Tuesday, November 24, 2009

my race...

Until Run from the Sun, I had never run a race in my life. I am not a runner, or any type of athlete for that matter. I have friends who run, and I have always applauded them. I admire them for their physical endurance and mental strength, for their ability to withstand the elements and forge through unrelenting obstacles...for the amount of time expended in pursuing such a sport. I myself enjoy exercising and staying in shape. When I work out, I give it my all - most days pushing myself to complete exhaustion. However, although I exercise 5-6 days a week, my work-out sessions rarely exceed 20-30 minutes. I feel like I’ve always lacked the strength and stamina necessary to train for, and participate in, any type of endurance sport. Running long distances has always been challenging for me...and by long distances, I mean anything over a mile or two.

I share all of this personal background for a reason. It was shock - just as much to me as to anyone - that when my friend casually announced she would be running a half marathon in just over a week, I blurted out “I want to run it too!” Wow, where did that come from? Did I really just say that? The girl who has never run more than 5 miles at one time, and who has only done that 2 or 3 times in her life? What makes me think that I could run a half marathon, when I haven’t even taken the time to prepare myself physically (or mentally) for such an undertaking? I hadn’t even trained! Despite all signs pointing to the fact that I had no business running this race, something inside me vexed “Do It”, and the more I fought that inner voice, the more determined I became to run that race.

Annette, my friend – who, by the way, has run several marathons, and who, (like most runners) actually trains and conditions for these races - told me that she would take me out on Saturday (just a week before the race) to pace me. She assured me that if I could run the 8 miles – no problem, that I would be able to run the 13 - with very few problems. Of course, I had my doubts. The night before our big run, I’m sure I slept less than 3 hours, I was so nervous. Surprisingly, I did ok. I was able to keep up with my proficient runner friend (barely), and felt like I even had some energy to spare. I decided to wait to register, at least through the weekend, to see how my body was going to recover from something so foreign. When Monday morning rolled around, and I didn’t have so much as a single sore joint or muscle, I knew that I was destined to run this race. Ever since I had heard about it, I had felt compelled, for some strange reason, to give it a shot; and now, just moments away from registering, I knew that there was no turning back. Now, what was that website Annette had told me about? Let’s see if I can remember the name of that race? Was it Run in the Sun? Or perhaps it was Run with the sun? No. The Sun Run? The Valley of the Sun? No. Ah ha, here it is… that sounds right - Run from the Sun, November 14th 2009. After clicking on the link, I arrived to the Run from the Sun’s homepage. Prior to this moment, I was not aware of the fact that its sole purpose was to raise skin cancer awareness. And that’s when it all started to unfold. You see, for the past week and a half, I had been anticipating a call from my dermatologist. For some time I had felt some incertitude with regard to a strange mole on my left hand, and had finally decided it was time to confront the issue. The mole was removed and sent in for a biopsy, and here I was, 11 days later, still wondering and anxiously awaiting the results. I did not find it a mere coincidence that I had, from the moment I heard about this race (without knowing beforehand of its cause), felt an inner drive to take part in it. My commitment to its objective suddenly became more compelling that the race itself, and I frantically searched for the “sign me up” button. I was happy to pay $75.00 for a cause that had just become so personal…so applicable to me and my current situation. Whether I actually had skin cancer or not, there was no doubt that in the last week I had thought more about that possibility than ever before. The prospect of actually having it, heightened my awareness of the disease, motivated me to make some changes with regard to sun exposure, and to be quite honest...down right terrified me.

Not more than an hour had passed since I had registered for the race, when I received that long awaited phone call. When I saw my doctor’s name stretched out across the caller ID display, I knew the moment of truth had finally arrived. A concerned voice on the other line reluctantly informed me that I did, in fact, have malignant melanoma. “Thank Heavens”, she assured me, “that you came in when you did. Because your melanoma is in the earliest stages, you can expect a high cure rate”. After giving further instruction, she left me alone…all alone to sustain the whirlwind going on in my head. Talk about impeccable timing. Now more than ever - I felt impelled to run this race…My Race.

