Our neighbor across the street, “John,” lost his wife to breast cancer last February. He’s from Pennsylvania, but has owned the home across from ours probably since his two adult boys were children. This was the first summer and early fall that he has been here alone – in an old, modest home that they took care of together. A home that is filled with everything that is theirs.
I remember seeing her from time to time last year, when she was going through treatments for the second time. The first time was nine years ago after her initial diagnosis. She went into remission, but the cancer came back and had spread to her brain. I never had the chance to get to know her because we are relatively new to the neighborhood. When I talk to John about his wife and her fight with cancer, he referred to the process as “our cancer.” When he mentions the type of cancer, he notes that “they had the Her2 positive cancer cells. They battled cancer together.
Every morning, at the crack of dawn, I see John head out for his routine bike ride on his old beach cruiser with the cobwebs under the seat. He wears the same beige cap, t-shirt, khaki shorts, white tube socks and black sneakers. Every afternoon he treats himself to lunch at the famous “Crab Trap” restaurant just over the bridge. He claims that he’s getting a belly, but that doesn’t stop him. In the late afternoon he sits on his front porch in a chair that looks worn to perfect comfort and listens to the radio (usually a baseball game, or tunes from the 70’s) with his dog, Muffin at his side. At 5pm, he walks Muffin to the dog park where she meets her best friend “Tulip” for some playtime.
He’s been traveling the world most of the summer, by himself (Canary Islands, Ireland, England, and is heading to Alaska this fall). I know that he misses his wife very much. I know that he talks to her, feels her presence and knows the signals (thunder for example) of her voice speaking to him. He blurted out the sentence, “YOU’VE GOT TO LIVE LIFE,” the other day when we were talking…. And I know he’s doing just that.
I decided a couple of months ago that I wanted to work on my running fitness and hop in some fall 5k and 10k events. The last year I can remember running a string of fall events was in 2009. The biggest driving force behind my recent decision to get out and push again in my run training was gratitude. I’m grateful for my life, for being alive, in good health, and having the ability to push my body. Pushing well beyond the comfort zone is a unique experience, and one that makes me feel totally alive and present. I’m sweating, my heart is pounding, I can hear my breath and feel my muscles putting out every bit of energy. It is during these times that my body and mind are completely engaged and at a heightened state – totally alive.
“Pushing” is a love hate relationship on both physical and mental levels. Let’s face it, intervals are hard. Racing a 5k is hard … well at least as hard as you’re willing to make it. In order to get faster, you must be able to work through paces and efforts that make you sometimes feel like giving up. It’s hard stuff, but stuff that makes you more resilient to the demands of over-reaching in a race. There’s a certain level of confidence and personal growth that comes from getting through events or workouts that push us to the edge. The fitness gains are just as rewarding. Personally, I feel that it’s good to force yourself to work through discomfort from time to time. Training and racing, for me, remind me of what it’s like to “go there.” It’s a metaphor for life when you think about it. Let’s be honest and admit that at any moment, we can be blindsided by an event or news that could rock our world. We need to be prepared to push through messiness, feel all of the emotions that come with the mess and experience the discomfort. I think the curve balls that life throws at us serve as a reminder that we are never allowed to just settle into a comfortable pace for too long. It would be nice, but life does not work that way….. Ever.
This past weekend, my partner and a friend of mine did a 5k that raised money for health services for women who are fighting breast cancer. We had a lot of fun, dressed in pink, wore frizzy pink wigs, danced at the post race party and laughed a lot! I also made some wonderful new connections.
During the 5k, I opted to run without the wig so that I could actually work at a hard effort without pink hair getting in my mouth. We all fought the relentless headwind for the first half of the race on a wet, slippery boardwalk. I set a time goal, but got nowhere near it. I did, however go to that place of discomfort, which was my primary goal. I went there as a reminder of what it feels like to hurt. I went to that place as reminder that this kind of fight is nothing compared to the fight against cancer. I went there as my personal message of ‘I’m fighting for you” to those who are dealing with their very personal battle with cancer. I went there as a reminder that, and as Mellissa Ethridge sings in one of her hit songs, “I run for life!”