December 26 of this year marks 5 years that Megan has been fighting Stage 4 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. Her battle has taught our family so many valuable lessons, and most of those lessons have been gleaned from the determination, passion, grace and dignity Megan has displayed throughout her fight. There have been so many times over the past five years where I have been faced with a situation and I want to have an immediate reaction…but then I take a breath and think back to lessons Megan has taught me and I end up making a much better decision than I would have normally made without her wisdom. In the past, when things didn’t go as planned, I might of become extremely frustrated with those around me. However, Megan’s Journey has taught me that you can’t sweat the small stuff, because in the long run, it just doesn’t matter. There are so many more important things in life to worry about that those little day to day inconveniences or frustrations. Megan has also taught me that sometimes the best laid plans just don’t work out. During her five year journey, there have been countless times where she has planned something, but her cancer had other ideas. As a result, she has missed out on vacations, shopping with friends, going to work, and countless other opportunities. Of course Megan could always respond by being mad at the world for the hand she has been dealt, but instead, her attitude has become “there’s no use worrying about things you can’t do anything about.” Megan’s Journey has also taught our family to celebrate the small victories…no matter how small they may seem. After her chemotherapy treatments, it’s a victory when Megan can find the energy to get herself off the couch; take a bath; or just get to sleep for the night without medication to ease her discomfort. About four days after her chemotherapy treatments, there is nothing more joyous than see her finally wake up with that infectious smile back on her face. That’s the signal that our girl is back and ready to make the most of the next three or four days until she goes through it all over again. Finally, Megan has taught all of us the importance of staying steadfastly focused on your goal. Her goal is to beat cancer, and no matter how difficult and trying life may get, she never takes her steely gaze off of that finish line. Watching Megan traverse this arduous journey has taught me so many valuable lessons, and today, I needed to call on all of those lessons to turn a tough day into something positive.
Those of you who follow this blog know that running is one of my past times. Not only does it make me feel better and help relieve stress, but I have always enjoyed the thrill that comes with a competitive race. After Megan’s initial diagnosis, I really lost my desire to run because my mind was on her treatment. It was also very difficult to find the time between Kenzi’s high school games and Megan’s treatment schedule. As a result, I ran very little and it took some time to realize how much I missed it. Last spring, Megan was the keynote speaker for the Cal’s Angels Annual Gala. During the event, Cal’s Angels was recruiting for their Chicago Marathon team to raise money for childhood cancer. When they scanned the 1000 people in attendance looking for volunteers, my hand suddenly went up. Even though I hadn’t run a marathon in five years, and was probably in the worst shape I had been in in the past 15 years, I just couldn’t help myself. Running in honor of Megan and all kids fighting this dreadful disease was just the motivation I needed to get back in shape and compete. For the past 30 weeks, I trained religiously because I had my “why” back. I had a renewed focus and reason for those 4:30 a.m. alarms and those long early morning runs.
Of course, I quickly found out that training for a marathon at 45 is a lot different than training at 52. I was experiencing little aches and pains that I had never experienced before, which occasionally caused me to trade a run for a bike ride. Also, a nagging left foot pain caused me to miss two weeks of training on doctors orders. Still, I felt good about where I was coming into today’s Chicago Marathon. I felt like I was in good shape, and I felt so motivated knowing that I was running for Megan and all kids fighting childhood cancer. However, remember what I said about the best laid plans?
My race started great and for the first 15 miles, I was right on track. Then I started to feel my left foot again and about three miles later my calves cramped up so bad that I could barely run. As a result, I had to throw my goal time out the window and just try to fight to the finish line. In the past, knowing the very difficult few miles that were left ahead of me, I would have been tempted to drop out and live to fight another day when my goal time could be reached. However, I thought about the lessons Megan has taught me, and it motivated me to get to the finish line no matter how long it took. Sure…my plans didn’t work out as expected, and sure…I could have felt sorry for myself because of the cramps and sore foot, and sure…I could have easily taken my eyes off the real goal, which was to finish the face. Prior to Megan’s lessons, I’m fairly convinced all of those things together would have given me the excuses I needed to quit…but not anymore.
With Megan’s moral support, I made it to the finish line…and although it was an awful last 9 miles, and I missed my goal time by a long shot…I’m okay with it, because what really matters is that I finished the race and more importantly, I raised $5,000 for childhood cancer! You have to keep your eye on the prize.
I was so appreciative of Deb and Megan coming up with me to watch the marathon. For Megan, all of the walking to see me in a couple different spots was probably as tough on her legs as the marathon was on mine. But of course, she didn’t complain and was there to give me a hug when I got back to the hotel room. Now I will try to let this old body recover, but while doing so, I will remained focused on the positives…because life doesn’t always go the way you planned. It’s how you react to adversity that will determine your success and happiness in life. A very wise young lady taught me that.
There is no rest for Megan as tomorrow morning, we leave the house at 7:00 a.m. to take her to her first chemotherapy treatment of this new three week round. Let’s hope that she is able to tolerate the treatment and find some peace this week. In the meantime, Megan will continue to teach us all that life is precious, and that we should all be thankful for the many positives in our lives. Although Megan has been through more than any kid should ever have to endure, I will never forget her amazing words during an interview she once gave to a local newspaper. She said,
“I believe everything happens for a reason, and I was given this disease to make a difference. I am thankful for my life. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
We should all be so wise. Until next week…