This past Sunday, I ran 13.1 freaking miles in the 2014 Dick's Sporting Goods Marathon, aka my very first half marathon -- 13.1 freaking miles. With the exception of water and/or nutrition stops, I didn't stop to walk. While I didn't reach my goal time of 2 hours and 10 minutes (I crossed the finish line at 2 hours and 27 minutes), I finished the race -- the ultimate goal.
When I signed up for Fleet Feet's Essential of Long Distance running last fall, I had only been running for four months. A friend encouraged me to sign up for Fleet Feet's Marathon training program, and my initial response was, "Bahaha, you are crazy. I can't run a half marathon." After some more convincing from my friend and soul searching on my part ("A half marathon? Really? I haven't even run a 10k race!"), I decided to just go for it.
Sure, during these winter months from hell, I did regret my decision from time to time. It was hard to feel excited about running 100 percent of the time when all I saw was snow, ice, more snow, then snow... and so on. The weather got the best of me for a couple of the long runs, but overall, I made it to all the runs that I could. Running is fun when you're running with a group of friends. For the first time in my adult life, I was part of a team!
This time last year, I had just recovered from my tissue expander/exchange surgery. I was 10 pounds heavier and couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without feeling winded, but the real problem in my life was that lacked direction, stuck in "now what" limbo. I wasn't going through active treatment anymore, but I didn't know what to do next if I wasn't being Sick Lara or even how I could recover from all the crap done to me during breast cancer. Cancer changed my how my body looked and felt, and I hated it. The negative feelings I carried toward my own body, the body that just betrayed me, was exhausting. Something had to change.
Right now, I am in the best shape of my life, and I have never looked or felt like this, even before my cancer diagnosis. (Before my cancer diagnosis, my idea of exercise was walking my dog around my neighborhood.) I feel strong, and the hatred and self loathing I felt toward my body last summer is gone. While I am never going to look at my reconstructed chest and not feel some twinge of resentment toward them, I don't focus entirely on the negative. I see so much positive in this body of mine, the body that went through cancer treatment and just ran a half marathon, like definition in my legs, abdomen.
While I was undergoing active treatment, I always found it absurd to hear people say to me, "Oh, you're so strong. You're a fighter." Even though I know those sentiments came from a good place, the comments always struck me as odd since I had never felt so physically weak and just overall beat up. Like, seriously, who was I fighting and winning? (I used to joke to my boyfriend: "Next person who calls me a fighter, I will effin' fight them.") Cancer treatment puts the patient in a very passive role. I didn't do anything -- rather, treatment was done to me. I have realized that I'm not strong nor was I ever strong because I had cancer. I am now strong even though I had cancer.
During the last two miles of the race, I experienced actual flashbacks to my cancer treatment. I felt myself sitting in the chemo chair at Allegheny General Hospital. I could see the nurse's station, as well as the amazing chemo nurses walking around the station. As soon as I felt the familiar fear and anxiety, I snapped out of the flashback and pumped my legs and arms harder. Next, I felt like I was in the operating room before my initial lumpectomy, where I begged the nurses and techs to take good care of me. Then the cheers of the spectators cheers snapped me out of that familiar feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, and I would run even harder. It was like Runner Lara was running like hell away from Sick Lara, like I am finally able to put that period of life behind me but knowing damn well that it can always come back.
Nothing I can do will prevent breast cancer from ever coming back, either local or distant. The only power and control I have is what I do today, like putting on a pair of shoes and running. I ran the Pittsburgh Half to see if I could even do it, but it was also a big fuck you to cancer. I didn't "beat" cancer or won or anything like that. My cancer is in remission, but I can have these small victories to prove that my body is capable of amazing feats. Now this race done and in the (Lara) record books, it's time to move on. I'm definitely not Sick Lara anymore.
I am a runner.
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