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Letting the Fear In

Updated: Oct 15, 2019

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. - Albert Einstein

I once had a therapist tell me I had an “aversion to fear". The minute I realize I’m scared of something, it makes me jump right in and do it. I chuckled because it actually sounded like a good thing. But I’m realizing, that you can’t always walk up and head butt fear in the nose; sometimes you have to sit with it and listen to what it tells you.

November 2, 2018, was my first cervical biopsy. I did not handle waiting for results well at all. I Googled late into the night, thinking somehow that knowledge would empower me. But I just felt more scared the more I read, even though the statistics showed it was unlikely to be anything aggressive or deadly (but not being comforted by statistics in this instance). The results turned out fine – dysplasia, which is precancerous but slow growing. Very slow growing. Slow growing sounds positive, but it ends up with the least amount of urgency in treatment. My fear told me just to take it “all” out. I have two kids. I have my tubes tied. Everything in there is no longer needed, so get it out. Instead, I had the lovely in-office procedure where they burn part of your insides out (oh, the smell of that one!). Then, I would wait a few months, punch biopsy again, and make sure everything is out. Another procedure, and another “wait and see” followed. It took a year of biopsies and meetings with oncologists before we learned I had grown cancer in situ (which is just a scary way of saying the slow-growing cancer cells were on the surface). By then, I had waited for enough biopsies to come back, that I didn’t have the panic or the fear. I scheduled my appointment and went through that all in September of 2018 with grace. Or so I thought…

This year has been a series of UTIs (that is a urinary tract infection, for you men under the age of 80, who may not know). It started in March when I flew out to go to one of Michele’s boot camps. It was such a tremendous experience to meet and train with Michele and some runners who were so much better than me. Altitude training was fun, a bit of a beast, but fun. However, my bladder was in pain the whole time. A few weeks and a few antibiotics later, I thought I was good.

Then recently, a couple of days before my 50 mile redemption run at Labor Pain 12 hour race, I woke up with that horrible pain. I tried my best to drink a ton and flush it out, but I still ended up starting a couple minutes late for a last minute bathroom trip. Once I was moving, the kidneys shut down enough, so it wasn’t bad at all. I had some leg cramps, but that was about it. It was a great race, and as my first 50, a guaranteed PR. I left proud of my 10:28 time, but a little mad at myself for not getting in one more lap to place. But that’s a good way to feed the fire. I will get there next year.

A few weeks and a couple of doctor’s visits later, I realized I didn’t really master my fear. Every nurse or doctor who saw me this last week has asked if I’m “okay”, if I’m always so nervous. I finally broke down at the urologist and cried it out a bit. Physically, turns out I’m okay (OAB – that’s over-active bladder for the under 60 crowd, and chronic UTIs). But I have to admit, 2018/2019 left me scared and feeling a bit vulnerable. There’s an entire system of human organs inside of me I can’t see, and I don’t know when they are going to crap out.

Recently, I did part of a 24 hour stair climb at the Philly Art Museum steps recently to raise money for Legacy of Hope. That was an emotional one. Legacy of Hope helps people undergoing cancer treatment deal with the financial burden of being sick. I was so lucky to not have to worry about medical bills when I went through everything; I can’t imagine that additional layer of fear. I teared up at the beginning of that event, thinking of where I had been. After three hours, the anesthetizer I was taking wasn’t cutting it, and I called it a day. I went home to rest and heal up. I cried leaving, frustrated and fearful that my body wasn’t right. But you know what? I’m 41 years old, and it isn’t right.

Things happen to something so amazing and complex as the human body. It’s a rare thing when everything is working perfectly and is disease free. The way I treated my body for most of my life (smoking, dieting, stressing, etc.), I am just lucky to be as healthy as I am. I am going to spend the next part of my training cycle focusing on gratitude, for each day that I get through.

And while I try to focus on gratitude, I’m also appreciating that I’m living with a lot of fear at this point in my life.  Turning 40 and dealing with cancer have given me a fear that things could crap out at any time. I watch my kids sometimes and wonder just how much of them I will get to see.  I always took graduations, careers, first loves, heart breaks and grandkids for granted, but they are in no way a given. I also always assumed if I just kept running long enough, eventually I would be 90, and simply be admired for completing 5ks. But none of those are guaranteed and the fear that I can’t control how long I stick around is super uncomfortable! There is really no way to deal with my aversion to this fear except to just go through it. 

So, I waver sometimes between these two poles of fearing my mortality and being so grateful for my existence. And I try--especially on those really hard training days where I feel strong and unstoppable, or weak but unwilling to quit--to breath in as much gratitude as I can for each day, and each mile, and even each step along the way.

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