The morning of the race had finally arrived, and although I felt physically inadequate for the task at hand, mentally I had never felt more prepared and excited for anything. It felt wonderful to be able to run for a cause - a cause which I had just recently become privy to. It’s hard for me to fully describe, or even attempt to explain, what happened to my mind and body while I ran that race. It’s almost as if I had an out of body experience, like something (or someone) greater than I, was pushing me - sometimes even carrying me - along that course. I felt like I was lifted to new heights, like I could take on the world, like there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish, like anything I put my heart and mind to - could be mine. I felt like by running that race, I was beating my cancer. Like each pound of my shoe to the pavement, was just another pound to the disease which had so inadmissibly invaded my body.

For a brief period during the race, we were blessed with a beautiful burst of rain. It felt refreshing and liberating. As great heavenly drops fell and splashed my face, neck, arms, and legs, I couldn’t help but ponder upon its significance. Rain symbolizes purity and cleansing, renewal and rebirth…a fresh start. To me, our race day rainfall was symbolic of my body being cleansed of its ailment. This sudden realization made me smile until I laughed out loud, and then it made me cry.

It was beyond amazing to have the support of my sweet husband and two children. They far exceeded my expectations by being at every single water station and cheering me on as I passed by. Often times my daughter was the one holding the water cup out for me, a sight which repeatedly melted my heart. After receiving that kind of moral support and encouragement from my beloved family, I couldn’t help but stop (on more than one occasion) and thank each of them with a kiss. I was not concerned with my time, I only wanted to finish the race; and seeing my precious loved ones all along the way, gave me the bursts of energy I needed to keep pushing through.

Nothing felt better than crossing that finish line and knowing that I had accomplished the impossible. I am not a runner, but I ran. For 13 miles I ran. I ran that race with my whole heart and with my whole soul. For me, this was so much more than just a race. It was a life changing experience. For me it represented everything that I had admired about my runner friends…the physical endurance and mental strength, the ability to withstand the elements and forge through unrelenting obstacles. And isn’t that what life is really all about? Forging through our obstacles? Weathering the elements? It’s about exerting physical, mental, and oftentimes emotional strength to be able to continue forward. It’s placing one foot in front of the other, until triumphantly, we cross that finish line.
Everything about my race – the pounding of the pavement, the rain on my face, the very fact that my family was there every step of the way – symbolized to me, my brush with cancer, my flight against it, and my own personal battle with it. And just as I crossed that finish line conquering…so will I claim victory over this intrusive malignant disease.

*Note: A Few days after the event, the race director sent an email to all the race participants, requesting that we each submit our "race day story". The commitee was to review each entry, and then pick the best 10. The prize? Free registration for next year's race! This blog post was what I submitted as my official "race day story"...and guess who will be running next year's race for free?!!! I was so excited!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

the encounter...

is so vivid in my memory, it could have been yesterday. It was a hot day. The sun, which shone directly overhead was bright, and it's rays were intense. It was - by my definition - the perfect day for a suntan. Lying out in the back yard was precisely what I was doing when I heard a solemn "hi sweetheart". Startled by the interrupted silence, I bolted upright and did my best - notwithstanding the blaring sun - to focus on my father's face. He wore a sad look, and in his eyes - I sensed disappointment. I don't remember his exact words, but I will never forget his plea "You know," he commenced, “as a child, I remember literally begging my parents to quit smoking. I knew that if they didn't stop, it would lead to their death. Now, as I watch you bake yourself in the sun, I feel like that same helpless child, but this time it's not my parents, but my own daughter whom I beseech. I can't bear the thought of losing you to something that could have been prevented".
I could only imagine his pain, having lost his father at the age of 25, his mother when he was 35 (both due to a lifetime of smoking), and then just 5 years later, losing the love of his life, his soul mate...to cancer. I can only imagine his heartache, the utter letdown he must have experienced, as he walked back inside - defeated and unaccompanied - while I, in an attempt to even out my tan, rolled over to my stomach.

