Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 1 Aug 2004 09:02:30 -0400

Victory Party

RUNNING COMMENTARY 530

Officially this was my wife Barbara's 60th birthday party. It was the biggest one we've ever celebrated at our house, as well as the hottest. The temperature peaked at 100, and we've never sweat so much at a party.

It was much more than a birthday party. For one, it was the first time that both of Barb's sisters, Paula and Lynda, had been with her in three years.

The occasion then was a family wedding in Vancouver, BC. The marriage of her son Chris and Cindy Chan had produced our first grandchild, Paige, now about to celebrate a first birthday of her own.

Sister Lynda and son Chris planned the party and supervised the cooking. They hired waiters for the evening.

The new, round-numbered age group didn't make this a special birthday. This was a big month because life itself has been an endurance test most of this year.

In early February Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a rare type that doesn't appear on mammograms.

A family doctor found the lump during a routine exam. It had grown past the point of simple treatments.

Barb doesn't think of herself as an athlete. She never played organized sports.

But all my life I've seen athletes operate. She approached this challenge exactly as they would.

Looking at an entire training plan for, say, a marathon can be overwhelming in its size when it lasts six months. So they break it into small pieces, weekly increments and individual runs, then log them one at a time. Eventually this adds up to something as big as they'd planned at first.

This is how Barbara viewed her illness: frightening as a whole but manageable if looked at as "workouts" to be checked off one at a time. Only these weren't long runs and speed training. They were diagnostic tests, chemotherapy and surgery.

There were doubts, as with athletes in training -- times when she wanted give it all up and let nature try to heal the damage. "I've never felt the disease," she said, "only the treatments."

Athletes sometimes disagree with their coaches. Barb challenged her doctors to explain why each new round of therapy was necessary.

There were setbacks like the injuries an athlete goes through. Hers went beyond the expected hair loss and fatigue of chemo. First came a discouraging array of infections, one of them taking us on a nighttime run to the hospital emergency room.

Worst was her first surgery, performed in June. The operation itself went quickly and apparently well. But the lab report afterward showed exactly what had been missed, which was too much.

A second surgery came five weeks after the first. This one left a bigger scar but also brought an "all clear" verdict from the lab. Barb's hair is growing again, the color has come back to her cheeks and the sparkle of energy and enthusiasm to her eyes.

Radiation treatments remain, to be taken each weekday into mid-September. But they're precautionary rather than targeting any specific, visible enemy.

So the party in late July was a victory celebration. After six months of "training," Barbara seems to have won.

She knows, as athletes do, that victories are seldom final. But the outcome of this event was good because she did what had to be done, one session at a time.

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