My dear friend and coworker, Anna, had just sent me a facebook message. Since I'm not on FB anymore, I can't repost the message but the gist of it was "I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma last month. I wanted you to hear it from me before I announce it at work today"
I was stunned. Anna was the most active person I knew. She ran marathons, for cripes sake! How could she suddenly have cancer?!?! Hubby strolled into the kitchen while I was still digesting this. I looked up at him and said "Anna has cancer. I need to find a run for Lymphoma and do it!" Without batting an eye, he looked at me and said "But you're not a runner" and I told him "I guess I'm gonna become one!"
With that one statement - my world became a much different one than I had ever known. I was a woman on a mission. I searched and searched for lymphoma races. I was thinking 5K would be good. Something to honour a friend and, maybe, raise a little money in the process. I was coming up empty. It seemed no one had a race for lymphoma. I even wrote to the Lymphoma Foundation of Canada and, after taking their sweet time, they wrote back "We don't hold any races but I think the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society does something"
A quick Google later made me wonder why something as big as Team in Training had never popped up in any of my searches! Soon, my hopes were almost dashed by my mental state. The shortest distance I could run for these guys was a half marathon. And it seemed so huge - running that super long distance and raising THAT much money to do it. But I quickly slapped myself upside the head and said "This isn't about you - dummy. You can totally do it and it would be a wonderful way to honour a friend who's been pretty good to you over the years"
I looked at the races that were available, but the training had already started for them. I spoke to the lady at the head office to see what races might be coming in the Fall and she started to list off what was coming up. When she said Nike Women's, I stopped her. That was a race Anna had done with her daughter a few years earlier. THAT would be the race to do to honour her.
In late February, I started to teach myself to run using Couch to 5K. It was really hard for me. I was down about 15lbs from where I had started the year, but I was still carrying a great deal of weight and was still fairly out of shape. The program made it manageable, though, and I found myself looking forward to lacing up my runners and hitting the pavement. I signed up for a 5K goal race at the end of May to keep me motivated (and to allow me a few extra weeks in case I needed them). Then I heard about another 5K race in early May that benefited the NICUs where my daughters had spent their first week and signed up for that too. Suddenly I was signed up for 2 races and I hadn't even finished learning to run yet!
At the end of April, I attended the info session for the Fall season of Team in Training. I was a bundle of nerves - arriving early and anxious about what was to come. I was sitting in the room when I heard a familiar voice behind me and I turned to see a girl who I had sat next to in a SharePoint course a few years earlier, checking in. We immediately started to gab and get caught up and I felt my anxiety start to go away. I had a familiar face who would be doing this, too (Anna's daughter, was going to do it as well, but I didn't know her that well back then). At the end of the presentation - I signed up and walked away with my training shirt and instructions for setting up my fundraising website.
A couple of weeks later, I started training with the team...and I ran my first 5K the very next day.
The months that followed are a blur to me. I ran several more races as my distances increased, just to keep myself motivated. I made amazing friends who became my running family. I became a part of a community working towards a great cause. And I became annoying to pretty much everyone I knew as I came up with new and creative ways to fundraise (that fundraising minimum is nothing if you pluck away at it in $200 chunks!)
Running had become a part of my life! Something I couldn't do without.
As I trained that summer, I found other benefits to this new lifestyle I had adopted. The Saturday morning runs got me out of the house and gave me a break from the twin terrors, er...toddlers. I got to talk with other women and relate on a level I had never related before. Running made me a better mom to my girls because it gave me something that was my own and let me step away so I could come back stronger.
By September, the big race was looming. Only one month to go. I started to wonder if everything I had gained was going to just vanish when we were done being a team. Turns out I wasn't alone. A few of us started to make plans to keep up the Saturday runs after we were done with TNT. We discussed other races we could run. We started to register to run these races together. There was definitely going to be a running life after TNT!
Suddenly, it was the middle of October and hubby and I were on a plane to San Francisco, with the twinners left at home with Gramma. I didn't know it then, but that weekend in California was going to be one of the most emotionally wrenching of my entire life. This was where we really saw the difference we were making for LLS. This was where we really became a team.
Lining up at 5:30 am in Union Square with tens of thousands of other runners. I found myself quite unprepared for the excitement of a big American marathon. I knew I was ready to run this thing and I was mentally prepared in case I ended up running it alone, despite hoping to stay with my friends. Anna was there too. In remission and running her first half since her diagnosis.
I started the race with my friends, since we were good at keeping pace with each other. Unfortunately, a poorly timed drink of water at the start line meant that I was suffering by the time we were out of the financial district. I needed a portapotty and fast. I thought if I could just run ahead of the group, I could get through the line and meet the girls at the other side. That thought changed as soon as I saw the lineups. I was stuck waiting. Twelve minutes later (as per my Garmin pause), my friends were gone and I was on my own.
From miles 4 to 9 - I plodded on solo. I was losing steam. I was mentally beating myself up. Then, at one point in that solo trek, I came to the mission mile...a mile dedicated to all of the people we were running for. Each region had photo collages up and, as I looked for the Prairie region one...I saw Anna just ahead of me. I ran to catch her and, with tears in our eyes, we had our photo taken with the collage. I hugged her and ran with her group for a little bit and then I was ready to go again. I took off, with renewed determination to finish this. I now remembered why I was there again!
At the mile 9 marker, I stopped to take a self portrait with the sign and a girl came up to me and offered to take that picture ofr me. Turns out she was on my team - I'd just never met her because she hadn't trained with the rest of us. We decided to finish this sucker together and get our pictures taken with the lovely Tiffany-bearing firemen at the finish.
Suffice it to say - we crossed that finish line. We got that Tiffany necklace. Then we parted ways. For someone who I had never met and whom I had shared the end of an emotional journey with, it is odd that I never saw or spoke to her again. But I'll always remember her. We may nothave known each other, but that day we were a real team. I wish I could have crossed the finish line with my friends, but doing it this way made me realize that I was doing it for a bigger reason than myself.
Since that day - I have run a lot of Saturdays. I trained throught he winter with my runner girls to keep us motivated and then we ran a snowly half marathon to celebrate. We've run a lot of races - some together, some not so together. We're a different kind of team now.
Since that race in October, I've run:
- 5 half marathons
- 4 10K races
- 4 5K races
and then there's this insanity of attempting a full marathon. But with as far as I've come - I am so glad that I have this in my life. I'm glad that I am healthy and strong and can do this. and I'm excited to see where this journey takes me.