Last weekend, I took the train down to Richmond, Virginia, to run the American Family Fitness Half Marathon just like I did in 2012. That time, I was almost exactly one month away from the diagnosis that would launch this blog. I carried that little tumor with me for 13.1 of the fastest miles I’d ever ran in my life, completely oblivious to the fact that it was making itself at home in my bosom. How obnoxious of it, that little tumor hitchhiker.
It was the exact same race in 2013: the same course, the same energy, the same swag (although kudos to whoever art directed the new shirts – very nice). But I was different. No hair in my face nor any need for a headband, for one thing. Weird fake boobies for another. Bizarre chest hardware in the form of tissue expanders and my futuristic port which is STILL my favorite conversation-starter at all parties all the time, by the way (story about that in a few paragraphs).
Being back on Broad Street was a strange and happy feeling, even though it was absolutely freezing and I was literally wearing a garbage bag because it was raining. Whatever, it’s not a fashion contest, OKAY. Bouncing from foot to foot at the starting line in the pouring rain, shaking water from my eyelashes (which I have again, y’all, REJOICE), forcing Katie Bo to take grumpy selfies with me, I was trying to amp myself up with some of the filthiest, most disgusting pop and hip hop songs I know – for some reason I love to listen to completely inappropriate, degrading and sexual music when I run – and mentally envisioning the course when a girl next to me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, are you the girl from the blog?”
The ancient Greeks used to chant, “Kill yourself!” whenever an actor would give an amazingly good performance on stage, because it implied he was so incredible that his life had reached its absolute pinnacle and it was all downhill from there. Guys, this was my kill-myself moment. A complete stranger – someone I’d never seen in my life – recognized me from this blog, and was excited enough about seeing me to chat with me at the starting line. I kind of felt like a much uglier, badly-coiffed Olivia Wilde, who, by the way, I made leave a West Village coffee shop by accidentally blurting out, “Oh my God, it’s Olivia Wilde!” as soon as she walked in. Like, literally, she turned on her heel and left sooner than I could clap a hand over my mouth in embarrassment. Someday, I will buy her a scone and a latte to make up for it. Come back, Olivia! Wait, where was I? How do I end up on these digressions?
Anyway, this girl and her friend told me that they were big fans of the blog and that they recognized me from my pictures. AHHHH! I asked their names so that I could give them a shout-out here, and I already forgot because I’m a horrible person, BUT I do remember that their race bibs said (I think) Abbs and Tars. I hope that’s right. Thanks for reading and recognizing me and saying hi, Abbs and Tars (please let that be your names). You made my day! After that, completing the race was just gravy.
I couldn’t believe how quickly the 13.1 miles of the course went by. Maybe it was because I already knew the route – I find that running the same paths often makes them feel shorter each time I head out – but I felt like I’d barely started running even by the time I hit the 10K mark. The cool rain actually felt good coming down on my technical gear (I’d long since cast the irritating garbage bag asunder – a good idea in theory but decidedly less so in practice), and for once, I was glad not to have a long, heavy ponytail to get soaked in it. I started out trying to keep pace with the 2:00 hour team, but I had left them behind by mile 4, and soon I realized that I actually had a shot at coming close to my PR.
I rounded the corner at mile 12, coasting on pure adrenalin, and saw the friendly faces of many of my old buddies from X-Team, the workout group/boot camp I used to do when I lived in Richmond. Knowing I was only a couple of minutes off my PR, I didn’t want to slow down, but I did manage to gasp out a “Hey, guys!” and one of my old running buddies, Mike, jogged next to me in his blue jeans with his camera around his neck for a quarter of a mile or so. So good to see you all, X-Team. I miss you all the time. So do my abs. Remember when I had abs? Dammit, chemo/laziness/bagels.
The Richmond course finishes on a downhill lasting about half a mile, which is wonderful. Katie Bo and I hit the downhill together and sprinted to the finish line, crossing at exactly the same moment. I actually can’t believe that happened – our race times are exactly the same, down to the second, even though we barely saw each other on the course. I’m glad, because I admit that I was feeling a bit competitive about it, when I know I shouldn’t have been. I’m so happy just to have been able to be out there.
So in the end, I was three minutes shy of a PR, but a good six minutes under my goal time. I was wet, tired, sore and hungry, but I couldn’t have been happier.
Afterwards, I took the best hot shower of my life at Katie Bo’s parents’ house. I swear to you, Heaven itself is just me sitting in that hot shower for all eternity. The amount of self control it took to get out of that shower before I used up all the hot water on planet Earth made me appreciate what it must be like to quit smoking. Once I finally, FINALLY managed to surgically separate myself from the stream of life-giving heat and cleanliness, I ate all of the junk food I could get my hands on and passed out on the couch in front of She’s All That and then woke up in the middle of Never Been Kissed, and let me just say, AMAZING CHOICES, CABLE. My parents also sent an incredible bouquet of beautiful flowers to congratulate us on finishing, which was so sweet and also it kind of weirdly moves me that they were so sure we’d finish and not, you know, drop dead in the middle of it. Love you, mom and dad.
The next day I woke up with all of my muscles screaming. Katie and I walked around the farm to loosen up, and she snapped this incredible shot of me and her old mare, Shelby, which I think captures the mood and the spirit of the whole cool, overcast, late fall weekend.
Ugh, UGH, my hair makes me look like such a bozo. Anyway, after lunch, we headed down to the train station loaded up with tons of goodies from Katie’s mom, who is the most amazing cook, and cruised back to NYC.
Now, about that story re: the port I promised in the first couple of paragraphs. On Halloween weekend I was out with friends at a party in Murray Hill, hanging out with a group of guys dressed as various hot sauces. I noticed that Frank’s Red Hot had a shaved head and pretty pale eyebrows, but I didn’t think much of it. We were all having a good time, drinking some oddly black concoction out of little plastic cauldrons and explaining my costume to everyone (I bubble-wrapped a gold American Apparel dress and made a headband out of corks and went as champagne), when someone pulled me aside and said that Frank’s Red Hot and I had something in common: he was a cancer survivor.
This was weird. I had never met another young adult cancer survivor in the wild. I mean, obviously, I’d met plenty of people in waiting rooms and hospital lobbies, but just seeing another stranger who’d been through what I’d been through? I knew I had to talk to him. I lurked around him creepily for like thirty minutes until he was alone and then I pretty much pounced on him and said, “I heard a rumor that you and I have something in common.”
He laughed, pointed at my port and said, “I think we do. What’d you have? I have Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I actually had chemotherapy yesterday. This is water.” He tipped his red solo cup down so I could see that he was abstaining from alcohol.
I told him about my diagnosis and treatment, and that was a few months out from the whole thing. We talked for what was probably an hour, but felt like ten minutes. We were both involuntary members of this weird, crappy club that people go their whole lives hoping to avoid, the world’s worst fraternity with the most insane hazing ritual of all time. (Also we were both dressed as delicious liquids.) I never knew it was possible to feel so close, so intimate with a stranger, and not in a romantic and/or drunk capacity, either. I never went to a support group, but I think that interaction made me realize how valuable one could be, if I ever feel the need. It made me want to volunteer. To write letters to all the cancerous young adults of the world. I love you all. Cancerous or not.
Speaking of cancer, I’m home in California at the moment for two reasons: a) Thanksgiving, and b) implant exchange surgery! Tomorrow morning at 5:30am PST, I will be checking in to USC Keck Hospital to have these horrible chest-rocks replaced by cushy, soft, amazing implants. I’m super excited. Is it weird to be excited for surgery? I DON’T CARE I’M PSYCHED UP. NEW BOOBS, HERE I COME!