It’s Thursday, April 9th, so naturally, my Facebook and Instagram are filled with incriminating and adorable #TBT photos of friends and family. For the past 4 years, I have spent this day sharing the same photo of me and requesting your help to fund groundbreaking research as I hit the fundaising homestretch before the Boston Marathon. April 9th in the past has been a day of unquestionable celebration as it marked the anniversary of my life-saving bone marrow transplant, which helped destroy the AML (acute leukemia) I battled 19 years ago. Every April 9th marked another cancer-free year. But this year is different…
Cancer after Cancer
This year has proven to be more challenging than the prior 19 years (yes, even if you include the hours upon hours of marathon training!). Each year, I have a battery of tests around the anniversary of my transplant. Sometimes these tests would produce scary results but even after thyroid, skin, and breast biopsies, I could always breathe a huge sigh of relief and go on enjoying my life POST cancer. It wasn’t until my series of tests in 2014 that I had to revisit HAVING cancer. Cancer wasn’t in the past anymore. I was no longer cancer-free. I was not a survivor – I was a fighter.
It wasn’t that my prognosis was particularly scary, in fact, it was great. After having a bilateral mastectomy, my physicians told me that “breast cancer certainly isn’t your biggest concern.” It was the reality of the situation or rather, what the breast cancer represented, that made this diagnosis hard to swallow. It represented the permanent damage that chemo and radiation had on my body…. still… 19 years later.
Most people assume that I’m not running the marathon this year because of the breast cancer but this is not true. I absolutely would have dragged myself across the finish line (with my new tatas) if that was the only hurdle. Unfortunately, the chemo and radiation left more collateral damage.
In the past, my oncologists seemed to think that if I could run the marathon, even with my sub-par heart and lungs, then I should go for it. However, over the past two years, there has been a change of heart (pardon the pun). I was one of the earliest pediatric transplant patients for AML so you could say I’m a bit of a trailblazer (or guinea pig but I prefer trailblazer). Inevitably, this means that we understand only some of what goes on in my body.
We’ve learned that my insanely high heart rate while exercising (approximately 190 bpm for hours) is due to the radiation (a mini bio lesson to come soon!). This information coupled with new case studies and data don’t seem to support my marathon running. Thus, this year most of my physicians asked me to stop marathon running… permanently. This was not easy news to stomach, especially when you live in Boston where people get excited about lobster running shoes! (OK, they are pretty cool.)
The good news, is that I am supposed to run daily-just not too far. This means that once I hit the pavement again on May 1st (when my plastic surgeon gives me the all-clear), I will be running with even more motivation and yes, heart.
So, here’s to another year of overcoming obstacles, finding the joy in the journey, and happy runs! …and of course, to destroying cancer!