“You are cancer-free. Go live your life.”
It’s been almost a year since Dr. Asik said the words I longed to hear.
To bring you up to speed, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2018, and had chemotherapy infusions from January through May 2019.
Always positive-minded and goal-oriented, I started my journey with the intention of becoming a cancer survivor. I achieved my goal. Now, in the midst of the pandemic, I am doing my best to live my life.
One day at a time.
Every three or four months my oncologist examines me, does blood work, and I hold my breath until he calls and says I’m okay. If that continues, these visits will get further and further apart, and the likelihood of a recurrence will get less and less likely. Or, I guess, it becomes just as likely I could get some other health malady.
For the near term, that might be COVID-19. As a graduate of chemotherapy, I have a compromised immune system and lungs that were described, at one point, as visually having “ground glass opacities” from a reaction to one of the chemo drugs. Normal lung scans are black; sick lungs show lighter-colored or gray patches—a haziness that resembles ground glass. Right, not a description anyone wants to hear, particularly not now with the highly contagious coronavirus doing its best to wreak havoc with even the healthiest among us.
While I’m fearful, I’ve never been one to give up without a fight. I’ve survived cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy: debilitating headaches, hair loss, and damage to my lungs, which included shortness of breath, but I’m past all of it. I’ve seen what I’m capable of, and know I can overcome other challenges that come my way.
As my oncologist told me a year ago, it took only a few months for the chemo drugs to work their way out of my system. Little by little, I wasn’t waking up tired. The headaches went away. My hair grew back. Slowly. And with rest and time, the shortness of breath went away and my lungs returned to normal. Several pulmonary function tests (PFTs) confirmed there had been no apparent long-term damage.
By the fall of 2019, I was ready to get back to running and triathlon.
“I’ll be at the East Longmeadow bike path Monday at 6:00 a.m. Join me!” I posted on our group’s Facebook page.
Setting a goal of three times a week, I could count on a handful of club members meeting me in the Walgreens parking lot, located just down the street from the path. We all walked over together and then the runners headed out, with the walkers falling in behind. A former runner, Ellen had decided her continual knee issues didn’t lend themselves to running. She and her dog kept me company at least once a week.
“Bon Bon!” she yelled to her rabbit-chasing dog, as we walked and caught up on the latest happenings with our families.
After two weeks of walking, I added some running. Setting my Garmin watch for walk/run intervals—which beep an alert after five minutes of walking, then again after one minute of running—I covered two sections of the bike path that amounted to a couple of miles. It was a start and my head was full of future plans for what could be. Physically, the combination of walking and running was difficult, but I was out there, and I knew my stamina would continue to improve. After two more weeks, I changed the settings to four minutes of walking, and tried to be consistent, working out a few times each week, leaving every other day to rest. Things were getting back to normal. Life was supposed to be good.
That foot pain in the morning is probably just being out of shape.
Two weeks later, and a day into the three-minute walk/one-minute run combination, I knew there was an issue. Both feet were throbbing when I got up in the morning and my right heel, the one I’ve had ongoing plantar fasciitis issues with, felt bruised.
A visit to Dr. Cwass, my podiatrist, delivered the news I didn’t want to hear. “Yes, your plantar fasciitis is back. No running for at least a month.”
Are you kidding? I’ve survived cancer—I want my old life back. The one where I’m fit and I chat with my buddies while we’re running. The one where I confidently, steadily overcome physical setbacks. The one where I’m able to do triathlons.
I knew I should be grateful for being cancer-free, but it wasn’t enough.
“A month! Dr. Cwass, what’s our plan B? I want to get back to running.”
My visit was late on a Friday afternoon. Dr. Cwass seemed tired from a long week and was short and snippy with his response.
“Linda, I’m going to be blunt. You need to take this one step at a time. Come back in a month, and we’ll discuss where you’re at, and what the options might be.”
No, no longer running, is not one of the options!
As I drove home, my mind raced.
I miss running. My friends all run. I want to run. Why can’t I get past this?
I’m starting a new blog with new content about new adventures. Trying to find my way back to running, experiencing empty grocery shelves during the pandemic, finishing my graduate thesis…and tap dancing in my friend’s backyard. It’s all coming soon and you won’t want to miss a word!