Updated: May 26
I ran today. Only for a minute on four different sections of my run, today but I ran and it felt fine.
Running is huge for me. I never ran in high school. I predate Title IX, so they were just starting track at Sparta High when I was a senior. We ran in the corridors. Which were cement floors. Oh, the shin splints! They had women‘s sports at UW Madison, but by the time I got there I’d chosen my main extracurriculars: parties, beer, guys and skiing.
Only after a season ski-bumming in Aspen, when I came home with rock-hard thighs and an amped-up VO2 capacity, did I finally start to run.
It was stop and go. Run a little, walk a lot. Oh, yeah, and try to quit smoking. But something had burrowed into my brain and it would not let go. I had to run.
So I did.
I kept running when I got to New York, in snow and slush and in soaring temperatures and humidity. It got so I couldn’t drink the coffee I love unless I had run first. I joined New York Road Runners and ran the fastest mile I ever ran in my life. Seven minutes. I only ran one. It almost killed me.
I joined an ad hoc runners club in Inwood, the neighborhood I lived in at the tippy top of Manhattan. I’d do 20-mile-runs with my club mates training for the Marathon. New York, of course.
I ran every day come hell or high water. No matter how hungover I was, how tired I was. The only time I didn’t run was after I saw Brian Dennehy in Death of a Salesman on Broadway. I couldn’t get up the next morning.
I power walked through both pregnancies, figuring that an advanced-maternal-age mother, as Mount Sinai stamped on all of my charts, had better take it a little easy.
But once the girls were big enough, I put them in a running stroller and they ran with me.
When my marriage, whose disintegration I denied for years, finally blew up in a firestorm I feared would consume me, I returned to running. I’d started doing Core Power Yoga instead, which has a killer workout called Sculpt. Yoga, cardio, weights, even a little boxing! I loved it. But tough as it was, I needed more. I needed to run, I realized, for my brain to work. My therapist sent me to a psychiatrist who prescribed Klonopin (yes, I just read a biography of Stevie Nicks and she was addicted to it for years! But Stevie didn’t run). But the shrink also said, “run. “
So I did.
And I took only a couple of Klonopin. I held on to it just in case for months. But eventually, I threw most of it out.
I had injuries, lord, especially hip flexors. So I’d power walk and do physical therapy.
”You’re walking faster than I run,” said one woman as I passed her on the reservoir in Central Park during this period.
”Thank you!” I said.
Last summer I had trouble running. I lost stamina. I’d have to power walk and run. But I still put in my mileage and I did the Imogene Pass Run, 17 miles over a 13,000 foot mountain pass.
A couple people came in behind me, but I was for all intents and purposes, the last runner in. I didn’t care.
Two weeks later I got that diagnosis after what I--and my doctors at Mount Sinai-- thought was a routine surgery. The docs said walk, don’t run, because the scars from the first surgery and a second one a few weeks later were still healing. "Don't go any faster than a 15-minute mile," the anesthesiology nurse said, sternly. So I power walked. Three or four miles. But sometimes, I’d just think fuck it, and I’d run.
And the surgery doc and the radiation doc both said the same thing when they checked the scars to make sure they had healed enough to start radiation: "You heal really fast."
I started radiation treatment.
”Can I run?” I asked.
“It’s good for you. Do it as long as you can,“ said the radiation doc and the nurses. They didn’t think I’d be able to run after a few weeks of radiation.
I started running faster.
”I’m getting cured!” I said to Sam, the long-suffering husband of my cousin Sarah.
“No,” he said. “You’re powered by radiation.”
The weeks of radiation went by, five of them, six zaps a week. I’d throw myself under that machine and the technicians would buckle me in my Tony Stark-style head mask to the gurney, leave the room and turn on the machine. They’d leave the radio on the rock station they liked. And it was amazing how much that station played Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. I’d lie there and visualize the golden gates to my body opening up and my cells running, laughing, grabbing hands with the radiation rays as they went hunting for cancer cells to oxidize.
Once a week I’d go in for chemo, and do the same thing, seeing it acting as a reinforcement to the radiation.
And every morning I’d go out for my run even though by weeks three and four it was a power walk. I kept doing three or four miles of power walking a day.
”I’m still power walking,“ I said to my chemo doc on one of my every-other-week visits to him. I wasn’t asking permission anymore, I just wanted him to have the full picture.
”Great,” he said. He looked at me, his face expressionless. “We don’t usually see many people doing that at this stage.“
“We don’t see anyone doing that at this stage.”
I went home for Thanksgiving, overjoyed about going home and seeing my whole family. Radiation side effects were starting to slam into me. My neck and upper chest and back were were one giant, oozing rash and the inside of my throat was in the same kind of shape. I wasn’t getting the rest that I had been. I wasn’t as vigilant about staying hydrated. But I still power walked.
By December, my voice was gone. Radiation is the gift that keeps on giving. Most people say that bitterly. I say it happily. After the zapping cure ends, the radiation keeps bouncing around inside of you, ramping up. Its power increases exponentially as days, weeks and months go on. That means when it’s giving me side effects, it’s also giving cancer cells hell.
I spent December, January and February in Colorado, staying at Airbnbs near my brother Tom and his wonderful wife, Kelly.
I got my voice back in time for Christmas. I started revving up from power walking to running. I got so I could run a mile without stopping.
But my hip flexors were screaming. Sometimes, even I know it’s time to quit. Besides, I was also skiing!
So I’ve been power walking. But I went to the doctor at the LiveWell Center here in Park City. He took X-rays. My skeleton is FINE! And he sent me to a physical therapist who does 100-mile runs!
She gave me the idea of alternating my speed on my power walks. I alternate between a minute of fast walking and then really fast walking. I’m doing 12- and 13-minute miles.
She gave me exercises to do once a day. But a few weeks ago I went back and asked her for tougher exercises and I do them twice a day. I do lots of stretches and knead my muscles with a tennis ball and a roller a couple of times a day. I started doing lower body weight routines at the gym.
She recommended dry needling, which uses needles like acupuncture but on muscle knots, not your meridians. Wow, that is an incredible boost.
And I started acupuncture, for overall wellness, for anxiety and for my hip flexors.
And this morning. I ran! I didn't plan it ahead of time. I just did it. I alternated a minute of running with a minute, 15 seconds of power walking. And I only did it for the first half of my run/power walk. But I ran. And It felt SO good!
Next week is the sign-up for the Imogene Pass Run. It opens at 6 a.m. mountain time/7 a.m. central and fills up in half an hour. But I'll be at MD Anderson for my every-six-weeks dose of immunotherapy and it has booked me for my pre-immunotherapy tests at that exact hour!
“Can you book me at 7:15?” I asked, sending a message through MyChart, saying I needed to sign up for a road race.
“I’ll see,” came the response.
I asked my dear friend Sally, who is one of the most reliable people I know, to sign me up. But I was still nervous.
Last weekend I went on a hike with a friend and I told him the signup story.
”What?” He said. “I hate when they do that! You’re the client! You‘re paying them! Just tell them you have to be able to sign up at that moment!”
To be honest, Medicare is paying for almost everything. Still…
I went back into MyChart and sent another message explaining the logistics of signing up.
And then I added this.
Imogene is a mythic run for me. It’s as much a part of my cure as the magic you work at MD Anderson.
The answer came back. Again, no dice. And this time the system had disabled the reply option.
Well, I thought, at least I asked. And Sally is really reliable.
I just got a text message alert from MD Anderson. I opened up MyChart.
”The doctor has changed your appointment to 7:30. Good luck with your run!”