We completed our first 1/2 marathon, the Nationwide Children’s, in October 2015. Sara, Kelly, Nicole and I trained for a little over two months for our first race. We took on the challenge with an excited eagerness but were completely naive to all it would entail. The race was fun. It was grueling. We bonded. And, once we crossed the finish line and had our beers and burgers, we agreed to never do it again.
It only took a few weeks for me to decide I was in for another race. This time, Nicole and I trained and raced in five more 1/2 marathons over the next year and a half. We raced in Arizona, in the various seasons in Columbus and again in the Children’s 1/2 marathon. Each race was easier, we felt better, we finished faster and we always celebrated with a drink and a meal. We learned a lot about ourselves as racing in a 1/2 marathon is no joke. It’s hard and you can’t fake it. Training is a must and you have to be relentlessly disciplined with it. Most importantly, the training is not limited to just physical preparedness; you must prepare and be equally as strong mentally. The races start with a bang, huge crowds, loud music and a high level of adrenaline. By mile 9, the crowds have thinned, the music is sparse and you hit a wall. You’re tired, your knees and feet hurt and miles 9 through 11 seem like ten miles, not three. This is where your confidence and mental strength make you believe, once again, that you really can make it and, somehow, you make it to mile 13.
Results and Treatment
My oncologist called on a Wednesday afternoon in June with my results from the surgery. They had successfully removed the entire tumor from my tongue, underneath my tongue and the back of my mouth. The tumor was 2 inches in size in my tongue alone and had grown into my nerves, hence the pain in my jaw and the headaches. They removed all 54 lymph nodes in my neck and all, but one, tested negative for cancer. The one lymph node with cancer had remained intact and was located very close to my jaw line. This meant the cancer had not broken out of that node (which significantly lowers the chance of it spreading via the lymphatic system) and the location meant the cancer is less likely to spread to my chest. They estimate I had the cancer in my tongue for 8 months….. 8 months. My primary oncologist was pleased with the results. However, the tumor was in a growth phase which put me in a medium risk profile and meant chemo and radiation.
Treatment started on July 5th and I’ve come to realize there are many similarities between cancer and racing in a 1/2 marathon. My race, this time, is all about the treatment and not pounding the pavement. Radiation treatment is everyday at 10 AM with a total of 33 sessions. I spend hours each week at The James for daily radiation sessions, check ups, physical therapy, speech therapy and more. Chemo is scheduled every three weeks, with a total of three rounds, and takes six hours per round. Food has no taste now, my throat is sore from the radiation treatments and I’m napping everyday. I struggle with my weight and there are constant conversations about a feeding tube if I can’t get bring my weight back to a healthy level. But, you know what, we’ve got this. Its mile 9 of the 1/2 marathon. With my feet taking one step at a time, my mind focused and pushing to finish this treatment, we’re racing towards the treatment finish line. Everything happens for a reason and the 1/2 marathons prepared me for this.
Finishing the race
It took two days for me to summon the courage and tell Marley about my cancer diagnosis back in late May. I sat down with her that afternoon when it was just the two of us. I hadn’t prepared what I was going to tell her and the words ‘cancer and surgery’ just fell out of my mouth. Her response was immediate, “that means you’re going to die”. In turn, my response was immediate, “I’m not going to let that happen”.
I’ve thought about that moment frequently over the past two months. We all know what my response meant to her and we all know I can’t predict the future nor do I have control over cancer. Despite this, I believe what I told her. Dave, Marley and Ellie believe. My mom, dad and sister believe. Sara, Kelly and Nicole believe. And, so do you. We will cross the StephanieStrong 1/2 marathon finish line on August 18th and my treatment will be complete. Once crossed, the healing will begin, I’ll learn how to eat again and we will figure out the new ‘normal’ for me and our home. This is a race worth running with all of you. And, as soon as I can taste food, I will eat a bacon cheeseburger with a large beer and a huge smile.
With much love,