They said “pneumonia” a year ago. Which was true. My chest gurgled and grumbled with each breath I took. In fact, as much as anything, I credit my case of pneumonia with the eventual discovery of my cancer. Who knew there was a tumor lurking down there in the deep recess of my right lung?
I move into this fall season with this sense of the year behind me being the epic crapstorm of my life, and yet I can’t help but feel, well, joy. It’s a strange, surreal experience to be doing so damned poorly and damned well at the same time – to grapple with the daily realities of cancer and to simultaneously embrace the daily gifts of parenting, partnership, Farm Church, love, kids off to school, cups of good coffee, new friends…
A part of it, I suppose, is that 10 months ago, I wasn’t sure I’d be around right now. And here I am! On Sunday I surprised even myself and ran a 5K for the Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina. To prepare for this race, I followed my usual 5K preparation routine, which was that I didn’t prepare. Nailed the pasta dinner the night before, but other than that, no real conditioning. Thus I arrived on race day uninjured and slightly nervous about my chances.
But then a couple of things happened. First, the lung cancer survivors who were present were invited to the stage before the race. There were a few dozen of us – men, women, all ages – all wearing these bright blue shirts with the word “SURVIVOR” on the back. And we stood there facing the pre-race crowd – a crowd that was clapping and screaming their brains out for us. And I thought to myself, “Holy damn – this is not the club I wanted to join, but here I am, and I’m standing here with this bunch of ass-kickers, and I’m bound to them in this very deep, tragic, particular way.” Others were chatting, sharing info about treatment, oncologists, and the like, but it was all I could do to hold myself together as I swelled with a sense of kinship, shared struggle and life…
And then I actually did run a 5K. I started out with beloveds Karla and Sylvia, and we moved pretty slowly for the first mile, but I found a bit of a stride and this perhaps irrational thought occurred to me: “What’s a little 5K when you have stage 4 lung cancer?” This is generally not a good question to ask someone who has my illness, by the way. But in that moment, it just worked for me, and I thought to myself, “Hells yes. I’m running.” So there I went. And I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like running alongside other lung cancer survivors and their families and loved ones to make you forget about your utter lack of training. Seriously – I ran like the Ben Johnston-Krase version of the wind.
Today is Thursday and I’m still sore. But I feel good. Next year, maybe with a little training, I’m going to run it again, and I’m going to bring a team with me. Want to be on “Team Ben”? Let me know – it’s going to be a party.
I have stage IV lung cancer and I write about that here. If you're out there and you're fighting cancer, solidarity. If you read "lung cancer" and you wonder if I was a smoker, read this. Living with cancer is a daily, death-defying reality - one that pushes me to not simply defy death, but to affirm life, bless goodness, cheer for wonder, celebrate beauty... you get the idea. I hope I do that here.