Last weekend, Cheryl and I both went over our 2015 goals of 1200 miles of measured activity on Endomondo. Since it’s shaping up to be a warm December, we think there’s a good chance our combined mileage will go past 2500. This includes biking, hiking, kayaking, walking, and running.
It’s been over three years since we decided to no longer be couch potatoes and made ourselves get outside. Before we changed our lifestyles, a six mile bike ride would wipe us out. This year, we did a century ride, 100 miles in a single day. Five years ago, we hiked at Hanging Rock and were so fatigued by the three miles round trip to the eponymous landmark that we just sat at the picnic tables while our friends walked less than a quarter mile to look at a waterfall. Now, we’ve hiked to every peak in the park, over 11 miles of strenuous terrain, in a single day. We’re as fit and healthy as we’ve ever been in our lives.
And now Cheryl has breast cancer. We got the news the day before Thanksgiving, and only a week after her father passed away from a brain tumor. There’s never a good time to be told you have cancer, but this particular timing felt especially challenging.
If there’s any bright side at all to the news, it’s that Cheryl received her diagnosis this year instead of three years ago. Three years ago, Cheryl was on three different medications to control her blood pressure, her blood sugar, and her cholesterol. As she’s shed pounds and logged the miles, her cardiovascular health has improved dramatically, and her doctor has been taking her off these meds. Her heart is definitely stronger than it was three years ago. She has great physical stamina, and, just as important, amazing mental stamina. She’s learned she can reach the tops of mountains. She’s learned she can paddle against powerful tides in the ocean to reach calmer waters.
All this will come in handy in the coming months. The chemo regimen she’ll be undertaking is especially dangerous if you have heart problems, high blood pressure, or are diabetic. If we’d not changed our lives, she’d probably be dealing with all these things. Chemo is also notorious for inducing fatigue. But, she’s felt the fatigue that hits when the sun goes down on a 100 mile bike ride and you’re only at mile 95, and now you have to fight both exhaustion and the darkness to make it back to the car. She’ll go into this battle with cancer with more muscle, guts, and sheer stubborn toughness than she had at her command a few years back.
When we started this fitness regimen, our primary goal was to lose weight. After we both dropped pounds and our weights plateaued, the new goal was simply to go further. We became addicted to seeing parts of the world we could never have seen from the front seats of our car. You can’t drive to the hidden beach on Sandy Island. You can’t drive to the top of Hanging Rock, or to the remains of log cabins tucked away in hidden parts of Eno State Park.
We also got obsessed with numbers. We’ve biked fifty miles in a day. Can we do sixty? Seventy-five? How far can we hike? Kayak? Run? We don’t bring a lot of speed to the game, but we have found an amazing capacity for just moving forward, mile after mile after mile, and not stopping.
We didn’t know at the time we were training for cancer. For Cheryl, there’s only three weeks from diagnosis to starting chemo. If she were still dangerously overweight, she might not of have found the tumor while it was still so small. If she were borderline diabetic, with her blood pressure out of control, three weeks wouldn’t be enough time to correct these health issues to improve her odds of toughing out the chemo. Three weeks aren’t enough. Three years were. I’m so grateful we started when we did.