When I had Hodgkin lymphoma in 2002, I promised myself that when I was healthy again, I would do something to make a difference for those suffering from cancers. One thing I have done, starting in 2005, was to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as a marathoner with their Team in Training Program. Having never even run a 5K before cancer, I have completed three marathons and one half-marathon since then, while raising over $40,000 for LLS. I plan on doing another event next year.
Even as a survivor, it doesn’t always come home every second of why I put myself through this. Memories of what it was like to have cancer can fade a bit over time. But then, while in Nashville this past April for the Country Music Half Marathon, I had this brief magical moment that immediately reminded me of why this is so important. It was the kind of instant that makes you want to smile and cry all at the same time. I cannot get this out of my mind, and decided to share it with the world.
I went to take a walk that afternoon from the team’s hotel down to the Cumberland River, get a bit more of the lay of the land in downtown Nashville. I was wearing a Team in Training shirt. As I rounded the corner by the convention center, two young women and two young girls passed me walking the other way. The girls were about six to eight, I would guess. I barely noticed any of them, given that I didn’t see them until I rounded the corner, and as quick as I walk we passed each other in less than 2 seconds. But then I heard one of the women speak to one of the girls: “Look! There’s one of the Leukemia Society people!” I turned my head – they were now about 25 feet behind me – and looked at them. She was talking to one of the little girls, who happened to be bald with just a hint of hair growing back. And in an instant it hit me – “My God! This young girl has leukemia!” I smiled at her and waved, and she gave me a shy, sweet smile back. Then we went on our separate ways.
For a second I thought that I would go back and chat with them, tell them that I am also a survivor and assure her that she will be, too. Then I felt like I might be intruding, and decided to keep on going. But as I walked along, choking back tears for a short time, I thought of her. I thought about her as I sat by the Cumberland River a little later. I thought of her during the Inspiration Dinner the next night, and again during the race the day after that. And at the Victory Party the night after the race. And of course since then, which is why I am writing this now. I know I will wonder about her for a long time. Will she ultimately survive? Will she graduate from high school and college? Fall in love? Get married? Have her own children and maybe grandchildren someday? Maybe do a marathon herself with Team in Training for LLS? Discover a cure for cancer someday or invent something that helps the world?
And I thought “This is why I do this.” Why I get up at 4AM and 4:30AM to run and walk miles alone in the dark before work. Why I give up Saturday mornings when sleeping in and then relaxing with a cup of tea might sometimes be easier. Why I train so long at times that I have to soak in a tub of ice water from the waist down. Why I am willing to run and walk 13.1 miles two days later in the heat, and 26.2 miles three times before. Why blisters and blackened and lost toenails are tolerable. Why I am willing to ask people, many whom I barely know, for donations over and over and over, until now and then one of them will email back and say “Take me off your mailing list.” And it is why my teammates, thousands of them at any given time around North America, 650 of us in Nashville that weekend alone, do all of these things, too.
It is so this young girl, and others like her, can have a future. Seven years ago, I received the gift of life when I survived a form of blood cancer that was treatable only because of much medical research and clinical trials. So to do what I can to help others have this same chance now and in the future feels like the least I can do.
Whoever you are, young Nashville girl with leukemia, I hope you survive. I hope you have a long, productive, healthy and happy life! And I am glad that our lives crossed for a brief, bittersweet instant that day.
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