My sister is amazing. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in September of 2011, had surgery in October, started chemo in November. She finished chemo in July of 2012, volunteered at the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults Half-Full triathlon in October, the anniversary weekend of her surgery, and then immediately following the race, she announced that she would be participating in the triathlon next year and asked me if I would do it with her. I, of course, said yes, and we signed up in this past January. In the meantime, Charlotte also registered for the Cancer to 5K race in DC and joined the Ulman running group with other cancer survivors. She and I both started our training in April. I thought I was going to die the first time I went out to run. I ran one minute and walked two minutes and did this for 15 minutes. I ran all of 5 minutes that day. Then I went home and puked. Well, okay, I didn’t really puke but I wanted to. How pathetic was I? Meanwhile, Charlotte starts running with her group and the first day, someone in the group asks her if she has ever run before. Charlotte says, no, this is her first time. She was just a natural. 😉
So Charlotte keeps running and running and running and she soon discovers that she 1. LOVES to run and 2. Is really good at it. By June, she is ready to race. The Cancer to 5k has nothing on her. She kills it in 24:51, crying during the run, crying after the run. She’s awesome.
Then about a week later, she and I run the 5K Baltimore Women’s Classic, and she smokes it again. I am running next to her, and I can’t believe that I cannot hear her breathing. She is running at a good 7:30/8:00 minute mile, and I am working my damnedest to keep up with her. She looks over at me at one point and asks me if I am okay. I nod back because I am too busy trying to breathe. She is smiles and tells me I am doing great.
We are nearing the finish line and she yells, “Okay Emmy! Let’s punch it! Come on!” I am like, punch it? Are you crazy? This is the first race I have run in 6 years. I can’t punch it. She sprints ahead of me and crosses the finish line. I run over it about 5 seconds later. She is standing over me as I throw my hands on my thighs and bend over, so relieved that I made it. We throw our arms around each other and cry. She is so happy to have her body back. She is so happy to be able to run when a year ago she could barely walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. There were days when she could not get out of bed. There were many, many days where she could only lie on the couch.
Now she is running races and sprinting over finish lines.
What a difference a year makes. “It’s so good to have my body back,” she tells me.
About a week later, she calls me, freaking out a little bit. She has just started her swimming training with Team Fight and they were discussing the triathlon that we have signed up for in October. “I don’t think I really knew what we were signing up for,” she says to me over the phone. Riiiight. I tell her “Oh, I knew what we had signed up for and I knew that my ass needed to train for this, not “wing” it as you said you were going to do about two months ago.” She is now in a panic. “How do I train for this with a 5 year old and a 2 year old and a husband with Lyme disease?” she asks. “You don’t,” I replied. “What about a relay?” she asks me. I am up for anything I tell her. So we ask one of my clients who is a swimmer if she will join our team. Michele says yes which lets me off the hook with the running. Whoo-hoo! I am more than happy to bike 32 miles. Running 6.5 miles will be a piece of cake for Charlotte. So we settle on the relay format and all is well.
About three weeks ago, two weeks after the Baltimore Women’s Classic, Charlotte calls me and tells me that her blood work came back and her colon cancer markers are really high, higher than normal. Too high. Her doctor wants her to get a CT scan. My mom is freaking out but we stay positive because Charlotte looks unbelievable and she feels amazing. “The best I have felt in such a long time!” she exclaims to me. She goes for her scan on a Monday and is told not to expect the results until Friday. The doctor’s office calls her that Monday afternoon. “Your results are back. We need you to come in tomorrow.”
The next day, I get a call from my mother. The news is not good. The cancer has spread to Charlotte’s lungs and her lymph nodes near her spine. She has to get a PET scan on Wednesday to confirm that it is indeed cancer. She may need chemotherapy all over again. I break down. My mother is crying on the phone. I am crying. I get off the phone, and I completely fall apart. I hardly cried the entire time Charlotte was going through this last year and now, I cannot stop crying. We were past this. We were over this. We had beaten it. Right? This is not happening, I tell myself. This is not happening. This is not supposed to happen again. All I could think about was what she had gone through last year and where she is now. Running. Training. Happy. Healthy. Excited for her upcoming races. I send her a text because I cannot talk, and I don’t want to upset her with my crying. I tell her I love her and I that I am here for her. We go back and forth and she says to me “I think it is more upsetting now because we know what to expect. But here is the big difference this time – I am stronger physically because of you. I can do this!”
She goes for her scan on Wednesday. My mother calls me that night. The cancer has indeed spread even more than initially thought- but luckily not to any of the major organs. She is going to need chemotherapy again. A biopsy a few days later definitively confirms that it is colon cancer. Her doctor believes he can get it into remission so she will live with this the rest of her life. I break down again. Sobbing. How is this happening? I cry and cry and cry. Charlotte calls me that night to check in. She sounds great. She sounds in control. Confident. She is prepared.
Thursday, Charlotte shows up for my 10 am Strength Class with Eleanor, my niece. Charlotte looks fantastic. We hug each other for a very a long time. Then she warms up and goes through her whole program -squatting, rowing, pressing. Carrying kettlebells. She is healthy. She is strong. She feels great. And she plans on doing as much as she can until she can’t. That’s for damn sure.
Charlotte is still planning on competing in the Ulman Half Full Triathlon in October. The game plan has changed….again. Michele will still swim. Ricky, my brother-in-law, is recovering from his Lyme disease and is feeling fantastic so he has decided to join us in the race and bike. This leaves Charlotte and I with the running portion of the race. She is determined to do it, even if she has to walk. I will be her sherpa. I will see her to the end. In her recent email to me about the race, she said “Ha! how many times can this change??? Although, I think we have it now. I really hope that I will be running/ walking with you for that 6.5 miles so that we can be together- but if not, I know you will kill it!!!!” She will be there, no matter what.
I once said that my sister was stronger than I am. And I still stand by that statement. As Charlotte said, “Emmy, I am taking this one day at a time.” One day at a time. And you know, she’s right.
Shop to fight breast cancer and support mammograms for women in need against breast cancer. Support causes you care about while you shop for unique gifts from jewelry and clothing to household products and gifts in a wide variety of products that benefit our planet, people and animals