oh yea, my sister was a runner, she ran 13 marathons after being diagnosed. And the news this week about Avastin being pulled as a recommended drug for breast cancer. Just lots of little reminders….that’s when I had to check the date.

She died 3 years ago yesterday. I suppose all those who knew her connect with that fact on some level, depending on their own life. For me, the roach just was a reminder: Nothing is permanent in this world, not the roach, and especially not us. (But none of us believe it.) So I think sister Steph was just giving me one more poke today, it just took a lot of reminders. Not so much to remember her death, but to remember her life.

Make it count, everyday. Be careful with your words and actions, and thoughts. Just a reminder.

I Am a Runner

By Stephanie Lesiecki

This is a story about going from an 11-day stay in a hospital bed after undergoing major surgery in July of 2004, to finishing the 2004 Chicago Marathon in October.  It’s about being a breast cancer survivor and living with a recent diagnosis of metastasis to the bones.  It’s about being a runner with short-term goals that often evolve around the next long run, to long-term challenges that are usually defined by the date of her next marathon.  It’s about the fire that burns inside a person who wants to thrive, not just survive, and the strength to commit to something that, at the time, seems impossible.  Unfathomable. It’s about personal discipline and perseverance.  It’s about a lot of hard work — physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally.  It’s what happens when a person decides to take a disease that continually threatens to put her on the downside of the living curve, and use it to feel more alive than most people will ever feel.

I was 35 years of age in 1995 when I found a lump on my right breast and received the diagnosis: infiltrating ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer.  The C-word.  No family history. No smoking or other “bad” habits (medically, anyway). Exercised regularly.  Worked for an advertising/marketing firm. Married.  Mother of two, ages 3 and 5.  Busy life in the suburbs.

Yes, my first thought was . . . “I’m going to die.” 

It’s nine years later, and I just finished my 8th marathon.  I love to run.

I found an incredible group of doctors and a truly special oncologist, Dr. Melody Cobleigh, at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.  To say that a lot has happened to me in those nine years would be an understatement. Lumpectomy, axillary node dissection, chemo for months, radiation for weeks, daily hormonal therapy medication, blood tests, mammograms, hair loss . . .  Then came a span of several “good” years in terms of medical check-ups in which I logged hundreds and hundreds of miles running.  With some biking and strength exercises as cross-training, I was able to complete numerous 5Ks, 10Ks, 20Ks, 30Ks, ½ marathons, four triathlons, a couple 3-Day walks, a duathlon and, of course, the ultimate challenge of the marathon.  I ran 7 of them.

Then it happened.  October 2002.  I found a lump and swelling in the right supraclavicular nodes of my neck. It was a locoregional recurrence.  A survivor’s worst fear.

My first thought was “This is it.  A RECURRENCE.  I’m going to die.”

I was registered for, but missed, the Chicago Marathon.  Actually, I didn’t miss it totally.  I was on the sidelines to cheer and support my good friend and running partner, Bill, who will tell you he “ran for both of us” that day.

I began more treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.  I lost my hair for a second time.  My confidence in myself, in the medical world, in life, was beginning to wane.  I had a family, a household to run, a part-time job (I had since exchanged my full-time marketing work for a less stressful, more appealing part-time position at a local family-owned grocery store), gardening, car-pooling, laundry, dishes, daily life, running.  I simply did not have time for cancer again.  Mentally, physically, emotionally . . . I had too much to live for, and so much on my “to do” list.  How would I possibly have time to squeeze in cancer again and still try to fulfill a few of my own personal ambitions and dreams?

So I ran some more.

I ran during a protocol of more chemo with its side effects and I ran through the fatigue that accompanies radiation, particularly a second time around.  In retrospect, I think I felt that I had to get my miles in before my time was up.  I did a few more “races” (the term is relative when you run at a nice slow pace like I do).  I carried on.  I had a lot of support from family and friends.  The encouragement I received from my running/marathon partner was enormous.  Quite frankly, it was his unwavering friendship, supportive outlook and consistently positive notion of how my running could help me get through this, that helped sustain me during this time.  I learned that the healing benefits of doing something you love, something that has helped define you as the person you are, go way beyond just the physical aspects of the sport.  The emotional, psychological and spiritual powers that are generated in me when I run, if only for a few miles at a time, are undeniable.  I needed to feel that strength, that power, that control.

