The manager of the company where I worked came back after his treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I passed him in the hallway. He was pale and bald. I looked away not knowing what to say. In my peripheral vision I noticed he was staring at me. I mumbled hello and walked to my desk wondering what would it be like to come back after such a diagnosis. What would it be like to live the rest of my life with that threat in the back of my mind?
I didn’t have to wonder very long. Three months later I, too, was diagnosed with non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Then I knew, first hand, the uncertainty and fear, and also what it felt like to have people look away.
I was fairly young, and athletic and “healthy,” and the diagnosis felt like a slap in the face. The doctor who gave me the news advised me to get ready to fight a war. “Gather your allies, get your best ammunition, and learn about your enemy.”
I followed his advice. A firm believer in the power of prayer, I surrounded myself with people who would pray for me--my allies. My best ammunition came from one of the top hospitals for cancer treatment, Memorial Sloan Kettering, but learning about the enemy remained unchecked on my to-do list. When I visited the lymphoma website, my eyes focused on the life span given after diagnosis: 11 years.
I never looked at that site again.
What helped me was the people who came out of nowhere to tell me they knew someone who had successfully gone through the journey. Fathers, brothers, best friends, these personal stories filled me with hope and made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could be one of the survivors.
I like to believe that Celebrate Life Half Marathon does for others what those friends did for me. That when we give someone a check out of the proceeds of the race, it is with the hope, the smile, the hug that conveys the message that they, too, can make it. That one day they will celebrate life again.
CLHM has become more than a race. It is solidarity of spirit. When the gun goes off and everyone runs up the hill on Lake Louise Marie Road and passes the Motivational Mile-- a stretch of names of people who have faced cancer-- they are running not a race, they are running in unity and mutual support for those who are fighting and they are remembering those who left.
Another piece of advice the doctor gave me: “Don’t ever stop having that glass of wine, and never stop running. This enemy must be fought with passion. Without it, it will take over.” On March 12, volunteers, sponsors, and participants will bring that passion to Rock Hill, New York, for the 14th annual Celebrate Life Half Marathon.
Run on--and don’t forget the wine! Cheers!