Does Cancer Cause Running?

Every day on Facebook people appeal to me, and probably to you as well, for money to support cancer research. They seem to always be running marathons. You have to ask yourself, does cancer cause running?

Runner's World lists almost 100 groups that sponsor running and walking events to raise money for cancer. People don’t just run to raise money either. Sometimes they do it just because they can. (All of the stories below are from the New York Times series "Picture Your Life After Cancer.")

This is Shawn:

Shawn MMLansing, Mich.I'm no longer afraid of life. I've started running half marathons!

Shawn MM
Lansing, Mich.
I'm no longer afraid of life. I've started running half marathons!

And this is Peter:

 

Peter OgleCorvallis, ORIt's lived more intensely, and more purposefully. I pay more attention to the people around me and to how God is at work in my circumstances. I ran a marathon last fall after a stage 3 diagnosis of melanoma, and am now stage 4. I'm still running. I blog about living with cancer on my blog: www.theogler.blogspot.com.

Peter Ogle
Corvallis, OR
It's lived more intensely, and more purposefully. I pay more attention to the people around me and to how God is at work in my circumstances. I ran a marathon last fall after a stage 3 diagnosis of melanoma, and am now stage 4. I'm still running. I blog about living with cancer on my blog: www.theogler.blogspot.com.

And, meet Sue:

Sue CloningerCresent City Classic 10 K in New Orleans 2009I am 14 months post-surgery for renal cell carcinoma. I was lucky, as my cancer seems to have been isolated in my left kidney. Am I different? I hope so…I try to not sweat the small stuff. I usually say what is on my mind and don’t hold resentment. I also try to enjoy life since I know that all of our lives are finite. It makes me do things now rather than when I have the time.This picture was taken six weeks after surgery on a trip to my birthplace of New Orleans, where my daughter and I did a 10K race. It was the first race I completed in 25 years after walk/running steadily for the past 23. I figured if not now, then when.It was the beginning of the old me coming back to this world, where I hope to remain for a long time.

Sue Cloninger
Cresent City Classic 10 K in New Orleans 2009
I am 14 months post-surgery for renal cell carcinoma. I was lucky, as my cancer seems to have been isolated in my left kidney.
Am I different? I hope so…I try to not sweat the small stuff. I usually say what is on my mind and don’t hold resentment. I also try to enjoy life since I know that all of our lives are finite. It makes me do things now rather than when I have the time.
This picture was taken six weeks after surgery on a trip to my birthplace of New Orleans, where my daughter and I did a 10K race. It was the first race I completed in 25 years after walk/running steadily for the past 23. I figured if not now, then when.
It was the beginning of the old me coming back to this world, where I hope to remain for a long time.

I trained for and completed my first triathlon a few years before being diagnosed with cancer. The day I got out of the hospital I resolved to resume training and to complete another one. In the whole of my cancer experience so far, I’ve only cried in one doctor’s office--at an orthopedic clinic. I went in for knee pain, haunted by the whisper of “metastases.” Instead the doc told me I had arthritis.

He said, “You have to stop running.”

I said, “For how long?”

He said, “Forever.”

I lost it, just sobbed. I felt devastated. Being in the crisis stage of a cancer diagnosis, I had little perspective about why running was so important to me. Keep in mind that I’ve always hated to run and hated self-righteous runners even more. For every Facebook update in which Sally reports on her time for a five-mile-after-work run, I’ve posted my personal record for watching "Buffy" episodes without a bathroom break.

When I began to train for the triathlon in 2010, I started with a running class. We began running for 30 seconds, walking for 4 1/2 minutes over half an hour until we could eventually run for the entire half hour. I think it was Week Three when we were running for 2 minutes and walking for 3 that I considered joining Witsec so I wouldn’t have to admit just how thoroughly running was eating my lunch.

As is the case with many runners, “having run,” rather than running itself, is my favorite part. Wearing my Gold Nugget Triathlon t-shirt is a helluva lot more enjoyable than swimming/biking/running. Still, after being betrayed by my body, facing diagnosis, treatments, and finitude itself, being told that I couldn’t run ever again pushed me over the edge.

After my second treatment for bladder cancer, I peed every 10 minutes for more than six hours, and it was excruciating every time. My bladder tethered me to my house for weeks. I was afraid to go grocery shopping because I didn’t think I could last. When I had to go, I had to go RIGHT NOW. Bolting for the bathroom is one thing at home and quite another at Jewel Osco. Especially if you don’t get there in time.

For me, running was my middle finger to the universe, proof that I had some control, evidence that I was alive and well. It was a space and time where I didn’t--couldn’t--think about cancer. I’m a terrible, slow, labored runner. It takes complete concentration to keep moving, to breathe, to keep my eyes on the horizon and my arms at breast level. The sheer pain of the self-inflicted struggle to run trumped the suffering caused by being cancer’s bitch.

So, yes, cancer causes running. The running raises awareness, raises money for research, and creates community out of alienation. And, running helps to chase down demons and anxiety.

By the way, I fired my doctor. I’ll find one who believes in supporting me and helping me to achieve my goals instead of one who thinks giving up is the best option.

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