Walking For My Life

Cancer changes so much about who we are, not just the physical, but the emotional and mental as well. This post explores letting go of who we were before cancer and embracing a new self along the cancer journey.

I bought a new pair of tennis shoes today.

Some snazzy bright shoes with a funky zig-zag sole. A new pair of tennis shoes may not seem like a lot along the cancer journey, but they're a symbol to me of my past 18 months, and especially how far I've come in the past two months. I am a runner, or was a runner, until I was diagnosed with cancer. I ran my first half-marathon right before I was diagnosed. I was running about three miles per day up until the day before the surgery that found my cancer. I ran some after starting chemo, determined to not let cancer keep me down. But treatment left me with an exhaustion I'd never experienced so I stopped exercising.

I completed treatment the beginning of 2012 and returned to running. It was sometimes more walking than running, but it felt good to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement...

Then, boom, hit with cancer again.

Another round of radiation, another round of exhaustion. Upon completion, I went back to walking/running, but I was pushing too fast to get back to normal and just wore out my body. I needed to give my body a break. I'd walk some, but I was frustrated that I couldn't run like I could before, so I gave up.

Then, hit with cancer again.

I knew what this third diagnosis meant: stem cell transplant. The high dose chemo, the transplant, the medication left me beyond sick. It was an illness that you really can't prepare for. I was encouraged to walk every day to keep my lungs clear, but I couldn't walk five steps to the bathroom without wanting to pass out.

My legs were so deconditioned from lack of exercise and movement that standing for one minute made my legs wobbly so my oncologist encouraged me to get moving to build my strength. It seemed impossible at first. My legs were so weak and I had zero energy. I walked one day for six minutes before wanting to pass out. My goal is to walk 10 minutes most days of the week. I walk the same route that takes exactly 10 minutes and is close to my house so I can get home quickly if needed.

I'm just thankful to be here, to walk.

For the first time, I’m truly in the moment with my walking. I'm not trying to go faster, go farther. I'm o.k. with not running because I'm just thankful to be here, to walk. I remind myself that I'm not even 100 days old and those 10-minute baby steps are a major accomplishment. So, I bought new tennis shoes. I believe that sometimes buying something new is the best motivator. Sure, I have perfectly good running shoes, but I wanted to cut the shoelace from the running shoes to who I used to be: a runner. I'm finally out of my head and not thinking about who I used to be, and am now in the moment of who I am- a not yet 100-day old who's happy just to have the ability to lace up her shoes and go for a 10 minute walk.

See, when I ran, it wasn't really about me, it was about something extrinsic motivating me: losing weight, going farther, getting faster. Now, my walks are for me, for my body. These walks are for something more than extrinsic factors, they're for my life.

How have you let go who you were before cancer, and embraced a new self?