“There are no symptoms to age.
If I can dodge the mirror in the morning,
I’m an 18-year-old.”
— the prophet sheehan
In my head I’m running a marathon, and I’m about to go full-out Lance Armstrong.
If a chemo marathon is like a real 26.2188 mile race (and nothing in my brochure indicates it is not), I’m somewhere around mile 8. It’s that point where you haven’t quite settled in — caught between the naive, carefree early miles of the race and the knowledge in the back of your cabeza that it’s only a matter of time before things turn ugly. And so I shuffle along. Relentless forward progress, the prophet Powell said. Bathroom stops sold separately.
It feels familiar. In the early stages, it’s impossible to say how the race will turn out. You can only chase after the mile markers, enjoy the scenery, wave at the people. You have no idea at mile 8 whether a PR or a DNF is at the end of the road that stretches out farther than you can see, if you dare to look.
All you can do is run and try to pace yourself. And hope.
A helium balloon floats in the distance in the skies near the mountains as I pass the hours in my little home away from home at Mayo, determined not to look at the watch. The balloon is the chemo version of some old guy ’70s band along the race course, banging out “Can’t Get Enough of Your love” for the millionth time after 45 years, give or take a chorus. The nurse offers a water bottle at your little chairside aid station; the port-a-pot is just off the course. Drifting along on Benadryl, the chemical substitute for endorphins, focused on turning back the clock, cheating the inevitable for one more good race. Please. Just one more.
Dr. Sheehan was right. I’m still an 18-year-old who refuses to come to terms with aging. I go out each day thinking maybe THIS will be the day where running will return, the miles reduced to a blur, my inner Cassidy springing forth to by God, let my demons loose and just wail on. Aging is just a state of mind, right? I have the mind of a fictional runner at a Southeastern university based on the University of Florida before questioning the dress code. I am flying.
Then I look down at my Garmin. 1 mile in 22 minutes and change, a heart rate average that indicates I was pushing the pace nonetheless, an exhaustion that defies the meager distance, a Vo2 max that’s sinking faster than Ted Cruz’s presidential hopes. I walked 1 mile and Garmin says I need 30 hours to recover. Garmin has a twisted sense of humor.
I wonder what the point is.
And then I look around. My best friend is sitting next to me in her battered Hokas on the park bench as we watch the dying embers of a magnificent sunset. Boombox Stingray Guy cruises by at 80 decibels. The world’s cutest dog eyes us, just making sure we are aware he is the world’s cutest dog. We are, indeed.
The tests today showed that I’m out of blood, which apparently is a bad thing, so I get my first transfusion tomorrow. This is along with chemo, which comes with a dose of steroids, so I’m basically destined to become Floyd Landis without the goofy mustache. Oh, wait. I also have a goofy mustache. Never mind. Think positive. A Positive, to be exact.
Tomorrow night, after the smoke settles and the fog begins to clear out of my brain, I’ll re-create the Tour de France at the bird park, drugged to the gills while screaming “DOPA! DOPA! DOPA!” at myself as I set out for my daily mile. If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying, Fozzie Bear told Kermit in his natural habitat, a Studebaker. Never doubt Fozzie Bear. Hmm. Maybe I’ll change DOPA DOPA DOPA to WOKKA WOKKA WOKKA.
There are no symptoms to age. Just dodge the mirror. And maybe stop looking at the damn Garmin.
Never once did I set out to win a marathon. Only to finish in whatever manner the running gods had in store for me. That’s my plan with this marathon.
Is there a heaven for balloons? the prophet Williams asked. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just a one-third mile loop around a pond where the birds hang out. Close enough.
Here’s to life, Roger. Vive Le Bird Park Tour de France. Livestrong.
Mostly, here’s to the next mile. Wail on.