BENEFITING: American Cancer Society
When I was 12, my dad was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He was told that it was inoperable and that he had six months to live. After a second opinion, and by the amazing surgical hands of a doctor in Pittsburgh, he was given two more wonderful years of life. When I was 14, the tumor returned and slowly took over my dad's mind and body. He died when I was 16 years old. During my dad's illness, my mom was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She had surgery and radiation and was cancer-free for six years. She was the rock that got me through my dad's illness and death. She was my person who I could talk to about anything. She was my champion, always supporting me at music and dance competitions and performances. Two weeks before my college graduation, she came to visit me. I thought we were just going to have a nice lunch together. Instead, she came to tell me that her cancer had returned and metastasized throughout her lungs and liver. This time it was terminal. Hart and I had just gotten engaged a few weeks before, and we decided to move up our wedding date by almost a year. With my mom's help, we planned it in three months, and she was there with us on that most beautiful day. It was truly a gift that I will forever cherish. She died a few months later when I was visiting Virginia to interview for teaching positions. The last time I talked to her, I told her I had been offered a job. She knew I was happily married and that I had a job prospect and a promising career ahead of me that I was passionate about. I believe that she chose that time to slip away quietly, so that I wouldn't see her on her deathbed. She never wanted me to see her like that. Fast forward a few months, and I was moving to a new state to start a new career with a new husband and eager to begin a new chapter in life, away from all of the pain and suffering. It's funny though how your past has a way of catching up to you if you haven't dealt with it... For the next several years, I suffered from unresolved grief and depression. I have felt a lot of pain in my life, but I think that feeling the numbness of depression is the worst. I couldn't talk to people about it. I couldn't make it go away. I couldn't cry. I couldn't feel anything. It was horrible. Running changed my life at a time when I really needed something to dig me out of the dark hole I was trapped in. It wasn't enough on it's own to defeat the depression monster, but combined with medication and an amazing therapist, I got help. I finally realized God's love for me and my parents and that I needed to stop trying to be so strong by myself and trust Him to hold me up. I finally let myself really grieve. I let myself give up the control I had so desperately tried to hold onto for so long. I finally let all of those feelings in. It hurt. A lot. But, it was necessary, and it was the healing process I had needed for a long time. Running continues to be an important constant for me. It has positively affected my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. It is my stress relief. It is my prayer time. It is my "me" time. Running is hard. It is always a challenge, but I feel so much better after doing it. It has given me my self-confidence back, not to mention my sanity. I never thought I would be a runner. In fact, I hated running in high school and college. Little did I know how it would change my life. I have now run ten half-marathons, ten 10-milers, and a slew of other races. Every long distance race that I have run has been in memory of mom and dad and in honor of my children. I donate to the American Cancer Society each time, with the hope that one day there will be a cure. No one should have to experience the pain and suffering that my parents experienced. No teenager or young adult should have to witness the sickness, deterioration, and death of both parents. Cancer is the plague of this generation. I hope that someday, it will be eradicated. I hope that in my children's lifetime, there will be a cure, and they will never have to experience the pain of this wretched disease. I always said that if I ever ran a full-marathon, I would not only donate money myself, but I would fundraise for the American Cancer Society. Well, here we go. Somehow, I got this crazy notion and desire to run 26.2 miles. I will be running the Richmond Marathon on November 14, 2015. Training is getting hard now, and I want to remember why I'm doing it. Running is the best anti-depressant on earth. It's an amazing stress-reliever. It helps me connect with God and the beauty of creation. It lets me enjoy food and wine without weighing 200 pounds. It allows me to be a part of a healthy community of people who all have individual struggles, stories, and goals. It's an adventure, and it's a journey. If you've ever been impacted by cancer (and I think we all have in one way or another), please consider donating to the American Cancer Society. Let's make this the decade where we find a cure. And if you are struggling with grief or depression, please know that there is hope and joy and light and love still in this world. Sometimes, you just need to lace up your shoes and head out the door to find it.