Running Through It: Adrienne + Childhood Cancer

childhood cancer
Adrienne's kiddos, cheering her on during a 2012 half-marathon.

[[This is the second in our Running Through It series; today, we hear from #motherrunner Adrienne Linberg and her daughter's childhood cancer. Read the first in the series: how Tamara ran through workplace harassment.]]

We got the call late in the evening on September 18th, 2011. The latest round of chemotherapy didn't work. We needed to pack up and drive approximately 150 miles from our home in Duluth, MN to Minnesota Children's Hospital in Minneapolis to start the next course of treatment by 8 the next morning.

We had learned just a little over a month earlier, that instead of starting 1st grade, our 6-year-old daughter, Annika, would be starting treatment for relapsed leukemia. The only hope for a long-term cure was a bone marrow transplant.

We packed in a hurry that night. I packed for our 15-month-old, Katherine and myself, while my husband packed the car. We didn't know how long we would be gone—or if we'd be all together when we came back.

Annika packed her own bag, but of course, I always checked just to make sure she didn't forget anything critical, like a toothbrush or socks.

Normally I would find a good mix of clothes and the most important toys of the day. But when I checked her bag bound for the hospital, mixed among her clothes, I found a few little treasures. A porcelain little angel, her newest American Girl Doll. I also found her new box of brightly colored 48 Crayola crayons. This was her first BIG box, she'd gotten when we went Back to School shopping. Before we knew she wouldn't be going back to school.

childhood cancer
The promise of a vivid life in 48 colors.

As a child, I specifically remember my excitement about getting a brand new box of crayons. The distinct, waxy smell, the uniformity of the tips, the repetition of the size of each crayon neatly forming rows in the box.

How could one little box hold so much excitement and creativity?

Seeing those crayons wedged in with all her other chosen items—the ones she decided she needed for this battle, the battle for her life—represented such a powerful juxtaposition of the innocent, childish, joyful, bright little girl and the evil, dark, colorless, malevolent cancer she was fighting.

48 colorful little soldiers, sharp and at the ready joined her rank and file to battle the threat of a colorless future.

For six months we lived in the Ronald McDonald house on Oak Street in Minneapolis. We left behind everything. At the lowest point in this journey, we spent 56 consecutive days in the hospital, watching as the oncologists skillfully brought Annika within an inch of death. She endured high-dose chemotherapy, full body radiation and the horrible pain and side effects.

childhood cancer
11/11/11 = hope always. Miss A gets her transplant, while little K (donor) watches and we all HOPE. [Photo credit: Jim Bovin]
We watched. We comforted. We read the entire anthology of Pippi Longstocking. We waited. We prayed. We cried. We hoped. We hoped that one day this would all be a part of the distant past. We kept putting one foot in front of the other.

In the hospital, between bouts Annika's bouts of nausea and diarrhea or when she was resting I would think about running. Mostly just think: During her treatment, I would sneak out for a short run to blow off some stress, but the miles were pretty few and far between.

Earlier in the year I had joined a group of women runners. We'd meet early mornings and run for a few miles before starting our days. These runs were such peaceful time and I longed to have that freedom again.

I fantasized about training for and running the Garry Bjorklund half marathon in Duluth the following June. I fantasized about putting some literal and figurative distance between me and my current reality.

I wanted to pound out months of pain, stress, frustration and anxiety during training runs on the snowy shores of the Great Lake Superior. If all went well, we could be home in spring in time to start training and running again in earnest.

100 days after her transplant, Annika was doing well enough to move home. It was mid February 2012, just in time to start training for the half marathon.

childhood cancer
Adrienne getting her legs back, half-marathon style.

During this cancer journey, we were supported by hundreds of friends and family members. And the community of Duluth came out to support us in countless ways. If you've ever run Grandmas Marathon or the Garry Bjorklund half marathon you've witnessed how the whole city rallies around the races to support runners. It was incredible.

Running a half marathon was just the start of my own healing.

Since then I've run many more half marathons and am now training for my third full marathon, By putting one foot in front of the other, logging thousands of miles, I've realized the process of healing is just that: A process.

Cancer in your children is never something you just get over. Sometimes it's riddled with traps, false security, emotions, confusion and acceptance, but through it all there is hope. Always hope.

[P.S. We are happy to report that Annika is now 12, and cancer-free.]

Have you Run Through It—a challenging situation or stage in life—at some point? We want to hear from you!

Write up your essay (no more than 1,200 words, please), then email it to us. We'll be in touch when we can publish it. Thanks!

P.S. There are still Valentine's Day BAMRboxes available!  Make sure to order yours now so it gets there in time for the big day!  

9 responses to “Running Through It: Adrienne + Childhood Cancer

  1. Adrienne, the picture of your family rallying around Annika speaks volumes about your love and your daughter’s fighting spirit. We bake and cook at the Ronald McDonald House near us. Your essay reminds me that our efforts help, even in a small way, when families need it most. Thank you for sharing your story and I am so happy that your daughter is well!

  2. Your story touched my heart for two reasons: (1) My sister worked as pediatric nurse practitioner in oncology in Duluth during that time frame. I wonder whether your beautiful daughter was one of her patients! (2) I have run the Garry Bjorklund half, too–what a great race! It’s so wonderful to hear that your child is cancer-free!

  3. Your writing is beautiful and the strength of your family and daughter is inspiring. Tissues are gone in my office but I’ve moved on to napkins to wipe my tears.

  4. I love your writing, how you brought us in through a box of crayons and all the other little details of being with Annika. And that you thought about running. That resonates. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  5. Can’t stop the tears, in my office, ugly crying. The strength of your daughter and your family is inspiring and incredible! So glad she’s happy and healthy now. *hugs*

  6. I’m literally sitting here at work and bawling my eyes out. So glad she’s healthy now and that these bad ol’ days are behind you. xo

  7. What a beautiful essay. I’m so happy to hear that Annika is doing well. What a challenge for a family. I can’t even imagine it.

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