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How I Learned Acceptance on the Berkeley Fire Trails

by Marcia Renée Goodman

Inspiration image

Standing in the specialty running store with my 25-year-old daugh­ter Dani and my childhood friend Felice, I am in good fitness company as we survey the options of running shoes laid out before us. Dani was an All-American athlete in college. Felice was the fastest runner in our elementary school. Both have kept in shape.

I, on the other hand, have slacked off in the fitness department over the last several years of cancer treatments. My knees ache, I have neuropathy in my feet, and cancer-related fatigue is a constant presence.

But on this morning, I’ve decided to gear up and hit the fire trails. It is springtime in Northern California, after a long winter, and I am learning to live with ongoing maintenance chemotherapy for recurrent ovarian cancer. I’m not feeling great on this particular day because of a recent chemo treatment, but I’m happy to be out in Berkeley with two dear ones.

After an indulgent hour of trying on this and that brand, we walk back to my house, each of us carrying a bag with bright new running shoes in neon trim colors. By the time we walk the half-mile home, all I can do is sit on the sofa. So Dani and Felice run the hilly fire trails of Berkeley without me.

My friends often remind me that none of us is young anymore; all of our bodies have lost something.

I feel sorry for myself at first, and then I rally and set to work grading essays. I find a sense of peace and pur­pose sitting there evaluating my students’ efforts as the afternoon drops around me.

The next day, my daughter and friend go out again to run the trails together. I am still not up for it. A feeling of loss and longing washes over me as I think about my younger, pre-cancer body and the reality sinks in that I likely will never be off treatment. I push those thoughts aside and get back to grading. Again, I am soothed by the feel of papers and words in my hands, by the struggles of my students, and by the light streaming in through the window.

By the following week, I am feeling better. Felice has returned home to the East Coast, so I hit the fire trails with Dani. We walk together and then jog a bit before she takes off to run at her own pace without me slowing her down.

The next day, I’m out there alone, interval jogging: jog, walk, jog, walk. And the day after that, I am back again. Then the next day, and the next, until I realize I am continually jogging. Very slowly, but I am actually keeping pace.

I am flooded with memories of being 23 years old and running through Golden Gate Park, of playing softball, tennis, and volleyball. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I was ever that fit.

My friends often remind me that none of us is young anymore; all of our bodies have lost something – whether to cancer or just aging. None of us can do what we used to. I find comfort knowing that I’m not alone in this. I am getting older, after all – it’s not just cancer treatment slowing me down. And getting older is the thing I’ve wanted most since my diagnosis 17 years ago.

But it’s not always easy to accept the reality of growing older. Or the reality of cancer treatments that will never end. Like many who are strug­gling with loss, sadness, or fear, when these things keep me awake at night, I try to think about what I have to look forward to the next day, what I can be grateful for. I try to relax and just be.

Lately, amazingly, I’ve been on a chemotherapy break, the first extended chemo break I’ve had in several years. Slowly, my body has been coming back to me. The neuropathy has lessened some, the fatigue is much milder, and my appetite is almost completely re­stored. My hair is back to some extent, though it is thinner, grayer, and more limp. I don’t know how long this break will last. The cancer will be back; it’s just a question of time.

I often wonder how others think about time, my great preoccupation since my diagnosis at age 43. Certainly, I’ve had more years than I once feared I would have. I’ve had a long, loving marriage and a deeply satisfying career; I’ve seen my children grow up. But I am not satisfied.

I often tell my doctor that he must keep me alive until I’m 70. That seems a fair age to me, the beginning of “being old.”

“Oh, but then you will say 80,” he tells me.

“Of course,” I answer. “Of course.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Marcia Renée Goodman is an ovarian cancer survivor living in Berkeley, CA.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2015.