Private marathons

This post is going to be a bit of a jumble since it’s been a while since I last updated (sorry, was busy violently hating every food except macaroni and cheese and cold sugary breakfast cereal and therefore gaining 1,000 pounds), so try to bear my weight. With me. I mean, bear with me. Oh my God, I need to start running again.

I want to take a second to talk about the Boston Marathon.

You might think that doesn’t have a lot to do with a cancer blog, and ostensibly, I think you’d be right. Except that while I’m also a cancer whatever (still searching for appropriate surrogate term for survivor), I’m also a former Bostonian. And a temporarily displaced marathoner.

Those who know me personally know that I lived in Boston during the “gap year” I took between undergrad and graduate school. I moved there on a whim because my awesome friend Hailee, who was finishing up at BU, needed someone to sublet an empty room in her apartment, and I mean, why the hell not? It’s not like I had a job. I majored in French, Literature, French Literature, who remembers now – the point is, I was not a STEM major banging down the doors of consulting firms in New York and DC.

In an unbelievable stroke of luck, I landed a job almost immediately after getting to Boston, and that’s where I met Gordie.

I also met Jenny – on Craigslist. After Hailee’s lease expired I needed somewhere new to go, and since Hailee was already locked into a new apartment, I turned to Craigslist, preferred victim source of internet murderers since 1998. Having only stalked one another on Facebook and had maybe one brief phone conversation, Jenny and I decided to go for it and rent an adorable apartment together in Brookline.

You guys, I loved that apartment. I look back on it with a special kind of nostalgia, the kind that you need like a full five minute pause to appreciate. The daydreams I have about our time in that apartment literally disrupt my productivity. It was a fully certified POS with literally no counter space in the kitchen and a heating system that either worked so poorly we had to sleep in Everest-rated sleeping bags or so well that our candles melted and we had to open the windows during a blizzard and I woke up with a snowbank on my bed, but I LOVED IT, DAMMIT. It was my POS, and I loved it. It has the biggest, brightest windows and a TV Jenny and I DVR’d all our favorite shows onto to watch together later, snacking on popcorn and Indian food from the place down the street. It had a courtyard where we roasted marshmallows over a Weber grill and drank Bud Lights with our neighbors. It had a roof deck from which we watched the marathon in 2011, sipping mimosas.

Far from being an internet rapist, Jenny turned out to be one of the most awesome people I know and will undoubtedly remain a friend for life. So thanks for getting that one right, Craigslist.

Beyond all that, even, I used to spend my summers in the Boston area. Some of my fondest memories are trips up to my Bostonian grandparents’ beautiful lake house on the shores of Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire. We learned to waterski there and stared in awe as my dad, the hero, waterskied on one leg, or on no skis, or showcased his prowess on the raft that we drug behind the boat at what seemed to our tiny minds to be lightspeed warp 5 max speed, or whatever the fastest sci-fi speed is, I don’t know, FAST AS HELL, y’all, that’s what I’m getting at here. My dad and uncle were supermen at Sunapee. The sun always shone and the waters were warm and calm. Even now, even as a Californian, I admit that I prefer the serenity, the peace, the seclusion of a small New England lake to the vastness and chaos of the ocean. (If you disagree, you should read my cousin Devon’s beautiful blog, where she shares all the reasons you can imagine to appreciate the sea. She’s almost made a convert out of me, but I’m gonna stick to lakes so she has more room in the waves.)

All of that is a long-winded and probably self-indulgent way of saying: I love Boston, and it has a piece of my heart now and always.

It gave me these things:

• 1 (one) addiction to Mike’s Pastry

• 1 (one) amazing boyfriend

• 1 (one) malfunctioning, 100-year-old apartment that I love with the ferocity of a mother bear protecting a retarded, barely functioning cub

• A jillion (approximate measurement) new friends

• Innumerable afternoons spent strolling through the Common and the Public Gardens

• A breath-taking bike commute to work along the esplanade that was worth every near-death experience I had passing a car on Comm Ave later

• My first peek into true adult independence

I’m also a runner. I feel like an imposter saying that; I never ran my first marathon because I was still recovering from my surgery when the starting gun went off, sadly. I have run many 5ks, some 8ks, a 10k and a half-marathon. But runners are an inclusive group, and the title doesn’t discriminate between ultramarathoners and beginners – one of my favorite things about runners as a whole is their dedication to the idea that anyone who can put one foot (or prosthetic device) in front of the other can be a runner. Running is a celebration of the human spirit and the human body’s ability to endure. I don’t know what these terrorists had in mind, but if they were trying to tear that down, to eliminate optimism and tarnish hope and frighten people, I’m just gonna put this out there: the group of people who push their bodies to the limit for fun to run 26.2 miles and are smiling at the triumph of their spirit at the end of it are probably not the right group of people to target here.

