Fighting Cancer = Warrior Dash
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
On August 20, I participated in the Warrior Dash race in Copper Mountain, Colorado. For those who don’t know what this is, it is actually only a 5K race. What makes it a challenge are the obstacles each participant must face as they go through the race course. I was honored to be able to not only do it, but to do it with my 18 year old son, Jeremy and good friend Karen.
When I signed up for this race late last year, I was excited, but somewhat nervous having never done anything even close to this type of event. I planned on getting in shape for the race by doing boot camp a couple times per week along with my usual training for half marathons. Then in January, 2011 I fell and injured both hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. I could still walk, but boot camp and all forms of weight training were now off the table. Even facing this setback I still planned on doing the race. Slowly my arms et al showed signs of healing, but would they be good enough? I’d do the race no matter what.
Then in late April, I started experiencing pain in my right side. Along with this was just a general malaise. After doing a half marathon the pain faded and I felt better. At the end of May came a 10K and along with the days leading up to it came pain in my left side. But, knowing I can handle race pain and with my son by my side, I decided to do the race. Part way through the race, the pain faded and I was able to finish. However, the next day the pain was back in spades. Time for a trip to the doctor, something I don’t do lightly.
After an exam and x-ray, nothing was found. Must be “gas,” go home and take some gas prevention medicine was what I was told. Surprisingly and coincidently the pain went away. I suddenly felt better than I had for months.
Then another half marathon came along on the last Saturday of June. This time the pain was back on the right side. My son reminded me, the pain seems to go away with the race. So I did the race, and sure enough by mile 4, no more pain. I finished in much better shape than I had the previous year. Sunday, I was tired and a bit sore, but good. Then Monday came and so did pain so severe that I couldn’t focus and could barely think. I had to go back to the doctor only this time I wanted a diagnosis no matter what it was.
After telling their best diagnostician my story and telling him I could “try” to get through the night, he sent me directly to the hospital for a stat CT scan. I was to wait at the hospital until the doctor called. When the phone rang I heard the words that would make anyone’s heart sink. You have enlarged lymph nodes, the radiologist says it looks like Lymphoma, it appears you have cancer. The evening brought tears and fears, but the next day brought out my race persona and the peace of mind that I could not only beat this, but would beat this.
After finally meeting with my oncologist, having 4 surgical procedures in 3 weeks and a myriad of other tests it was time to schedule my first chemo infusion.
Now a new concern, would chemo stop me from doing the Warrior Dash? Not if I could keep it from doing so. So chemo happened on Tuesday, August 16, our Dash wave was at 11:30 a.m. on the 20th.
I met the challenge of the Dash with my son and friend Karen. It took us 1:40, but it was the most amazing 1:40 I have had in a long time. Karen and Jeremy were with me through the whole race. I had race officials who I told that this battle was more than just a race because of my newly diagnosed cancer cheering me on. I had an OMG-orgeous young man help me through an obstacle and I did a race that some thought is crazy in the best of health.
As I look back on the Warrior Dash, I realize it is an analogy for the other battle I have to face - Lymphoma.
I signed up and made the commitment - I have to see it through.
I went into it with those I love and trust.
There will be obstacles that try to defeat me and the ones in the Warrior Dash relate directly to my cancer battle.
Obstacle 1 - Rope climb up a short steep hill - This was having to get out of the initial pit I was thrown into when I heard the preliminary diagnosis. I had to grab the rope and pull myself out.
Obstacle 2 - Hanging Tires - These were all the things that kept slowing me down to get to the final diagnosis. These also represent the surgical procedures and tests I had to go through. But because we were the last ones through and we did it purposefully it was easy to make our way through the swinging tires without getting banged up or waylaid.
Obstacle 3 - Walls and Rails - We had to climb over the waist plus high walls then go under the rails topped with barbed wire (5 each). This is where I told the officials about my “other” battle. They started cheering me on, my son & friend did the same. Here, sometimes you can climb over, but sometimes you are prevented from this by an additional obstacle, so you have to find another way through. Having someone cheer you on be it friend or stranger will help you. Still healing from surgery, having chemo right before the race with the possibility of major side effects was like going over and under this obstacle.
