Chasing Freedom and Taking on Fear: Life in Recovery From Melanoma


Cancer benched me, but it's time to feel alive again and remember that I am much more than a person who is recovering from a disease.

When I started distance running 10 years ago, I did so for my sanity. I was a young mother with two babies under the age of two. It was so hard and so lonely. I knew I had to do something for myself, otherwise, I would have completely lost myself.

And so, the running and races began, and I slowly began to regain that piece of me — the piece that you think you have to give up when you become a mother. Running not only gave me time to myself, but it also renewed my love for sport and competition. I felt alive.

On the road, I felt like I was chasing freedom all the time and it felt amazing. After the Boston Marathon bombings, I knew it was time to for me to take on my greatest running fear: to run my first full marathon so that I could qualify to run the Boston Marathon. Why not me? It had been on my bucket list since I was 21 years old. I chased and charged and qualified for Boston.

Running Boston was amazing. Right after the race — quite literally, two days later — I went in for the biopsy (I knew something wasn't right). Days later, I was diagnosed with cancer. Funny how we can have moments in our life of pure joy that coincide with other moments of pure terror.

With time, physical wounds do heal, but looking back now, I realize one of the hardest parts of my recovery are the emotional wounds. Cancer had benched me and left me waiting, wondering and worrying if I would ever be back in the game. It made me cower in fear. I lost myself again. But this was far worse than needing an extracurricular activity. I had become the cancer patient, and I forgot how to identify with my former self.

Instead of reading about different running races or training tips, I would spend every waking moment scrolling the Internet, reading about survival statistics. I must have Googled "stage 3 melanoma" one hundred times and then some. I became a slave to my diagnosis.Then came all the melanoma and lymphedema support groups I began to follow online. Honestly, those support groups did not make me feel better. I found instead I would end up coming across all those stories that have not ended happily. This was not helping my emotional healing. Instead, it put me in a far worse place. I stopped chasing freedom and taking on fear. Instead, I was shackled and imprisoned by fear.

Today, I am finally moving in the right direction: Forward. I stopped following some of those groups. I'm trying my best to leave it all in the hands of my doctors. If I have a question, they are my sources of support.

Though I won't be sky diving or riding a bull named Fu Manchu anytime soon (as Tim McGraw mentions in his song, "Live Like You Were Dying"), I am in a better place emotionally. I appreciate all the ordinary moments around me, but I am realizing I need more.

It is time to get off the bench.

I will continue my quest for freedom — freedom to do all the things I love to do, the things that make me feel alive and remind me I am much more than a person who is recovering from a cancer diagnosis. I will put myself out there physically for my next challenge and emotionally, I will once again take on fear. Why not me?

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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