Because, really, could there be any more appropriate symbol in the world for the unflagging optimism of humanity than the marathon?

I often think about my running when I think about my cancer. I marvel at what I achieved, and the feats I watched my body perform. I look back, astonished, on how easily I knocked out a 10-mile training run back in November, and how difficult it is for me now to run a 5k without collapsing, and how determined I am – more now than ever – to finally run that damn marathon one day, to run it to prove that nothing, not disease, not terror, can diminish the astonishing power and grace of the human body and the human spirit.

People like the Boston Marathon bombers are the cancers of society. At the very least, they bear similarities. We don’t know what causes them – faulty genes? A deficiency somewhere? Something gone haywire in the potential for growth? Trying to eradicate them is a messy effort with a lot of collateral damage (like my poor hair, RIP Brunette Michelle; or your freedom to go to a baseball game unmolested by security personnel). But one thing I know is that I am going to prevail over my cancer, and society will prevail over its.

Because if there’s one thing a marathoner – or, in my case, an almost-marathoner – knows, it’s that the game is a mental one. Attitude is everything. Crossing that finish line smiling while you bleed from the nipples and hobble off on blisters the size of silver dollars is a show of human fortitude no attack can ever steal. In whatever private marathons we run – against disease, against grief, against sadness, against depression, against hatred – the finish line will always, always, always be a place where you catch your breath, marvel at the runner’s high and swell with pride at what’s possible when people believe in themselves and in others.

14 thoughts on “Private marathons

  1. I finally realized how you can be so positive about cancer and that is because, from what I’ve heard, you’ve had a great life. But I am thankful you can be a spokesperson for cancer and have the mindset that you’re gonna kick it’s ass.

  2. Anna says:

    Truly well said.

  3. says:

    Michelle, you are my hero!!!! You are running a marathon each and every day right now.You are one of the strongest and most positive people I have ever had the opportunity to know. You so insprie me! I know that one day I will read your blog and you will be describing your first “road” marathon! Blessings!

  4. CKierstyn says:

    I follow your blog in between classes at my University in Wisconsin. You are such an inspiration. First, Mike’s Pastry. Yes. Just yes. I spent two weekends in Boston last year, and it’s a good thing I don’t live there permanently, or I would indeed have a spare tire made entirely of their chocolate-covered cannolis! Secondly, thank you for being so honest and open throughout this phase of your life. Seeing your optimism and humor given your situation is mind-blowing. Can’t wait to read of the day you are officially in remission. Hopefully you keep us all updated when you finally run the big marathon!

  5. Barbara says:

    What does “POS” stand for?

  6. pattiapaul says:

    We fight, we run, we chase our dreams. Today is gone, keep striving for tomorrow always remembering that life is too short and we must enjoy the ride. Balance — never — always the roller coaster ride and never happy unless the coaster is running — don’t deny it, it is ok.

  7. rachelocal says:

    It seems as if New England and Boston steal the heart of those that live there, even for a short time. I was born there, left when I was 16, came back at 32, left again at 35, and now I’m longing to return again. For good this time. I’m so proud of Boston and its citizens right now.

    If only I could afford to live in the North End, right above Mike’s Pastries. Holy Cannoli.

  8. Laura Van Dellen says:

    Just EXCELLENT!!!!

  9. You have a really refreshingly wonderful perspective on things. Thank you for sharing it.

  10. Ann says:

    I’m a Bostonian and a cancer person (after five years still searching for the appropriate substitute for “survivor”) and not a runner, but every word of what you’ve written rings true. Thank you for your amazing work here. And please add the Boston marathon to your life list!

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