I think my MPN story started in 2015, during my deployment to Afghanistan. Half-way through, I began feeling incredibly tired and unable to finish my workouts, which was really unusual for me. I tried to push myself through thinking it was likely depression because of my surroundings. When I finally got home, things seemed to improve briefly, but then the fatigue creeped back in and I was sick almost weekly. Eventually, blinding headaches led me to ask a physician friend of mine to draw some blood and make sure things were OK. Sadly, things weren't, and I was sent immediately to an oncologist.
On Jan. 20, 2016, I was diagnosed with polycythemia vera. For several weeks, I was defiant and likely in denial. I continued to train despite weakness, fatigue and continued detriments to my health. I had always identified as an athlete and was not about to let go of that identity, although, a lot of this proved to be too much. I started on a downward spiral; I no longer considered myself an athlete. I felt lost. I was becoming deeply depressed, and even worse, I made the decision not to share my diagnosis, not even with my family. I thought that if I could keep the diagnosis secret then it wouldn't affect me. It would be like it didn't exist.
This downward spiral continued as I desperately searched for something in my life to give me meaning and purpose. I was empty and felt like a shell of myself. In desperation, I searched for something, anything to bring me back to life. Sadly, that led me into a truly toxic relationship with someone who claimed to love and support me, but was verbally and emotionally abusive This led to deeper depression and loss of self. Eventually this person believed that he could physically push me, and I left immediately. Within a week of leaving, my oncologist informed me that my condition had progressed faster than expected. I now had myelofibrosis. This was the most difficult, painful period of my entire life.
Slowly, with the support of the wonderful people in my life, I began to fight my way back to myself. I began training again. I allowed my friends and family to comfort and support me, and I started to open up about cancer. I also started to take a hard look at what I wanted out of life. I'm still working through things, but I have gotten so much closer to the life I want for myself. I have regained my positivity. I still struggle at times, my training is not like it once was, and there are still days when getting out of bed is almost too much; however, I have a much bigger purpose for myself and my accomplishments.
My races and achievements are now not just my own, but for everyone who fears that their life may be over because of this diagnosis. I would love to be someone that others can look to and know that they, too, can continue on with their dreams and passions. Cancer is no longer the end of life, it's something that may slow you down a little or cause you to alter plans, but you can continue to achieve your goals.
Last November, my best friend (and athletic hero) Kelly and I raised money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS) when we ran the NYC Marathon. It was inspiring to be doing something so big for someone other than myself. In March of 2019 I will hike to Everest Base Camp (EBC) to raise money for the LLS. Perhaps this is the meaning that I can find in my cancer diagnosis? I can help change things for the better, either by raising money for research or by helping to inspire the next person. That would mean that everything over the past two years has been worth it!
Fundraising page can be found at: http://pages.teamintraining.org/vtnt/ebc030219/SRichmond