The Sweet Spot: A Runner Adjusts to Life After Cancer Treatment


Before I was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, I lived in the sweet spot — both in life and in running.

The sweet spot in running is when you are racing and you're cruising along at that perfect pace you've been training for and everything feels smooth and easy ... so easy, in fact, you have to hold yourself back. You've done the training, it's race day and everything is perfect. You run at your race pace feeling like it is effortless. That's the sweet spot. Runners pray to the running gods before each race for this moment. It's a beautiful place to exist.

My sweet spot right now cannot be found out on the pavement. It's in my bed, probably just minutes before I awaken from sleep. I'm conscious of my body, but I am not yet fully awake. I feel no pain. I don't feel the drain hanging from my leg that makes it nearly impossible to be comfortable in the night. I don't feel the swelling above my leg where they removed all of my lymph nodes (During the day, that area feels like I've survived a horrible fire). My legs don't feel heavy, filling with lead with every half limp step I take. For a brief moment before I fully awaken, I feel like myself — my former self before cancer — cruising along, light on my feet, passing people as I go. Smooth and easy.

When I do wake, I am brought back to reality, snapped right out of the sweet spot. It's almost immediate and it still surprises me each morning when it shakes me right back. I am no longer smooth and easy, even-paced, passing people. I can't walk without a limp right now and that's a significant improvement these past two weeks — me walking, without help.

I've won little victories along the way. Driving down to Pick n Pay to pick up a treat from the bakery for my kids, all the while trying to maintain composure as I limp across the parking lot. I've had people stare at me, either from recognition wondering what the heck happened to me or complete strangers asking me if I need any help. Oh no, I am fine, thank you, as I limp, hobble back to the bakery, back straight, head up high ... as if they are crazy that this is anything but normal.

You know that person in a race: the one who is not running at an even pace in the sweet spot, the one who is way in the back and in obvious pain but refuses to walk it off. The volunteers offer up water, ask if he needs a medical tent — No — and continues on. He will probably be the last one to finish the race, but he will finish.

As I continue in my recovery, I'm just like that person. I'm barely hanging on, I'm in pain, but I refuse to quit. I'm determined to get to the finish line. It has not been easy to maintain that kind of perseverance. It is a roller coaster of a ride every day to hang on to the will not to quit.

I do still think that even before my diagnosis, I have always had an excellent perspective on life. These past two weeks, though, I have gained a new perspective. I've walked in other people's shoes. I spent one night on the bathroom floor vomiting for 14 hours straight. I had to have two adult men help me into my daughter's school for graduation because I was too weak to walk on my own.

I most recently fought back tears behind my sunglasses as I tried to walk across a parking lot with my girls on our way to a movie. I looked in the mirror at my swollen thigh and hip and cried, wondering if anyone could ever look at me and see someone strong and beautiful. I've been to that rock bottom dirt floor, wondering if, maybe, if it does come back and it's to the brain — if I would be better off just dying a respectable death in Vermont or Oregon.

I have learned that perspective is not just your view on life. I think good perspective includes the acknowledgement of the struggle of others: the gutsy grit and fight that all kinds of people go through all the time, often unknown. Perhaps my sweet spot will change because of where I have been and what I have yet to still conquer. Perhaps this new set of eyes will not only allow me the strength to persevere, stronger than ever, but it will help me recreate a new sweet spot.

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