It started with a mole on my left hand. I don't remember always having the mole, and if I did, I had never noticed it before...something was definitely different about it now. It wasn't very big, but it did have varying colors, and an irregular border...two definite warning signs. For probably a year, I have been meaning to get in to get it checked out. However, for one reason or another, the days, weeks and months passed by without a doctor's visit...and not even so much as an appointment in the foreseeable future. It was one of those things that always nagged at me, much like hearing my father's words of warning; but also, like my father's words, the nagging never led to action...until recently. It was about two months ago. I was in the shower, and completely out of the blue, I received a prompting so strong it scared me. I felt impressed to put everything else in my life on hold (trying to get pregnant, etc), and focus on the one thing that was starting me in the face. My mole. I felt strongly that if I didn't act quickly, it would be too late. Without hesitation, I made an appointment to see the dermatologist. I was afraid of what might happen if I didn't. I had to wait 6 weeks for my appointment, but felt at peace knowing that I had finally - rather than ignore the issue - taken some action. I felt like the ball was out of my court, and all I could do now, was wait. The day finally arrived, and after taking one glance at my mole, the doctor informed me that it would indeed need to be sent in for a biopsy. The mole was removed, and I was on my way...feeling relived, but at the same time slightly uneasy. I had secretly hoped that after looking it over, he would have said something to the effect of, "Well, I'm glad you came in, you never can be too careful...but this mole is perfectly normal. We'll see you again in a year and a half." He did tell me that he was very glad that I came in, but the way it was conveyed, the seriousness in his tone, left me walking away feeling nervous and uneasy. It took over a week and a half to get the results back from the lab. It was hard to concentrate on much else during the 11 days of waiting, but the day finally came. When I saw the doctor's name and number on my caller id, my heart skipped a beat. My shaky hand reluctantly yet anxiously, reached for the receiver, and in a quiver I said "hello?”
"Hello, is this Nicole"?
"Yes, it is".
“Nicole, this is _________ from Dr.__________'s office. I'm just calling to let you know that we did receive the pathology report from your biopsy, and it is in fact, malignant melanoma."
I really didn't hear much after the word melanoma wait isn't that the deadliest form of skin cancer? From the bits and pieces I did catch, I was able to formulate that the melanoma was detected in one of it's earliest stages, and to expect a high cure rate. The nurse gave me the number to a Mohs' surgeon, and told me to wait two days to call for an appointment.
Although I pretty much expected that result, I guess I wasn't really prepared to actually hear that I have cancer - the very culprit (in a different form) that took my own mother away from me. To know that such a vicious disease had invaded my body, or even just a part of my body, was a horribly unpleasant feeling.
Amidst the letdown, a feeling of peace ambushed me. I hung up the phone and burst into tears...but these were not tears of fear, or defeat, they were not tears of hopelessness or despair...they were tears of gratitude, tears of love and appreciation for my Heavenly Father. A Father who despite my weaknesses, despite my disobedience and lack of cognizance to his pleas and warnings, sent me something so powerful, that I for one could not ignore. I fell to my knees and thanked Him for His love. I thanked Him for his warning. I thanked Him for not giving up on me. I don't feel like it's my time to go. I feel like He still has work for me to accomplish on this earth. I like to think that, at least for the time being, He needs me here, not there. Maybe I have lives to touch; perhaps there are people who will touch me. My children need me, my husband needs me, and even more importantly, I need them. I'm grateful that I finally listened, that I stopped ignoring, that I took action, and that because the cancer is in it's earliest stages, it's very hopeful that I will be cured...completely.
My thoughts drift back to that hot summer day, in the back yard with my father. Although I don't remember the exact words he spoke, I can still hear the supplication in his voice...the desperation in his eyes.
I often wonder why I didn't listen to him that day. Oh I heard what he said. His words reached my heart, they moved me alright...so much in fact, that I've never forgotten that encounter. But why wasn’t I moved to action? I can't count the number of times I've laid out in the sun since that day...always my father's desperate words ringing in my ears. I wonder why we sometimes have to be so stubborn. Do we really think we know what's best for us? When those who are older, and wiser, and who have much more experience, are trying to warn us of danger up ahead...why do we choose to disregard their warning pleas? Do we somtimes think we are the exception? Do we think it can't or won't ever happen to us? Do we think that we're stronger than that? Or that we will continue to be protected and watched over, when we continue to make unwise choices? When we hear of other's sad stories...the tragedies that could have so easily been prevented...why isn't that enough? Why do we insist on finding out for ourselves...the hard way? Why are we so often wrapped up in the now, that we fail to contemplate the lasting effects...how might this - my choice, my action now - affect my family, myself, and my future?

