The Race

I despise running. Never understood the enthusiasm of runners. I hit the streets and break into a jog and count the minutes until it is over, lungs burning, legs aching, attention span taxed. I finish a lap and wonder what I’m missing.

There’s a psychology to running – long-distance running. I haven’t fully experienced it, but I gather the gist from the tales of my running friends. The psychology of running is rooted in a self-induced conflict, where the mind and body battle for control. The mind forces the body to run, and the body bullies the mind in an effort to make it stop. When the finish line is crossed, the soul is rewarded; body rests, mind exalts.

Fighting a brain tumor is a long-distance run. It requires patience. The body resists the battle. And the rewards hide along the margins. Defeating a brain tumor requires the psychology of a runner: determination, coping mechanisms and indulgent courage.

Jordan has been running for nearly three years. She has the mettle of a triathlete. Today, she reaped some reward, but found it hard to celebrate.

She went in for an MRI today. The results provided reprieve. One of the tumors is smaller, nearly invisible. The pesky nodule that surfaced earlier this year and caused so much alarm is now a radiological ghost. But the larger mass remains, shadowing cause for too much hand-slapping.

Still, a milestone is a milestone. Chalk one up for Jordan.

She refuses to acknowledge her accomplishment. Her oncologist smiled as he delivered the news. Then he invited us into another room to view the scans firsthand. He imagined Jordan would want to see the progress. He was wrong. She fidgeted and whined, clawing for the door. Later, she would say that seeing pictures of her brain freaked her out. I suppose giving shape to her opponent made the race too real. It interrupted the psychology of the run.

The toll of her marathon shows. She is thin, pale and tired. Vincristine, one of the two agents in her chemotherapy protocol, has weakened her body, robbing her of the ability to walk normally, drooping her eyes, thinning her hair and sapping much of her energy. She will take a break from this drug for a little while while she continues to receive Carbo-Platina, the other cancer-fighting drug that drips into her veins each Monday morning.

We were relieved to hear positive news. Late Tuesday night, Jeanette and I tossed and turned in bed, finally confessing our mutual apprehension. We hoped for positive reinforcement, but expected the status quo. As it turned out, we had a little of both. A monster is slain, but the demonic progenitor hovers up and down her spinal chord and envelopes her brain. This will be a very long journey, and Jordan must pysch herself into a methodical gate, resisting the mental urge to just stop running.

When our family began this journey, we imagined how lucky we were. We rationalized that because her symptoms were minor, she was better off. We ignored the obvious signs that indicated the seriousness of her illness. We marginalized two brain surgeries, the onset of seizures, chemotherapy and the deterioration of her faculties.

Today, we struggle with the realization that she is riddled with disease. We caution ourselves against false hope, taking each day as it comes and rejoicing when Jordan serves a victory. Today, we allowed ourselves a sigh of relief, but only long enough to rest our souls and trick our minds to continue on. Perhaps I should reconsider taking up running.