Today is a day for great joy and celebration. After nearly 6 long months of cancer treatment, William the Conqueror has finished his last round of chemotherapy.
He will have 2-3 weeks left of in-patient hospital care. Then we will have about a week at home before the moving van loads us up and we move to Maryland. William is still sick and struggling a bit, which is typical. During those hard or messy moments, people are quick to encourage us by saying, “You are almost to the end of your marathon!”
This is both true and amusing. I am NOT a marathon runner. ft I run 26.2, call the police. Either something is chasing me beyond my avoidance abilities or I am chasing someone worth killing. Call the police.
I have heard this metaphor repeated so frequently that I have really pondered it throughout this process. Eons ago I would tell my students that if they began a metaphor they had to continue it throughout. I stand by that rule, hard and fast. If this is a marathon and I am almost to the end, I want you to be prepared for what is coming, my dear support system.
You have cheered me on, standing on the sidelines to hand me refreshment and to yell.I couldn’t have done it without you.
As you watch me cross this metaphorical finish line, you may expect to see this:
There will be a wonderful joy and euphoria, to be sure. However, I have seen the finish line of a marathon. Several years ago I supported a dear friend as she ran her first half marathon.It was a MAJOR accomplishment and I was glad to be at the beginning, 7 mile mark and end of it with her.
As I waited for her I saw runners finish and I will tell you, it wasn’t pretty.
They fell. They collapsed. Their legs seized. They limped. They cried. They ran for beers and Gatorade. They vomited. Some even had accidents.
Red faced and shaking, the supporters helped our friends to our cars and let them spend days recovering, giving them rest and calories. Marathons are HARD. People really need time to recover. If I’m finishing a marathon, I am not sure I can be joyfully exuberant and ready to tackle the next new phase at 100%. I may be limping around and needing a really good burger, lots of sleep and some massages. Then I might make a cancer-parent-sticker for my bumper so everyone knows to get out of my way or can be really impressed with my kid.
In all seriousness, major illness survivors and their caregivers are some of the most mentally exhausted and overlooked professionally. There is a large rise in suicide, depression and inability to reintegrate, very similar to some soldiers dealing with PTSD. I’ve learned a lot from my fellow warriors in here and am better for it. When we support each other through trials and ‘marathon’ seasons, we also learn to give ourselves some grace and good coaching.
My friends, I know there will be an uproar of celebration when we finally leave the hospital. I imagined I would dance, laugh and smile until my cheeks hurt, trying not to speed home. Now I think I may collapse to my knees and cry. I may sob the whole way home. I’m at mile 20 and the excruciating joy is coursing through my veins.
When I arrive home, I will need to do laundry and pack for our move to our next military post the following week. I will say goodbyes and start over again. William will have more blood draws and clinic visits that will be frequent and continue monthly for about a year, in addition to other therapies and basic appointments. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I’m sad and overjoyed. I can’t describe the profound impact your encouragement has on our family. We are almost there. I trust that while there will be dance parties and celebrations, you warriors will be ready for us to collapse, cry and have no idea if we are alright or not.
I am very thankful you will be there and understand this is only year 2 of William’s Marathon. See you at the finish line. We will really need you.