This whole experience has truly humbled me to the dust. It's sad that it took a giant scare for me to finally change my attitude about the sun. You will no longer find me spending hours lying out by the pool, or in the back yard. No more telling my husband that I have sunscreen on, when really it's suntan oil with a sun protection factor of 6. This experience has caused me to take a step back, to reevaluate my life and my priorities. Having a tan is not more important than being a mom, and a wife, and a daughter, and a sister. It is not more important than being able to live and to breathe. Nothing is worth sacrificing the precious gift of life that I've been given...the opportunities to grow, and learn, and laugh, and love.
My hope now, is that I still have time to make a change…that the Lord will give me the second chance that I’ve been hoping and wishing for...that my story might bless someone else, and maybe even inspire another life or two.
If perhaps this is the case, it would make it all worthwhile.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

pete and the whole pan bunch...

We seriously had the best Halloween ever. I thought for sure we'd be jinxed with bad weather (turns out this week's cold spell was short lived...we were lucky to enjoy 80 degree temperatures for the day) or the swine flu (Asher's been over it for at least a week, and how blessed the rest of us were/are, to have avoided catching it from him)...seeing how we've been planning, talking about, and envisioning this day for, well...only about 365 days. We came up with our plan months and months ago. We started thrift shopping for costume pieces back in July, and I officially started sewing and putting everything together in August. I finally put the final touches on my Wendy costume the first weekend in October...and that was the very last costume. So, needless to say, we were getting pretty excited as the weeks and days of Halloween approached us. I love that it fell on a Saturday this year. It was nice to have John home to help me put everything together, and get everyone dressed and ready. Ruby, of course, took the whole thing very seriously. As we were getting ready, I would tell her to do something, and she would reply, "yes, Wendy". And then if I slipped and accidentally called her Ruby, she would correct me with, "Ummm, my name is Tinkerbell!" We were a little too excited, and ended up being all ready by 3:00. No worries though, the night was young...we had places to go and people to see. First stop, the home of our dear friends, George and Ruby. We always love spending time with them. We adore them, and our kids adore them...and I like to think that they adore us, too. They had some fun little goodies and gifts for our kids, and we enjoyed visiting with them and taking pictures of them with our kids. Next stop, Aunt Julie's. Ruby was in heaven as aunt Julie beautified and adorned her face with green eyeshadow, lots and lots of glitter, and glue on earrings. She was the prettiest Tinkerbell I have ever seen.
We then had a great time in the company of many of our friends and community members at the annual trunk-or-treat party. It's my favorite thing to walk around and see every one's costumes...and of course, to show off ours as well. We ate some yummy chili, mingled with our friends, played some carnival type games, and got lots (but not too much) candy. The night wouldn't have been complete without stopping in to see Grandpa Jerry and Cheryl. They've recently re-landscaped their backyard...which was nothing short of neverland itself. After walking along the bridge to the tiki hut and looking for fish in the pond, we were off to make the final stop of the night...Aunt Lori's! It's tradition every year to end up at Aunt Lori and Uncle Joe's house. It's fun to get all the cousins together, take some pictures, and just be able to unwind. By the end of the night, I was completely exhausted...but somehow still managed to lie awake conceiving, envisioning, and fantasizing over our costumes for next year...