Last night I had the honor of being the speaker at our High School’s Relay for Life Kick Off event. Our high school and many organizations in town have been participating in Relay for Life since 2009 and have raise over $1.5 million for the American Cancer Society.
This is what I shared…
When I was a kid, my favorite Aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. She lived for 2 years and died the year I turned 10. That was 1975. In lieu of flowers we asked for donations to the American Cancer Society and thus began what became my family’s long support of the organization. In the 43 years since my aunt’s death, cancer has become treatable and survivable.
I am personally thankful for that. I was diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer – invasive meaning that it already moved beyond the original cell and there was danger that it spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body. In my case it didn’t. After surgery and 4 weeks of radiation, I have had no evidence of disease since 2014.
Before I was a cancer survivor, I was the CEO of a small non-profit cancer organization called Gilda’s Club – it’s name sake is Gilda Radner from the original cast of Saturday Night Live. When she was living with ovarian cancer, she had a vision of a club where people living with any type of cancer as well as their family and friends could come for social and emotional support. In my time there I met some amazing people. And time and time again, I met people who told me that their cancer was a gift. I didn’t truly understand that until I went through my own cancer experience.
First of all, being face-to-face with a life-threatening illness, helps you appreciate the little things in life – like sunrises and sunsets. And you prioritize things better, how you’re spending your time and who you’e spending it with.
There are also four things I learned from my cancer experience that I would like to share with you, because they can be applied to life in general:
- Don’t under estimate the importance of regular maintenance.
Whether we’re talking about your body, mind or your car…taking the time to care for it and fix minor problems before they become big problems will save you a lot of time, effort and money…and maybe even your life. My cancer was found at an annual routine doctor’s appointment. Pay attention to all the recommended tests and check-ups for someone your age…and don’t let your car go too long without an oil change or needed tune-up.
- Trust your gut and be true to yourself.
When I was first diagnosed, I went straight to the internet…and found a lot of things that scared the heck out of me. So I signed up for a marathon instead. Because that’s who I am and that’s the most life-affirming thing I felt I could do at the time. I also didn’t “click” with the first surgeon I saw; I didn’t like what he was telling me, so I went to another one. I opted for a lumpectomy over a mastectomy, and went with just radiation and not chemotherapy. That might not be the right thing for everyone, but that’s what felt right to me. So develop your intuition and use it. Don’t let other people tell you what to do. Trust yourself.
- Don’t worry so much about staying positive and happy, but rather staying connected and engaged.
Too often we are told we should be happy and positive. We’ve all been disappointed. We know how badly that can make us feel. Some of us know how scary it can be to be told we have cancer. Some of us live with the loss of loved ones. Its impossible to be happy and positive all the time when bad things happen. That’s okay. As it turns out (and there was a terrific Ted Talk about this), the secret to a long life is not about being positive and happy. It’s about our social connections.
So just by being here, participating in Relay for Life with your family, friends, and classmates; supporting a great cause like the American Cancer Society, you are already engaged. Stay that way.
- Finally, we are all more capable and stronger than we ever imagined.
Five weeks after my cancer diagnosis – 10 days before my surgery – 2 weeks before my 49th Birthday – I ran the NJ Marathon. It was my fourth marathon, but my first in 9 years – and my fastest! Six months later, after taking time off to recover from the surgery and radiation, I ran my 31st – and fastest – Half Marathon. When I was in High School (35 years ago!), I couldn’t run the mile…and cancer was typically a death sentence.
All the work of the American Cancer Society – and supporters like you – has made a difference and has allowed people like me to do more than survive. Thank you.
I am looking forward to participating in Relay for Life on June 1-2. While I have donated to some of the participants over the years, this is my first time doing it myself. If you want to support me, click here.
This week in Marathon Training
There are occasionally days like Sunday. In running and in life, there are days when for what ever reason we can’t pull it all together. You just need to find the lesson in it and you let it go. Move on. Saturday I felt great. The pace was faster than my normal conversational pace, but felt easy. Sunday was a disaster. Stuggled last 5 or 6 miles. Feeling pain in my hamstrings, quads, hips and I just couldn’t move. Poor nutrition and lack of rest in the previous 24 to 48 hours was to blame. Lesson learned. Need to be more conscious as I move through training.