One year ago my wife Sara was finishing up treatments for Acute Leukemia at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Yesterday, by the way, marks the official one year mark for Sara being in remission. We are more than grateful to be where we are right now. Back to a year ago – Sara was really looking forward to coming home after seven months of Hell. We were also looking forward to getting away as a family on a week-long, all expenses-paid vacation in Sea Isle City, NJ. This week at the shore was graciously given to us by a group called Jimbo’s Squad. You can find out more about them here, but basically here’s their deal: The patriarch of the family, Jim beat lymphoma but then he got esophageal cancer and was treated at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Unfortunately Jim did not make it. But his family was touched by their experience at Fox Chase so they set up Jimbo’s Squad in his honor. The organization fundraises for Fox Chase and their contributions go towards things that make patients and their families more comfortable while they are undergoing treatments. Things like comfortable blankets, chairs, recliners (like the ones I slept on so many nights in the hospital), laptops, DVDs, boomboxes, etc. In short, they make a difference in people’s lives. Jimbo’s Squad also sends a family stricken with cancer to the shore each summer. Our family was the family selected last year. Their big fundraiser each year is the Broad Street Run and the night before this year’s race Jimbo’s Squad held a big event on South Street and my wife Sara was asked to speak at the event. She was nervous but accepted. Even though I felt horrible, and the last place I needed to be was in a loud room with hundreds of people, I needed to be there with Sara to support her.
Sara stood up and told the room that she was a cancer survivor. A big ovation. She told the crowd about how hard it is to go through the treatment process and she thanked the Jimbo’s Squad members for their amazing contributions toward patient care at Fox Chase. Big ovation. She told everyone how meaningful it was for her and our family to know that she and we had something to look forward to after she came home. A family trip to the beach sounded like heaven. That vacation was not something we could have afforded on our own and to know that it was coming up served as a nice goal to work toward. Light at the end of the tunnel she called it. Sara told the audience that all of the Jimbo’s Squad runners – almost 120 this year - where running not only for themselves but also for those who didn’t win the battle with cancer, and also for those who are fighting right now. It was inspiring and I was really proud of her for being able to share her story. It was also great to be in a room with so many people who cared. And understood. And it was because of the kindness shown to us by Jimbo’s Squad last year I knew that I had to join them and participate in this year’s Broad Street Run. Just to say thanks.
The next morning I woke up at 6am still with a pounding headache and an upset stomache. I felt like crap. But I’d been preparing for this damn Run for months – both mentally and physically. It would feel like a letdown to not do it. I also would have felt like I had let Sara and the boys down. And let down the Jimbo’s Squad team. I couldn’t really eat, but I popped two aspirin/caffeine pills to open up the blood vessels in my head and I caught the bus to Broad and Olney for the start of the race. There were already thousands and thousands of people there. Stretching, walking, talking, warming up. The Broad Street Run is a huge affair but it is really well-organized. I was impressed with how smoothly everything went. There were tons of porta-potties everywhere with long lines of people hoping to empty their bladders before the race. My work friend and very experienced runner, Steve Hamilton told me in advance: skip the porta-potties and just find a dumpster or a wall somewhere. I did. And so did hundreds of other people. I peed next to men and women in a shady alley near the Olney bus station. Pretty surreal.
Then it was about time to line up in our corrals which were organized by the anticipated speed of the runners. Not being an experienced runner, I anticipated a slow race so I was in the yellow corral of fairly slow runners. Turns out I should have been ahead at least one corral as I spent the first 45 minutes of the race just trying to pass people. I’m not a great runner, but I knew that I couldn’t keep up a slow pace like that or I’d never make it. So, 22 minutes after the race officially began it was time for me to start. I said good luck to Lloyd the dude I met while waiting in my corral. Hope you made it, Lloyd. In front of us was a sea of over 20,000 runners who had started before us. What an amazing sight to see: this giant, amoebic organism sliming its way down Broad Street towards City Hall, which by the way looked so, so far away. The race had begun. And for me it was a mental game the whole way. Just don’t stop, whatever you do. But there were thousands of Philadelphians cheering us on the whole entire way. It was amazing and it felt good to be a citizen of Philly. I think I smiled for 75% of the race. And I heard some funny stuff along the way too.
Just after the 2 Mile marker:
Dude #1: Hey man, look, that lady pissed her shorts!
Dude #2: What?! Where??
Dude #1: Right there. The older lady in the green shorts.
Dude #2: Holy shit! She did, she totally pissed her shorts.
Dude #1 and Dude #2 simultaneously: That’s hard core!
After the 3 Mile Marker we saw this guy on the sidelines yelling “Come on, runners, get those knees up. Get those knees up!” A guy running next to me laughed and yelled back “You get your knees up!” Well a few miles later, right before City Hall, there was that same guy yelling “Get those knees up!” He had jumped a subway, gone down a few stops, and hopped out to yell at us some more. Hilarious.
There were bands playing on the sides of Broad Street for the whole ten miles. Some were pretty good. They made me keep running. But really I was just living for the 9 Mile marker. That’s where the Jimbo’s Squad supporters were going to be. And that’s where Sara and the boys were to cheer me on. I was so happy to see them. Sara and Julian (ten) had huge smiles. Gabriel, who’s just four looked a little confused by the whole thing. My middle son Miles (four) had a really intense look on his face like I was in some sort of battle. Well I guess I was. That last mile really sucked. I wanted to stop and walk but I knew that I couldn’t. The course ends only once you make it about a third of a mile into the Navy Yard. All of a sudden there was the finish line. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to finally see it and then step over it and stop. But that was a minor problem - there were hundreds of runners all stopped like a huge human traffic jam. No one could move. We all wanted to keep walking and get some water but it took another five minutes to get to the water. I grabbed a couple of bottles and started wading through the crowd of thousands to work my way back to Sara and the boys. It was so great to see them. To know that I had actually finished. No walking. I set a goal, worked hard, and achieved it (it felt good to set this example for my sons). I wish life was more like that. To have a sense of completion sometimes is a great thing. It helps you set new goals. And speaking of, next year I’ll be back. Faster and leaner. I’ll plan to start in a faster corral and I’ll shoot for under nine minute miles. Shouldn’t be too hard. And at least next year I’ll know what to expect. And hopefully next year I’ll be running for Sara’s second year of remission. If you made it this far, thanks for reading.