Now a long walk with a slippery slope to get to the next obstacle - What I will be doing with every cycle of chemo. But I still had support, from both strangers and loved ones.
Obstacle 4 - Mud Pit - Fresh dirt was just added and it did it’s best to suck off my shoe, but I stopped, refocused, got my shoe on and enjoyed being cheered through the muck, as my son floated on his back through the pit beside me. Yes, I’ll be getting dirty, side effects will try to suck me down, but if I enjoy the company of others around me, and reach out for help if needed, I’ll get out of the mud so I can keep going.
Obstacle 5 - Bungee Web - This was a large number of bungees stretched across the trail like a very confused spider web. It was on an off-camber slope, that was covered with the mud that fell off of participants. Part way through I got stuck. I didn’t know which way to go to get past all the cords. I couldn’t get my footing. Then a stranger offered his hand and his guidance, and he helped me break free, then he was gone. I realize that there will be times I need to take the hand of someone, maybe even a total stranger to get me through. It’s not being weak, it’s being smart.
Now it was time to pause at the water station. I take what I can get, wash the mud off my water bottle and we are off again. Take what is offered with an open hand and heart, and clean off a bit of the mud to keep yourself hydrated and healthy.
Obstacle 6 - Dark Tube Crawl - It was a culvert filled with rocks and draped in black fabric. This one I didn’t do. I wanted to stay on my feet and not let my legs get scraped and cut on the rocks inside. Even though I know there was light at the end of the tunnel I also know I have to stay on my feet as much as possible.
Obstacle 7 - Plank Walk - Planks were from 4 to 8 inches wide. It was up 45 degrees, down, across, up and then back down 45 degrees with a height of about 10-12 feet. I started with holding on to the plank as I “walked” up it, but when I got to the transition point I realized I had to stand up straight, focus, look ahead, stay balanced and accept a hand if necessary. Everything I know I will have to do through my cancer battle.
Obstacle 8 - Hell’s Hill - Up and across a ski slope with lots of gullies and rocks. My son stayed with me and stopped when I needed, which was at each gully. He pointed out beautiful wildflowers when I needed something else to focus on other than fatigue. The hill will be the cumulation of the next 18 weeks, and even though I am staying focused, I am going to need to have distractions along the way to let my mind and body rest.
Obstacle 9 - Horizontal Cargo Net Crawl - 30 plus feet of cargo net lying 10 feet about the ground and with every move of participants the center of gravity and net tension is changed. I know that every chemo infusion will possibly bring different side effects, but I will have to just keep going, not allowing myself to fall through the holes; and crossing backward is allowed because sometimes going forward backward just allows your to stay stable, because you’ve see where you have already been.
Obstacle 10 - A-frame Drop - Climb 20 feet up wide spaced rungs, climb down 3 feet and then hang and slide 10 feet down the other side to the ground.
Obstacle 11 - A-frame Cargo Net Climb - Climb up and down a 30 foot tall a-frame structure on cargo nets.
Obstacle 12 - A-frame Wall Climb - Using a knotted rope climb up a 30 foot tall a-frame wall then climb down the rungs on the back side.
Obstacles 10-12, I opted out of doing during the race, not because I felt I couldn’t do them, but because I felt at this point I shouldn’t do them out of safety for myself. When battling cancer, even though I’d like to do everything I may normally do, I understand that some of those things are better left for another day when I am physically strong enough to not cause harm. So those 3 obstacles are the ones I will be aiming for next year. I will be stronger and healthy and those obstacles represent the life that will be coming after treatment.
Obstacle 13 - Fire Jump - This was 2 sections of fire 2 feet or so deep completely across the course with flames 2 to 3 feet high. My son and I actually “jogged” toward it because I knew it would take a bit more momentum than a walk to safely traverse the fire. Yes, over the last few weeks and next several months, even though walking is my way, I have had and will have to occasionally run to get the momentum going and keep it going as I fight for my life.
Finally, the finish line came, and we all know what that means. It's time to celebrate and continue to live life to it's fullest no matter what obstacles are thrown in my path.
So, thank you Warrior Dash for teaching me what I need to know to fight cancer and how to live my life as I do so.