I will be honest. Running has not been the place I have had to push myself the most. Running is my solace. My break from being a single working mom. My time out.
That was until last February when my 11-year-old son was diagnosed with an aggressive form of terminal brain cancer. Everything stopped. Everything changed. And the one constant of running came to a screeching halt. Running was replaced with calls to fight insurance to make sure he had the best care I could find. Running was replaced with a crash course on radiation, chemotherapy and more medicines than I could count.
Once I came out of the initial fog of his diagnosis, I began to miss running. I had set some lofty goals for this year. One of those goals was a 6-day stage race. This race would cover 120 miles in mountains of Colorado and is called the TransRockies Run. This was my lifetime bucket race. With everything happening with my son, I wasn’t sure it was realistic to properly train for this event. The TransRockies Run would be the longest race of my life. Thinking about leaving him, for the actual race, was hard to fathom.
I began to slowly and quietly train following a training plan shared from past runners of the race. The training itself wasn’t that tough at first. It was lengths I had done in marathon training. But chemo was kicking my son’s ass. If we are being honest, it was kicking both of our asses. The side effects were brutal and draining for him. My days waffled between working and caring for my sons. The last thing I wanted to do was run. But the training plan was my anchor.
Training was going slowly with a few hiccups but for the most part I was getting the training runs in. But then my son had a whole myriad of complications that led to a couple of stays at Seattle Children’s Hospital. During the first stay, I tabled my training. It was only a week and I promised myself I would make up the runs as soon as I got home. (I did.)
Then when we ended up in-patient for a second time, things were much more complicated. He needed emergency brain surgery and in-patient rehab after for about four weeks. We live 1.5 hours from the hospital without traffic, but there is ALWAYS traffic. I would stay with him 24/7 in the hospital while my other son stayed with our friends and family. Once the doctors told me the timeline of our stay, I felt like this was the end of the race. At least for this year. His oncologist came to sit with me and talk about how I felt about everything. She knows I run. She knew about the race.
As I sat there crying to her over my race, I felt like a selfish, terrible mom. My son just had brain surgery. How can I be crying over a stupid race? But running is my solace. My break from being a single working mom, now with a super sick kid. Running is my time out. The doctor reminded me that we were sitting in a hospital full of qualified medical folks who are more than willing to keep eyes on him while I trained. She reminded me this is not selfish. This is sanity. Self-preservation. That if this is what I wanted to do, she believed it was absolutely possible.
To tell you the truth, I did NOT think it was possible. But she seemed so sure. All my friends and family shared the same conviction that not only could I do it, but I should. I had about four weeks until the race at this point. So, I made a quick trip back home to gather my running gear and began to train in Seattle. The training wasn’t on the terrain it should be. Seattle sidewalks are a far cry from the mountain trails and elevation I would be facing in Colorado. My miles were a fraction of what I would need to do over those 6 days. But I tried. I just kept going.
I arrived in Colorado carrying about 50 pounds of running gear and all the faith and love of my friends and family. Terrified would be an understatement. Why did all these people think I could do it? This is insane. As I cried alone in my tent that first night, I remembered that my friend said to check my messages because she sent something over. Inside the message was video message after video message of my friends and family telling me they believed in me. They told me that I could do it. I couldn’t believe they had all taken time to make videos for me. Despite feeling scared, I also felt loved.. My mind kept telling me that I had to just keep going.
The next morning the race started. It was even harder than I imagined. I spent the runs thinking about both my sons. About everything we have been through and everything we would still need to face with his illness. I had gotten a temporary tattoo of the phrase “keep going” and placed it on my wrist for the race. In the darkest of times, a few months prior, I had received a text from a friend that said, “you gotta just keep going.” I often chanted that mantra to myself. Each day of the race, I kept reminding myself. KEEP GOING.
I could burn through another article about the crazy emotions and experiences of that race. But at the end of it, what stays with me was the people that helped me keep going. The other racers and volunteers that greeted and held me with such love at the race. My family and friends that believed in me with a fierceness that I almost believed it myself. And my son’s doctors and nurses that not only care for him but our entire family.
Each and every one of them helped me keep going. And I know all those same people will help me keep going as I face losing my son to this ridiculous disease. It doesn’t matter if it is running, cancer, a breakup or depression.
Please just keep going.
Even if you don’t believe in you – I believe in you.
Your friends and family believe in you.
KEEP GOING. WE BELIEVE IN YOU.