Monday, October 28, 2013


This weekend, I hit several milestones.

First, a cancer milestone.

Hidden in the back of a bathroom cupboard, behind a box containing Ace bandages and such, I have had a grocery bag filled with prescriptions left over from cancer.  Lots of painkillers, some muscle relaxants, some anti-emetics, a few Aromatase inhibitors, some tamoxifen.  I haven't opened the bag in years, but I felt its weight.  I didn't know why I didn't get rid of it - was it fear that I'd need its contents once again?  Fear that by getting rid of it I was tempting fate and that the cancer would come back?  Was it a reminder of where I'd come from?

I don't know what it was, but it was powerful, and it held some kind of power over me.  Every one of those drugs made me feel awful, even when they helped me.  Some people love pain killers - the street value of those drugs is apparently high - but I do not, because they make my brain foggy and my whole system shuts down when I'm on them (gastro-intestinal woes that I will not share here).  I hated them, and I always went off them as soon as I could manage it, and had many partially used bottles of them as a result.

On Saturday, there was a drug drop off day at the police precinct, and I delivered all of them.  I handed the bag to an officer behind a window, and just like that, they were gone from my life.

What a weight lifted.

And then a divorce milestone.  Hidden in the attic, behind a bunch of camping equipment, was a big box that contained my wedding dress.  I'd had it professionally cleaned and placed in an archive box after my wedding, with the thought that maybe one day I'd have a daughter who would be interested in it.  Many years and one divorce later, it still sat there, and it, too, was a weight in my chest.  I would never want Katherine to marry in that dress, as the marriage it symbolized wasn't good for me, and it made me sad to think of all the possibility it held but did not live up to.  Interestingly, the dress never felt "right" to me, even though I chose it, and the metaphor there is loud and clear.

This weekend, I pulled the box down, broke the plastic seal, and lifted it out of its waves of tissue.  While Katherine slept in, I tried it on.

It didn't fit.  It was far too large - I could grab handfuls of it against my back to tighten it, and I recall it being difficult to zip on my wedding day.  So strange: I was married at 29, in perfect health, but now all these years later, I'm 44, a mother, a cancer survivor, but I am so much healthier in so many ways, and my wedding dress seemed like it was made for someone else, certainly not me.

I took it off, laid it on the bed.  Katherine awoke, and I told her that it was time for me to give it away if she didn't mind.  She didn't mind, but she wanted to try it on.  She told me it was beautiful, and she admired herself in the full length mirror as I held the back of the dress to scrunch it tight against her tiny (by comparison) body.  She smiled at this vision of herself, and still said, "It's not really my style, but can I keep the veil?"  Sure, honey.  Fair enough.  Her image in the mirror caught my breath, a glimpse of the woman to come, and I knew that this dress wasn't hers, that she would have a different path than mine, and that made me smile.

And then I loaded it up, along with some clothes we didn't want and some random household items that we didn't need, and took it to the donation station.

Another weight lifted.  The man at the donation station said, "You don't want this?" and I smiled and said, no, the marriage hadn't lasted and the dress needed to go to someone who could make it happy again.  The man smiled at me and said, "I hope your next marriage lasts forever."

Another burden, another weight gone.

I felt like I was lighter for the rest of the day, as if stones had been removed from inside me.

There was one more milestone, this one a big one.

On Sunday morning, I ran my first real half marathon.  I finished "sub two" - under two hours, which is a milestone time.  13.1 miles at just under a nine minute mile is no land speed record, but it made me incredibly happy.  I'm pushing my body in healthy ways, not just to stay alive.  This body has carried me so far, kept me alive despite the odds, and I am appreciative of it.

When I was sick, I used the mantra "healthy and strong" as a breathing exercise through the tougher times.  I'd sit in the chemo chair, or lie in the hospital bed, and think it over and over again "healthy and strong, healthy and strong, healthyandstronghealthyandstrongohpleasehealthyandstrong" and it was a prayer more than anything else.  Yesterday, around mile 10, running in the cool and rain (which made me feel cold, damp, and slightly miserable, with my muscles tight) I had the "you've got to be kidding - this is impossible!" thoughts, but then it came to me: I *am* healthy and strong.  It is not a wish, it is reality.

My reality is that I am healthy and strong.  Most people will never complete a half marathon in their lives, and most people won't run under nine minute miles in their forties.  But I can.

I can.

I finished the event relatively strong, and got my sub two time.  I still have a grin on my face.

In June, I could barely run three miles without panting, and now I can complete a half marathon sub two.

Anything is possible.


If you're struggling, and you're reading this, wondering how on earth it applies to you, I have two pieces of advice:

1)  Go find your bags of pills and your wedding dress, and get rid of them.  Of course, you might not have bags of pills or a wedding dress, but you've got burdens that are represented in something physical, and every time you see it or think of it, it makes you slightly sick.  You know what they are, because most of us have them: is it a box of paperwork that you never dealt with, some clothes in a size you know you won't ever wear again, old love letters from someone who wasn't good to you, incomplete projects that make you feel bad whenever you see them?  If you've got something that you have outgrown, or that doesn't serve you, go get rid of it.  I can't tell you how good it feels to lift that burden, and how much lighter you'll feel afterwards.

2)  If you're going through a hard time - I think my unemployment officially counts! - get out and exercise.  Everyone has a different standard for what is hard, but whether yours is "complete Ironman, win first place" or "walk around the block without passing out" just get out there and do it.  Work towards a goal, and don't give up on yourself.  Not only will you see incredible changes in your body (I still can't get over my size four self!), you will feel like anything is possible, and it will help you with all the other struggles in your life.

No comments:

Post a Comment