One of the first pairs of women to our table at the ZOOMA Annapolis Expo on Friday was Cynthia and her BRF, Jody. Funny and down-to-earth, the two were chatting with us and cracking jokes within minutes of hanging out. I can't remember how it came up, but Cynthia mentioned she was hoping to convince one of us to run the half-marathon with her tomorrow, Saturday. She'd even put up a plea on our Facebook page a few days earlier.
No, I immediately thought, because SBS, her pal Courtenay, and I had run a humid, surprisingly taxing 6.65 that morning, and Saturday was supposed to be a rest day for me. What's more, my longest recent run was 7ish miles. I'd be breaking maaaaany of the rest-often, build-mileage-slowly rules I spew out here if I just up and went for 13.1 the following day.
But Cynthia mentioned she had cancer. Thyroid cancer. And that it had just come back after a six-year remission. So I asked her how fast she ran. "As fast as I'm supposed to run," she answered in a way that made me laugh. Yep, I thought, I could spend a couple hours with this woman.
So before I could let my tired legs stop me, I said yes. On the condition that I could videotape her for the video I make for ZOOMA on race day. (A task, it turns out, is much more challenging that I thought it would be; I have like 37 minutes of footage of my arm swing and our conversation, and about 17 seconds of Cynthia running. So that’ll be a fun project for another day.)
Within the first mile, she told me she had three boys. 7, 5 and a sub-two-year-old. The older two, Jack and Sam, are adopted from Korea. Within three miles, she told me she didn't just have thyroid cancer, but had cervical cancer, too. And two weeks before she was scheduled for a hysterectomy, she found out she was pregnant with her third son, her first pregnancy. Then we covered her husband, a Marine, who is now stationed at Quantico. But his job (and deployments) mean her family has moved quite a bit; every move means she has to find a new doctor she can trust and connect with.
It was a conversation where I kept silently asking myself, "Could I handle that? Could I handle that with her grace and sense of humor?"
Within a few more miles, she explained in more detail what it meant to her to have cancer back on her radar. "It feels like crap," she replied. Tests show her thyroid cancer has returned, but it's a not significant enough to operate on or hit with chemo or otherwise treat. She's in a period of "watchful waiting."
Watchful waiting: talk about painful. You're not bad enough for us to take action, so we'll let this sinister disease just hibernate in your body until it gets worse. In other words, you’re not here or there. You’re not sick or well. You’re not healthy or unhealthy. You’re in limbo, and guess what? We don’t know how long you get to stay in this lovely holding pattern.
I’m not sure I would have the fortitude to be running a half-marathon shortly after receiving such news, but for Cynthia, a BAMR if I ever met one, there was no question. And there was no question she would enjoy every step. Friday's weather, a pea-soupy, rainy, tornado-y mix, had brought in a partly cloudy, slightly windy, crisp day that just forces you to run happy, to quote her shirt from the previous day.
The course was challenging but similarly rewarding; every uphill brought a suitably long, gentle downhill. Plus, we got to trot down the brick road of historic Annapolis and past a stately World War II Memorial. The views of the bay were delicious, as was the camaraderie among the runners. (There were a few turn-arounds, giving us ample times to cheer everybody on and high-five the pint-size cheerleaders.)
We only spent a couple hours together, but I confidently say Cynthia is a force. As she says in her blog, attitude is everything. And she's got the 'tude. Cancer clearly picked the wrong opponent. Again.
Cynthia isn't going to stay in a holding pattern for anything--or any disease. She’s forging on, with the Nike Women’s Half-Marathon on her schedule in October and plenty of stroller-pushing runs with Jody before that. She's got three boys to raise and two dogs (both female: she needed some estrogen in her house) to sweep up after and a husband to love and cherish.
She had run a 2:29 half-marathon, her second shot at that distance, 13 days prior to us taking on ZOOMA. (Another rule broken: I'm definitely not an advocate for two halves in two weeks.) But it was a rule-breaking kind of day, so I so wanted to help her nail another PR. Her stomach wasn't on board though, and when she said she had to walk around mile 10.5, I knew that was painful for her to admit. A pit stop, her second of the race, up the road gave her some serious relief, and we finished blazing up an uphill, crossing the line in 2:31.
A PR would've been a perfect ending, but I now realize Saturday wasn't about that. For her, it was about reminding every last cell in her body who is in charge. For me, it was about crossing an unplanned finish line and drawing such strength and inspiration from a source I didn't even know existed 24 hours earlier.
Thank you, Cynthia, for 13.1 of the most important miles of my running career; I can't wait to help you set a PR next year.