A few months back, I get a routine phone call from my mom. At least that’s what I thought when I fished the phone out of my pocket. But the words, “I’ve got breast cancer” take the routine out of your life. Oh, crap.
Now, with a few months’ hindsight, the worry that creeps in subsides. Clearly, they caught it early. Her doctors have done great. She fought well through the chemo, and now only has a few weeks of radiation left. From a distance of some 700 miles, I’ve had to size up her progress and emotional state over the phone. She’s been upbeat almost every time I’ve talked to her, which surprised me. In March, I finally made the trip to visit. It’s one thing to hold it together for a ten-minute phone conversation. But how was she really doing?
There she was, bald with a bandana, the same smart aleck with enough energy and enthusiasm to satisfy me. I never use the phrase, “my mom’s battling breast cancer.” There are no daggers for my mom to wield in this internal fight. I picture battling breast cancer as someone in a hospital quite literally struggling to stay alive. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they succumb. My mom ain’t succumbing. They caught it early and she’s kicking too much ass.
This whole ordeal (I’d rather use the word situation, but cancer is quite serious) has gotten me thinking about what you have to do, and what you don’t have to do. About the choices that sometimes you don’t have. And is there anything good I can contribute?
Last year, my wife ran a marathon. Friends and acquaintences would turn to me and ask if I ran too. “No, I only run when chased. And I usually know when to shut my mouth so that doesn’t have to happen.” That’s been my witty response since junior high, and I damn well mean it. I hate running. Side aches. That painful look you see when you pass someone running down the street. They’re not having fun; it’s clear. I like fun activities. They can push me physically; that’s both fine and dandy. But running’s just not for me.
So I decided I should run in the Race for the Cure. If my mom didn’t have the choice to fool with breast cancer, I should neglect myself of choice and do something that I strongly dislike. She’s certainly being chased down. In the process, I raise a little money and awareness for a good cause. But then I have to go and make it harder. On top of it, my uncle and I are shooting a documentary of my odd little ambition. Along with normal family life and a job, we’re trying to pack and move halfway across the country. It’s not at all convenient. Just like breast cancer.
At the start of our documentary days, I was convinced that the whole motivation for me to cross the finish line would be beer. I’d have one of my all-time favorites waiting there for me. But after my first lung-burning mile, I decided that was a foolish idea. I’d be ready for a beer an hour or so later, but not at the finish line.
Several weeks have elapsed, and I’m up to 3 miles. At the end, I don’t collapse. I grab some water, walk a couple of blocks and go about my day. A beer at the end sounds like a good idea again. It needs to be a special beer. Decisions, decisions.
My mom’s coming to visit this weekend. We’re having a little going-away party. It will be good to see her, and to have one last visual that confirms that she’s winning. The day after our party, my wife and kids depart. Two weeks later, I’ll load up the truck and do the same. But I have one last task. As timing would have it, the closing on our house is June 8. The Race is June 9. I have to stick around one whole day just to run that bloody race. How cancerously convenient.
So I’ll get up early that morning, run 5K, cross the finish line, and jump into the moving truck to drive my way to the next phase of life. I hope it’s as good as my mom’s is going to be.