October 23rd, 2017 9:30am CST
October 30th, 2017 5:17pm CST
Between these two moments, I discovered how I can both have cancer and not yet have cancer. The first was a biopsy performed in my doctor’s office and the second was a phone call to give me a diagnosis. I was driving from work to pick up my daughter when I got the call. I tried to listen through a mess of words and numbers: Cancer. 1.45mm. “Not as bad as we thought”. Oncologist. Surgeon. Wait, my brain interrupts. How bad did you think it was and why did you act so nonchalant? Great, now I have cancer and trust issues.
I kept driving. I didn’t realize yet that nothing would be the same again. That may sound like some grand hyperbolic statement but it’s true. With cancer, there is a before and many, many afters. None are a final destination— but a series of afters along the way. Over the past year and half, I have become increasingly fascinated with the idea of “before and after”. Cancer meant there was a giant question mark, maybe like a movie that isn’t loading well. Sometimes it’s playing just fine but you never know when it will start buffering again, except you know, deadlier.
So the medial stuff? Stage 3A melanoma. Multi-lymph node involvement. First surgery was November 13th. Second was December 29th. Happy new year! A year of adjuvant immunotherapy in January. Until an autoimmune response landed me in the hospital for five days over Memorial Day. In between all of this, I applied for and was accepted to complete in the Badwater 135 Ultra Marathon (through Death Valley in July when temperatures regularly reach over 120°F). So I kept running and training. A 100k trail run on Sunday. Chemo infusions Monday. I made it to the start line of Badwater. Somehow. I made it to the finish line 47 hours 37 minutes and 42 seconds later. Somehow.
Currently, I am on an oral targeted therapy. I have traded some of the running for travel: Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, Wyoming, Puerto Rico. I am headed to Morocco soon and have plans of the fall of 2019 and late spring of 2020 (stay tuned). For me, accepting the indeterminacy of a cancer diagnosis forced to me live somewhere between before and after. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what is ahead. But I have promised myself to fill the current moments with as much life as I can, as much love as I can, as much laughter as I can. I owe it to myself. So maybe this is a cancer blog, in someways it has to be, but it is also very much a life blog. Cancer is a lens that focused for me and a filter that enhanced my perspective because I realized how much I had taken my health and my time for granted.
Admittedly, I can tend towards the grandiose. These big melodramatic statements. But cancer is a big melodramatic disease. It is also a whisper. A reminder that what I have can, with a quick phone call at 5:17pm, be irrevocably changed. I never thought I would get cancer. I also never thought I would fly a plane over the streams of Iceland, or run off a mountain paragliding in New Zealand, or jump off a waterfall in San Juan. Life is full of surprises. Cancer is just one of them along the way.