As I mentioned previously, the Timp half-marathon was one of my planned summer racing events. Saturday morning began early with my thoughts focused on the people I was running for. I woke up at 3:00am to get ready when I received a Facebook notification that my husband’s aunt, NaTel had passed away only 2 hours earlier. Her best friend and spouse of 53 years, Ralph Thackeray had just passed away from kidney cancer 4 days earlier and we would be attending his funeral later Saturday afternoon. Reading about NaTel’s unexpected passing filled me with many bittersweet emotions.
I was truly happy that Ralph and NaTel were together again and their time apart was very brief, but the sting of losing another member of their generation dredged up old sad feelings about the passing of my mother-in-law Elsie, and her husband Bill.
The Thackeray family were old school folk; hard working and simple people who loved God, their families and actively contributed to the betterment of their communities. My husband is the 6th child of Bill and Elsie Thackeray, and when I met them 23 years ago; they welcomed me with open and loving arms, completely unaware of all the heavy emotional baggage I carried about family life into my marriage. I didn’t grow up in a happy home. Domestic violence and neglect prevented me from comprehending and experiencing what a happy family was like until I was welcomed into the Thackeray family.
6 weeks prior to Saturday, we attended the funeral of other uncle, Sam Thackeray who had also passed from cancer. Sam’s son Thomas Thackeray, (who was my age) passed away from a rare Leukemia last year.
My mother-in-law Else was also lost to lung cancer in 2011 despite never smoking. All these thoughts and feelings swirled around in my head as I left to catch the race bus.
This year, I had actually chosen to run the Timp half-marathon in celebration of 2 remarkable cancer fighting women, to combat the sadness I felt from the many recent losses to cancer. Meridth Ethington, is a breast cancer survivor and Nichole Burke is currently fighting Hodgkins Lymphoma. Both of these phenomenal ladies are good wives, mothers and runners, with Nichole just finishing her 9th round of chemo this week.
The weather must’ve felt my emotional heaviness because as I left my house the skies threatened rain. I met up with a dear running friend, Jenedy Eggleston (who I met at this very race 3 years earlier) and she shared with me how she was running in behalf of her friend and neighbor Kirsten, who’s been battling a rare cancer for two and a half years. We hoped these women would feel our thoughts and strength as we ran.
As we waited for the race to start, sprinkles turned into rain and everyone sought shelter under umbrellas, ponchos and foil blankets. It rained for over an hour until right before we lined up to start, making the road wet and temps in the normally cool canyon muggy and sticky. As we took off, I felt hot and my gut was sloshy. I wanted to drive really hard, but my body pushed back with fatigue and more heat. I felt like I couldn’t get my head right as thoughts of inadequacy and negativity battled the pressure in my gut. Just after mile 8, I knew I needed a bathroom soon and was relieved to see the sign for the mile-9 aide station.
A two-minute bathroom stop helped me feel a little better physically, but my heart was still heavy as I headed back out. Seeking to ignore my discomfort, I turned my thoughts back to Meridith and Nichole; chiding myself for not comprehending sooner that this race should be hard because dealing with cancer sucks. How simplistic it was for me to wear these women’s names, think of loved ones lost to cancer, and go out and completely enjoy myself because I was running and I love to run. Feeling humbled, I offered a prayer of gratitude that I was able to be out and active despite the weather conditions and asked for strength and grace on behalf of everyone suffering that day and moment from cancer; the patients, caregivers and families.
As I pushed the last few miles, knowing my discomfort would end as soon as I stopped running; I remembered how hard it is to endure difficult things well. Sickness and suffering are powerful learning tools that increase our empathy towards others and provide ample opportunities for kind individuals to reach out and lift someone in need. It’s amazing that through this painful and refining journey of “cancer”, both the giver and receiver are made better people through the process.
In the end, the Timp half-marathon became much more than another summer race during a marathon training cycle. It was a 13 mile reminder of the reality and power that sickness and pain eventually leads to joy and victory; sometimes in this life, but always in the next.