I wanted to explain at a deeper level why it’s really important to me to participate in this Half Marathon with TNT & LLS, and it takes a little bit of a story. A bit of probing into psychology, into life goals, into habits and motivation and why life is worth living. So, here goes – an honest reckoning.
Had you asked me where my life was headed two years ago, as a 23-year-old who’d been out of college for two years, I would have laid out a hazy life plan.
Just like so many other millenials, I wanted to make a comfortable living, do something I loved, and meet Prince Charming. I wanted to work in theatre. I wanted to have kids. I continually ‘planned’ to work out more so I could lose the extra 50 pounds I’d had since middle school, but inevitably held off for later. I’d knew I wanted to find some way to make the world a better place somehow or other, but never really got around to it. Even though I had no defined path to achieve these goals, I still expected that life would sort of fall into place and work itself out. After all, this was how life worked for upper-middle-class American kids, right? Why shouldn’t I get everything in life I was told I could have? I was young, I was healthy, and I had nothing standing in my way.
Except myself. I was given so many gifts in my life, but I was squandering them. I was blessed with an intelligent mind, a loving family, physical safety, and financial security. I did all of the ‘right’ things to prepare for my future as a kid – I got good grades, I played soccer, was a Girl Scout, had a passion for Shakespeare, and went to a top-notch college… But all of my accomplishments were mostly surface level, the result of a minimal level of effort.
Sure, I had passion for the arts and my friends (and still do), but beyond that my life was one of financial dependence, Netflix binging, and comfortable monotony over new experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I was (and still am) a good-hearted, loving person, not some demanding princess. I was simply lazy, with no discipline or drive. I lacked that burning fire in my gut to go out and make something of myself, because I’d always had everything I needed and had always been told I was doing so well even though I was barely breaking a sweat.
Two years ago, my January 2012 self had no idea what was coming.
I was originally diagnosed with Hodgkin’s in June 2012, after I had found an inexplicable lump in my right armpit. This is where you might assume I had a radical life change… but you would be wrong. After completing my six ABVD treatments, I thought I was home-free. Even though I had been scared, I had been relatively confident that I would to beat the disease. It was simply one bump in the road, a classic challenge to overcome before a story-book ending. Sure, 10% of Hodgkin’s patients relapsed, but I was above-average. I was going to be fine forever, and even more so, because SURELY I wouldn’t get cancer a second time.
So, slightly shaken, I went back to my half-planned future and tried to leave cancer behind. I was getting back on track, making a career with my mother in real estate, but still falling into bad habits. My January 2013 self was a survivor, but she hadn’t really learned how to live.
When the cancer showed up again on my 3-month PET scan, everything I had assumed about my future life came crashing down around my ears. I was stunned. I was heart-broken. The fear I’d felt at my initial diagnosis was nothing compared to this horrifying trumpet call of judgement day.
I was sure I was going to die. After all, I’d poked around online. I knew the survival rate for relapsed Hodgkin’s patients was significantly lower than 90%. I numbly went through my next chemo regimen, thinking that like Icarus, I had been too cocky before. That now I was going to pay.
I fell into inconsolable depressions. You can read lots of my old posts that are simply full of emptiness and fear. I lost my hair, for the second time. I binge-watched HGTV for days on end as I begged my body to please melt the cancer again so I could do a bone marrow transplant, a treatment that offered the only chance at survival.
As I wrote obituaries for myself in my head, I was flooded with regret for the time I had wasted, for my arrogance and naivete. All of the advice and mantras I’d heard from past mentors or from my Realtors’ coaching organization suddenly resonated wth a bittersweet clarity. Why hadn’t I been living every day as the best person I could be? Why was I continually delaying the challenges I knew I needed to face in order to grow? I finally felt able to see the sorry state of my past life and vowed to try to live however much time I had to the fullest. I went into INOVA Fairfax for 17 days, praying to come out with a clean start.
And so it is that I am here. A new Elizabeth. A woman who won’t wait, because she knows that time is precious. I don’t know what the future will bring. I could relapse again in a few months. Looking ahead two years, I could be dead and gone. No matter how long I have left – months or years – I refuse to be a bystander in my own life the way I had been before. I refuse to wait to make my health a priority. I want to always be challenging myself, to finally accomplish something difficult that I set myself to do. I want to say ‘Yes’ to what life brings me. And I certainly cannot sit idly by while other people in the world are suffering. I want to be a good citizen of the universe, to see the beauty around us and prevent pain, disease, and disaster. So LLS is the first step. This is my thank you note to the universe, long overdue.
Today, like every day, I will strengthen my body somehow for the run. Today is a cross-training day, with Zumba for an hour. It’s still a little dangerous for me to go outside to train in the mornings (ice, freezing, dark, lack of cold weather running gear, danger to knees being so heavy on the asphalt), so I’m at the gym in the evenings. It kind of sucks, but as I’ve heard over and over again recently, everyone hates things that are uncomfortable and annoying and painful and exhausting. It’s just that winners push through the discomfort or annoyance or pain or fatigue to get the task done.
It’s in my cancer journal that I wrote, but I’ll post it here too. Muhammad Ali – “I hated every minute of training, but I said ‘Don’t quit! Suffer now, and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”
My attempt at looking fierce after my freezing cold run on Sunday. Possibly more cold than fierce 😉