Coping with a Child's Chronic Illness: How Running Heals Me

Coping with a Child's Chronic Illness: How Running Heals Me

I run because I have secrets.

I run because I live in fear.

I run because I learned years ago that monsters are real.

I have never been an athlete. I can’t catch a ball, throw a ball, hit a ball, pass a ball, serve a ball or even juggle a ball. I’ve always been an ungraceful collection of awkward, long limbs, more a cartoonish caricature of pieces than a body of coordinated, working limbs.

And, yet, in the fall of 2009, my weight-loss had plateaued as my work-outs on the elliptical machine in our basement were no longer sufficient. A neighbor had just completed the couch to 5K running plan, and I was inspired.

Even though, I hadn’t run a mile since my freshman year in high school, I managed to set aside all of my negative thinking and refused to be deterred by my asthma diagnosis. I grabbed my inhaler and started running.

I started out slowly, painfully. My progress couldn’t be measured in miles, nor even sidewalk squares. But I’m very stubborn and I was determined to do it. I started running in September of 2009.

I started running just to shave off some weight, to prove that I really could do something athletic for once in my life. And then before I could even run a mile, the lights went out in our household, and my family was plunged into darkness.

Over the years, I had heard the heartbreaking stories of families with sick children. I’ve watched the Lifetime movies with a box of tissues in my lap, while tears streamed down my face. My mother’s heart clenched at their stories. Other people’s stories.

I would naively tip-toe upstairs and peek at my own children, safely ensconced in their beds and reassure myself that I never had to worry. My children were healthy.

Until one of them wasn’t.

I learned that illness can lie dormant. It can fester and thrive unnoticed for years until it finally emerges. An illness can be like a parasite, twisting, multiplying, coiling inside your perfect child and feasting on him/her.

And then like the monsters who hide in closets, the illness bursts forth.

A quick light-switch flick and our lives changed forever.

I was dropped into a fun-house mirror maze of doctors, hospitals, diagnoses, medications. Each twist and turn created more turmoil and agonizing decisions, and I couldn’t even understand the medical language spoken around me.

Guilt clawed at my insides. Fear was my constant companion. And all I could do was run.

I found an indoor running track as the sun was just too painful, too bright, too mocking during that time.

And I finally ran my first mile on that little track where 8 laps equaled one mile.

I ran to escape the suffocating fear.

I ran from the what-if scenarios torturing me at night.

I ran because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know where else to go or whom to call or how to fix something so out of my control. And so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and I ran.

With each new doctor with yet another new diagnosis, I ran longer and harder and faster on that continuous, tedious indoor path, as I prayed it would finally lead me somewhere.

And on days when my child was too tired to fight, I ran for my baby because it was the only thing that I could do, the only thing that kept me sane.

The cadence of my feet pounding the track soothed me. My asthmatic gasps reminded me that I was still alive, that I could be strong, that I could fight for my child.

Running saved my sanity.

After months of false diagnoses and gloomy prognoses, we finally found a great team of doctors for my child and received our answers.

No miracle cure awaited us at the end of the nightmare, but my child eventually stabilized. Two years later, my child thrives and amazes me on an almost daily basis. While no cure exists, we now have an incredible team of doctors and a tremendous amount of hope.

And, yet, I still run.

But I run outside now.

After months of darkness and terror, I crave the sun, the smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of a park filled with children.

I run to remind me that I am strong, that my children are strong, that we have survived the nightmare together.

Running is my outlet.  It is how I cope with the chaos that surrounds me. It is something that I can control when life gets scary, when I’m haunted by those still too-vivid, still too-raw memories.

The rhythm of my steps comforts me. The cadence of my shoes matches each beat of my heart and reminds me that I am alive.

I run because I can.

I run because I am too scared to stop.

I run because it heals me.

Our local school, Homestead Elementary School, is hosting a 5k and 1 Mile Fun Run on Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 8:30 am. If you are in the Aurora, IL area, please consider participating in this family fun run.  It is a lot of fun and an easy flat course.  For more information, please visit the Homestead PTA websiteRegistration is available online.  Hope to see some familiar faces there!



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  • What an excellent and honest post. While I do not run, I certainly can connect with your need for an outlet when there is nothing else you can do to control a situation. It's heartbreaking when those moments involve your children. Hang in there and keep running.

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    Crystal, you eloquently described courage. As a mother you are setting examples for those young ones of yours to follow. I hate running which allows me to fully understand what it took to make that commitment. The example you set for those three young ones of yours is a true gift you give to them. Your children are lucky to have you as a mother.

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    I had no idea you wrote this! I don't really mind, though.
    P.S. Will I get in major trouble for having everyone who reads these comments realize my name isn't actually Cassie? I feel like this should be a season finale on TV or something.

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