A non-runner explains why running and cancer are the same thing. Except they're not.
Kevin Berry is an 13-year mantle cell lymphoma survivor, in his third remission. He works on Human Spaceflight programs, is a freelance writer and editor, and supports newly diagnosed patients through his ministry, Taking Vienna. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and adult children.
I am not a runner. I am a person who runs.
There is a world of difference in those two statements. It’s kind of ironic for a guy who’s done 60 or 70 5K races and four mini-triathlons to talk about how much I hate running. I don’t like training, I find the whole thing incredibly boring, and my life is so inconsistent I can never quite get to the place where running is "routine."
Then, last summer, a year after my second transplant, and supposedly cured, I was finally fully into exercise. I ran, swam or biked every evening. I did mini-tri’s and 5K runs. Feeling like I had conquered both cancer and a certain level of running, and encouraged by my family and friends, I signed up for the Ron Jon "I Dream Of Jeannie" half marathon to be held in October. Then I relapsed, again.
Fortunately, my treatment regime was mild enough I was able to keep training. On October 23, 2016, I shivered in the pre-dawn ocean breeze on Highway A1A, along with about 1,300 other crazies. Two hours, fifty two minutes, and twenty nine seconds later, after 10 miles on the road and 3 miles on Cocoa Beach, I cruised through the finish gate. I finished number 899 overall, 43 out of 57 in my group (Male, 55-59). Most importantly, though, I ran exactly the race I planned to run. I did my run/walk combo on odd miles, fast walked the even miles and consistently passed people the whole way.
My running friends gave me a lot of good advice, and doing dozens of shorter races taught me the limits and pace of my own body. I know when to run, when to walk and how to listen to the signals it sends me, and how to respond. Mostly, though, I know how much I’m capable of. Hours and hours of road time, preparing for the 13-mile event, helped me distill my race philosophy into three "simple" ideas. I quote them to myself as I run, 1-2-3. Along the way, I realized these same three approaches also work for our cancer fight.
Run Your Race
Ultimately, you aren’t competing against anyone except yourself. Don’t get race fever, and move out too fast. Don’t let the little voice in your head slow you down. Having cancer is the world’s greatest excuse. "Everyone will understand if I don’t finish." "You deserve a break." "It’s OK, no one expects you to do it all." So, plan your race, race your plan. In your cancer, work with the experts to plan your treatment, then exercise all your discipline to follow the protocols and advice exactly. Know your body, manage your routine and press for the cure.
Maintain Your Swagger
OK, this one sounds weird. But, have you ever seen those race walkers, with their exaggerated gait? Well, for me, I’ve found that when running, if I use my shoulders as well as my legs, my pace goes up quite a bit. It’s not as obvious looking as it sounds, thank goodness! But involving my whole body makes it all go smoother. During the walking portions of my race, I’ve found that putting my hips into my gait buys me over a minute a mile, and once again, doesn’t show to casual observers ("Mommy, look at the funny man!"). Controlling your shoulders and hips is also a mental thing, similar to the first tip. Control your body, control your race. With cancer, this is about controlling your attitude and channeling your emotions. Positive attitudes begat better outcomes. Engaging those around you in your treatment helps you, and them, understand and meet your needs. Cancer is a whole life experience, and being confident that you are managing your way through your ordeal is worth having a little swagger in your attitude!
Finish With Style
Given my amateur approach to running, it seems odd to say this, but even in local fun runs, style points count. I make it a matter of pride that no matter how I’ve struggled on the course, I save a tiny bit of energy for the "big finish." I’ll even walk the 0.1 miles before the finish chute, so that when I hit the chute, I can sprint across the finish line. Head held high, stepping out, running large. I will never win a race, but that doesn’t matter. It really is about how you play the game. As fighters of cancer, we know that we may win, or we may not. One thing is for sure, though: how we fight our battle really matters. It matters to us, it matters to our families and it even matters to our medical team. When I cross the line, it’s with head high and heart full. I hope that’s your goal as well.
Besides the other wonderful blogs on Cure Today’s site, I hope you'll also visit my Taking Vienna
site. That’s where I talk in a much more personal way about my battle, my family and friends and other random, odd musings.