Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Self-perception. Or a lack thereof...

Is it possible to recognize ourselves in the present tense? Can we ever be fully aware of life as it happens to us, cognizant of the changes every single experience forces into our psyches? I don't think so. Awareness is found in retrospect: looking back at major events and being able to acknowledge how we as individuals have changed with respect to the past. Hopefully we can say we have grown and become better people in the ensuing months or years, but it probably does not always happen that way. Sometimes people regress; sometimes people simply stagnate. They become complacent. Or they take where they have come from and stare it down and laugh. They laugh and run and bike and try hard to move on with their beautiful lives.

Five years ago I was a freshman in college with a dopey boyfriend who would break my heart over Christmas break. I was so young, so naive. I suppose we all are, though, as freshmen in college. We are allowed to be innocent and illegally drunk on Friday nights on very, very bad beer and even worse vodka-based questionable cocktails. Five years ago. What were you doing five years ago? Were you such a completely different person that you no longer recognize the shadow you once cast? One year later, finally a sophomore in college, I turned 20 and was ecstatic to officially no longer be a teenager. I celebrated with a couple close friends in my dorm room with a Godiva chocolate cheesecake and a bottle of Southern Comfort. My body was already being overtaken by cancer, but, of course, none of us knew that yet. We were all still cracking jokes about my need for more iron in my diet. That was only four years ago.

And then I was diagnosed with ALL, and I started treatment for it, and, as I wrote in my personal journal, "then they cut my legs off." Hospitals, clinics, drips, pills, catheters. No studying, no drinking, no biking, absolutely no running. No running... I lost weight; I lost my hair; I lost my identity on so many different levels. Medical waiting rooms became their own sort of void: It was a Dali dream world where time melted off the clocks and half-closed ears tried to pick out which bouncing announcement carried their own name so they could float over to a plastic recliner and watch as lines were strung up between their fleshly bodies and sacs of caustic fluids attached to even thinner metal bodies.

It was cancer; these were the treatments. And then it was over, but it wasn't quite over. Just about exactly two years ago, my doctors allowed that the growing pain in my face wasn't actually a sinus infection. The face-tumor! But that was two years ago. It feels like a lifetime ago. It feels like it all happened yesterday. That the vice-presidential debates were on my birthday four days ago as opposed to on my birthday two years and four days ago. So time, what, flows? Moves, progresses, doesn't ever stop doing something? "Time" passed, and I quickly grew up and looked back at what I had experienced and decided I was proud of the person I was becoming. I had gone through a hell of sorts and was living a much better, fuller life than I had pre-cancer.

Finally, one year ago, following a bit of an epiphany in Jackson, Wyoming, I started running again seriously. One year ago I promised myself that this next year, this year following my graduation from university, this year that I found myself without options and with little hope and living with my parents again, this year would lead me to the Chicago Marathon. At last - the denouement!

Changes in the present tense. Physically, I hadn't noticed my body morph into that of a semi-athlete's. And yet I look at myself in a mirror and am awed by the muscles I can actually see defined in my body. I have biceps?! What? When did that happen? Emotionally, I haven't really been thinking about this week every single day for the past year. The marathon itself is never far from my mind, but the reality - the actuality that here I am, three days removed from actually running this thing - that was never much a concern. And yet here I am, mentally freaking out, finally, because in three nights I will (ideally) just be getting ready for bed the night before running 26.2 miles. Running a marathon I honestly did not think was possible three, two, almost even one year ago.

Five years after my freshman idealism; four years after cancer; two years after face-tumor; and One Year after promising myself that I will do this. This is happening. My God; I am actually going to do this. Who knows what will happen on race day, on Sunday (will it seriously be 80 degrees...??). Perhaps my knee will decide, as has been its recent wont, to screw me and sideline me and crush me. Or maybe I will reach my physical and emotional breaking points and push through, push through all of the limitations I have allowed to fester over the past four years, the setbacks and letdowns and disappointments that I haven't fully been able to let go of. Run straight through and beyond and away from everything negative the past four years have brought me.

Like I said, who knows what will happen on race day. All I Do know is that I will be standing (or nervously hopping around) squished between 45,000 other runners near the start line when the gun goes off for the Chicago Marathon this Sunday, 10/10/10. I am 24 years old; I am a runner. I am a cancer survivor, and one day soon, I am going to break out of the little stagnant hole I have found myself in, and I am going to summit mountains. I am deliriously happy with who I am today. I love my life and the people in it without reservation, and I am scared out of my mind to run a marathon 84 hours from right now. But this is LIFE. This is me being Alive, and it amazes and frightens and overjoys me every single day, whether I consciously admit it or not; every single day I am beyond thankful to still be alive.

Thank you all so much for being here with me through this. I promise to update post-run. Possibly a few days post... Incidentally, my most recent scans (one month ago) were all clear. Haha. But really, I could not have gotten this far without your support. Thank you. Peace.