“Seeing traces of the scars that came before. Hitting the pavement, still asking for more.” -Son Volt
The quote above is a lyric from my single favorite song of all-time, “Tear Stained Eye” by Son Volt. The song is more than 20 years old now, but it has a certain timeless quality to it. A couple of weeks ago, I had that song playing in the car during my early-morning drive to catch the train to work, and it hit me that this particular lyric was an apt description of my current marathon running.
As long-time readers of this blog and friends of mine know, I took up the sport of running eight years ago to make good on a promise I had made the previous year. I made the promise – to beat cancer, keep my June wedding date, and run a marathon the following year – the day following a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Disease, partly as a motivational tool and partly because I wanted to beat the cancer really, really badly.
I did make good on each portion my promise. My wife Krissie and I got married on schedule on June 21,2008, 11 days following my final chemo treatment and three days after the side effects wore off from that final treatment. We now have a pair of healthy daughters. And, I ran and finished the Chicago Marathon, raising funds for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in the process, the following year.
Though I proved my point, I have kept running ever since. While “cancer survivor” will always be part of my identity and has impacted a lot of my outlook in ways that can sometimes be murky, it is not a part of my identity I need to actively think about on a daily basis. I go in for exams and blood draws a couple of times each year, but aside from that, I am a regular dad who happens to run. My hair is back. I am healthy and, thanks to genetics and no smoking and generally clean living, probably look a bit younger than my actual age. The only hint of my malignant past can be found on the right side of my neck. It is a scar from my lymph node biopsy of 2008, which at this point has faded enough so that it literally is more accurately a trace of the scar that came before.
Yet, hitting the pavement and still asking for more punishment, I continue to run. I aim for two marathons each year. And, in less than two months, I will run marathon No. 12. Unexpectedly and somewhat amazingly, I will be returning to my hometown course for the second consecutive year. Yes, I will really be running the Boston Marathon on April 17.
The photo above was taken last April 18 in Hopkinton, prior to the start of the race. I am in the front of that crowd of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute runners, as one of the team’s cancer survivors. We were collectively called “Living Proof.” It was truly one of the greatest days of my life and you can read all about it here. Due to the race’s stringent qualifying standards and the fact I’d expended a ton of effort fundraising for Dana-Farber, I thought at the time that Boston was going to be a one-and-done deal for me. Then, earlier this month, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I will be running the Boston Marathon wearing the purple uniform of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program, the uniform I wore for my first four Chicago Marathons. A friend of mine from Team In Training, who had been planning to run Boston but is now unable to do so due to other commitments, offered me her bib because of my survivorship and my Boston roots. All I had to do was commit to running the race and find a way to get to Boston. And so, there I will be. This time, I will be running in honor and memory of my friend’s husband, a truly remarkable man who fought cancer with valor for year. You can read more about him on my fundraising page.
I will share more details about my training, my path to Boston, and ultimately the race over the next two months. As for the unanswered question of why I continue to hit the pavement, asking for more? Quite simply, it is because I can. Because when your very existence has been threatened, and your ability to run at all has been taken away, that ability is something you never fail to appreciate once you have it again. As was the case last year, I will toe the starting line in Hopkinton with full appreciation of how special the moment is, acknowledgment of those who are unable to run, and the desire to do my small part to turn more patients into survivors.
By the way, here’s the song “Tear Stained Eye.” I’ve always loved the steel guitar and banjo in it. I took a liking to alt-country music in the late 90’s as a college student in New York City, where it seemed as if I was the only person who listened to it because I probably was. I listened to plenty of Wilco before that band was a household name and before they devolved into Dad Rock, Ryan Adams before he was a major solo artist and was still the frontman for a band named Whiskeytown, etc… basically, though I am now an uncool dad who you wouldn’t turn to for recommendations on new music, once upon a time I had taste that proved ahead of its time.
Fifty days to Boston.