Not to sound like a broken record, but it happened again.  Another recurrence this past April 2004.  This time it was a distant recurrence.  The left supraclavicular nodes were involved, plus additional nodes in other areas of my body. This one was really big.  METASTASIS.  The cancer had invaded my bones.  To make matters worse (is that possible?), it was in my right femur.

Now I thought, “I’m dead.”

I am a runner.  Please don’t let this be in my legs.  I am (only) 44 years old.  I have too much still to do in life.  I have a husband and two beautiful children (now 12 and 14).  I have too many goals and wishes and dreams.  Plus, I’m training for a marathon in June . . .

The abridged version of the past few months goes like this:  April—biopsy and metastasis confirmation in several nodes, plus bones; surgical removal of supraclavicular lymph node (left side of neck.) May—laparoscopic surgery to remove ovaries, thereby shutting down estrogen upon which my cancer was feeding (by-product of this was that I shifted immediately into menopause). June- healing, missed the scheduled marathon, but accompanied, cheered and supported running partner as he “ran for both of us” . . . again.  Aches and pains and bizarre, unexplainable symptoms in my stomach/gastrointestinal area.  July—doubled over and vomiting, a trip to the emergency room, scans, tests, unpleasant procedures too numerous to list, resulted in another round of laparoscopic surgery plus 15 centimeters of my lower intestine removed during a small bowel resection.  There was breast cancer metastasis in my intestine.

Thank you, doctors, surgeons, nurses and medical staff.  I feel better now.

Did I mention that I also had a porta-catheter implanted in my chest for the intravenous treatments I now receive every 3-4 weeks?

Children can be a surprising, even silent, source of hope and inspiration.  Being a mother with breast cancer is challenging, yet it has certainly caused me to fight harder to get better and, as a consequence, to run more consistently.  As I have watched my children grow and mature, I have also listened to them, answered their questions, and tried to help them understand who I am.  I have used their very existence to inspire me to be strong.  I owe them hope.  I’ve learned that as difficult as it is for me to be a mother with cancer, it is probably more difficult for them to have a mother with cancer.

So, as I like to put it, I began training for the Chicago Marathon in July on the 9th floor ofRushUniversityMedicalCenter, while pushing my IV full of fluids and nutrition around in front of me.  I walked and walked and walked, till the battery on my IV pole began beeping loudly to signal that I was nearly out of juice and needed to be plugged back into the wall.  I would overhear the nurses fondly refer to me as “here comes the runner”, or “are you beeping again?”  I even recall a couple visitors who uttered “wow, maybe you should slow down” as they tried to keep up with my walking pace.”  Eleven days was a lot of time to push that weighted pole around.

I went home.  I “took it easy”.  I began to heal.  I continued to walk.  And after a couple of days I began to jog.  Slowly, and with walking breaks.  I added the bike.  I increased my miles.  My stamina returned slowly but surely.  My running friend asked me to consider training for the marathon in October.  I’m pretty sure I told him he was nuts.  And yet, after self-determination, perseverance, motivation, diligence and hard work, I committed to the challenge of the marathon as my fuel of hope.  It was a means of battling this ominous disease.  Running helped me turn the corner on my anger and stress and discouragement and the depressed state in which I could potentially fall. Ironically, running made me feel healthy.  It made me happy.  It became my metaphor for life.

I am proud of my 26.2-mile achievements and the eight medals I have to show for them, but I am most proud of what I did on October 10th, 2004, after the tumultuous summer I had endured.  There is hope for us survivors.  We can do seemingly impossible things when we put our minds to it.  We can rise above obstacles that face us every morning when we wake up and get out of bed.  It’s a choice we have to make.  Sometimes even that choice isn’t clear to us and we need the help of others for guidance.  We need to feel the courage within others in order to find it within ourselves.  Accepting that gift of encouragement is sometimes difficult in and of itself.

Every day we survivors can motivate and inspire others to get up.  To be somebody.  To be in the moment.  To take a chance.  To follow a dream. To be alive and thankful for another day.

And we need to remind ourselves to smile a bit along the way.

I am a runner.