I hit the 40-mile mark in the Run 40 in February challenge yesterday. After running 3.5 miles with my brother Alfie, my total distance now sits at 41 miles. The total will also be much higher by the time February is over. True, I did upload a single walk of 2 miles, so my running total is 39 miles, but I also said that I could upload walks in week 1 of the cycle if I felt too unwell to run. I feel good that I only needed to do this once. It feels like a good time to reflect on the challenge and things more generally.
It has felt excellent challenging myself again. I’m so used to being in a cycle of entering fitness events, training for fitness events, recovering from fitness events that I did really feel the loss of it when I fell ill. Then came the weeks in hospital, the drip-feeding of worsening information about the diagnosis, and the eventual life-shattering diagnosis itself. When I think about it all now, it is striking how quickly things changed and how different my life is now. But humans are seriously adaptable creatures, and we mostly seem able to cope with change, no matter how drastic. In this situation, I didn’t have any other option.
I’ve always spent a lot of time and mental effort dealing with existentialism in some form. In this blog, I’ve spoken about this in various posts. When I was younger, it was mostly me obsessively worrying about my family and whether they were worried about things like death. Once I started dropping this obsessive worry-ception over death, it materialised more in me worrying that they may experience a lot of pain in their life because of something like a, I dunno, cancer diagnosis, to pluck a situation from thin air. These macro-worries were always peppered in with more micro-worries about just about anything in my daily life; whether I was liked by my peers, whether I’d ever find a good career, whether I’d find a stable relationship that I actually held together, etc etc. When I was 20, I got the below lyrics tattooed on my back; they demonstrate my slight obsession with death around this time. The lyrics are from a song called ‘Dirt’ by a punk band called The Swellers.
“No casket please
I’ll rot out with the leaves
No clothes for me to wear
The dirt won’t care”
‘Dirt’ by The Swellers; I got these lyrics tattooed on my back when I was 20
I’m glad to say that by my early to mid-’20s, I’d managed to drop a lot of this attitude. I learnt that it was unproductive. There is only so much you can worry about in life, and the worry itself does nothing to improve the situation. If there is something you can do to combat your concerns, then do it. If there is nothing you can logically do to combat the worry, then inject some reason to counter that voice in your head when it starts reeling off its negative script. It takes time, but it helps. I don’t regret the tattoo on my back. Overall, the song contains a good message – the lead singer is accepting death and telling his family to process it positively, as the final few lines demonstrate. It is written in the form of a note to them, and I have always found it a fascinating song lyrically. It won’t be to everyone taste musically, though, I concede.
“And I know,
There’s no headstone where I’m lying.
So where do you go when you’re crying?
Just hold on to a memory of me
Inside of your heart always.”
‘Dirt’ by The Swellers – the last lines of the song
The cancer diagnosis has provided me with an opportunity to test my stoicism. My soon-to-be mother-in-law Kathy has provided me with a book on the great Stoics called The Daily Stoic, which I mention in my blog post 100 to 1. I’d really recommend it if you are looking for some calming wisdom in life. It has a page per day of the year and provides a quote of wisdom from an ancient philosopher and then a breakdown by the author. The idea is that you read the prescribed wisdom every day, bestowing it upon yourself and helping to apply it in your everyday life. It never takes more than 5 minutes to read, and some days I am genuinely taken aback by the words on the page. They really make you think, and some of them are really practical advice that can help you deal with day to day situations. Today’s page (February 17th) is titled ‘The Enemy of Happiness’ and contains a quote from Epictetus. To summarise its central point – happiness cannot co-exist with a yearning for more. It discusses conditional happiness – an example being someone who says to themselves, ‘I’ll be happy when I get paid x amount a year’. They state that these goals ruin your chances of being happy now. It’s a strong point, and I am most definitely guilty of thinking that some future event will be the thing that makes me fully happy. There’s always more we can work on to improve ourselves, though, so I’m not going to beat myself up too badly for it.
Although I think I was doing a good job of staying positive before I started running again, it has improved things to a large extent. Despite the limitations placed on me by the chemotherapy, I managed to feel almost normal in week 2 of the cycle. The oncologist told me that steady exercise would help ease the symptoms, and it really has in my case. It hasn’t lessened the ulcers, but that is a small price to pay given the accounts of others that I have heard who are also on the Folfirinox chemotherapy. It is a powerful drug, and I have listened to others talk of extreme fatigue, complete loss of appetite and regular vomiting. I’ve experienced some of these symptoms to an extent, especially chronic fatigue, but they never last very long. Since starting to run again, I can confidently say I am experiencing them less. My energy levels feel good, even towards the end of week 1.
Even ignoring the benefits I feel in terms of my response to the chemotherapy drugs, it is just nice to be achieving things again. I am no longer working, so I do not experience the highs and lows of challenging myself at work. Pushing myself physically feels like one of the last pillars of independence I actually have. Everything else important in my life is being managed by other people more adept in those areas – specifically, the oncology team dealing with my case. I’m not sure that what I have been doing always classifies as ‘steady exercise’, but when I spoke to other survivors at a Pancreatic Cancer UK support group session, they told me to do whatever felt normal for me. Pushing myself physically feels normal for me, so I am trying to balance accepting that my body’s ability is currently limited and doing something I know is both physically and mentally good for me.
In terms of the fundraising itself, I only have everyone who has donated, shared and taken an interest to thank. It is astonishing how much has been raised. I know I say that all the time, but I started out with a goal of £250. I thought I would achieve this, but I did not believe it would get anywhere near as high as £6,000. It’s a mind-boggling amount of money to see on the page. The donations have slowed down now, but that was to be expected. The page can be accessed here if you still want to donate or share. My biggest push came after the page was shared by my friend in a local Facebook group. It shows that sharing on social media really can make a huge difference, so if you can think of anywhere to share it where people may be interested, please do. I’ll continue to eat away at the miles and see how far we can push this thing!