Saturday, November 13, 2010

How LiveStrong Saved Me From The Tilt-a-Whirl

Three weeks ago I boarded a plane headed for Austin, TX to attend the LiveStrong Challenge and Ride for the Roses (RFTR) events.  Although this was the second year I qualified for the RFTR  and had participated in LiveStrong events in the past (Austin 09, Philly 10 and Chicago Marathon 09 & 10), I was feeling anxious.   I was going through some tough personal lows and traveling alone...which is silly for me because I've traveled alone before...but I just wasn't feeling like that strong independent woman my friends all view me as.

It all started in August, which is always a difficult month for me due to the anniversary of my husband's passing from cancer.  This year the 6 year anniversary fell on the same weekend as the Philly LiveStrong Challenge.  Very fitting actually since we spent the first 11 years of our life together in Philadelphia.  Brian and I moved there the summer after we graduated from college   We reminisced about that first apartment often and I recall sharing laughs together in the hospital days before Brian passed away.  Our two boys were born in Philadelphia and my younger son joined me at the Challenge - along with his sister who was celebrating her 7th birthday (yes, you've done your math correctly...her first birthday was the day after her dad past away).  It was fun but also very bittersweet as we ventured into the city.  Memories that had not crossed my mind in over a decade came flooding back.

The comradery that surrounds a LiveStrong challenge is amazing.  And this comradery is what helped me through what is usually a very difficult day, weekend and week.  My daughter often gets short-changed on her birthday because Mom is usually a bit emotionally under the weather.  This year though there were thousands on hand to help her celebrate.....and her brother made sure she was geared up for it.  My teammates on the Friends Fighting Cancer team - old and new friends - made sure she had a special day and welcomed my children with open arms.  It was amazing to watch how complete strangers opened their arms for these children.  One in particular will be a friend for life and approached my daughter as she trotted through her birthday celebration 5K (can you believe they held a race for her.....or at least that's what she was thinking!). 

So a rather easy weekend after all.....phew....this is getting easier each year I recall thinking.  It is always tough.for me to leave the east coast and especially tough to leave a city (I'm a city dweller....I've always loved the hustle and bustle of a city).  So, it was no surprise to me as we continued west and the cornfields became more plentiful that I was getting a tad bit melancholy.  I miss the skyscrapers, the close proximity to the ocean, the trees, the rolling scenery.  None of that the sadness always begins to set in....but a few days after returning home it fades away.

But wait.....this time it didn't.  The sadness hung around.  The sadness started pointing out the loneliness that resides in my life at times.  The sadness threatened to take over.  The sadness interfered with my training.  Darn it....I had a marathon scheduled in October for LiveStrong.  I had raised a lot of money and committed to running the Chicago Marathon for Team LiveStrong....the sadness was getting in the way!  Then a nagging injury kept nagging me....which caused self doubt, and no training reduced the endorphins we runners love, all of these just fed the sadness even more, and throw in a bit of work stress and kids starting school stress and for good measure, add a little pinch of some extra stress for pretty much everything else that seemed to be falling down around me.  It was a vicious a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl when you've had enough spinning but no matter what you do, the car doesn't stop spinning.  That is exactly what September and October felt like....a never ending Tilt-a-Whirl ride. 

I was bound and determined to run the Chicago Marathon.  I did it but it was a rough weekend due to several reasons. I dreaded spending time alone because at this point, I couldn't get myself off that darn Tilt-a-Whirl.  The self-doubt and loneliness just kept coming around.  The more I was alone, the more time I had to think.....and I really didn't want to think anymore.

Where did independent, strong Barb go I kept wondering, and how do I get her back?  I wanted off the Tilt-a-Whirl!

My trip to Austin was approaching......a trip truly alone.  With trepidation I boarded that plane.  I arrived in Austin rather late that night, shuttled to my hotel and dragged myself into bed.  Exhausted but as was typical for the last few months, my mind and body couldn't wind down.  I tossed and turned for hours.  Anxiety of the pending loneliness I would encounter all weekend dwelling.  

After a few hours of fitful sleep, I arose to a dreary overcast morning.  This was not good.  I headed down to the lobby to grab a much needed  coffee.  Low and behold, I ran right into a Friends Fighting Cancer (FFC) teammate.....lucky me!  The first person I run into is someone I know....and a friendly soul at that!  Just what I needed.  Later that morning in the lobby, I ran into several other FFC teammates....all greeting me with smiles and hugs.  I could feel the Tilt-a-Whirl slowing down a bit.

Being alone that weekend turned out to be the best thing ever for me.  It caused me to reach out to others and meet new people.  The hotel and events were filled with what seemed like long lost friends.  The common bond of why we were all there created that feeling.  These people understood what I was going through.  They had been there before, had their lives thrown on the Tilt-a-Whirl by cancer.  I became rejuvenated.  The strong independent Barb began to resurface.

Although there was some melancholy saying good-bye to everyone at the end of the weekend, I instead returned home very inspired and excited to really live life again.  Enough wallowing and self-doubt!  I boarded the return flight home a completely different version of Barb than the one that landed in Austin 4 days earlier.  Independent, strong Barb was coming back....a newer and better versions.

I met so many amazing and inspiring new friends that weekend, many who have continued to reach out to me.  This is what LiveStrong is all about.....helping people survive.  I had always thought of that as helping those fighting cancer survive but that weekend in Austin  made me realize that the LiveStrong community is there to help ALL survivors.  Although I have never had cancer, the loss of my mom, dad, sister and husband has been difficult.  Those of us left behind because of cancer also have a need to survive.   I was reminded of that countless times in Austin.  To those of you that reached out to me in Austin, THANK YOU.  I will always be incredibly grateful for your kindness, friendship, inspiration and strength you shared with me.

Thanks to all my friends - in and out of the the LiveStrong community - for helping me survive.  You may not realize how important you are to me but you truly make an impact on me each and every day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Barb, exactly why are you doing this?

A dear friend of mine recently asked me "Why are you embarking on this challenge for 2011?"  Huh?  Seriously, you don't know?

He understood the LIVESTRONG (LAF) connection....that was no surprise as I've been a LIVESTRONG advocate for several years.  Fundraising for LAF has been a no-brainer for me.

"No, that wasn't the question. I understand that part if it." he said.  He wondered if I was doing this for other reasons.  My initial response was "No, just an idea for my fundraising this year."

However, his question continues to haunt me.....I have thought it over several times and I think he is on to something.  Yes, LIVESTRONG is my reason for this venture.  But, I've come to realize that I'd be lying if I told you it's the only reason.   I'm also doing it for me.  After losing the love of my life to this dreaded disease 6 years ago, there are still days when I have a hard time being upbeat and positive....and have invited myself to a pity party or two (sorry, your invitations must have been lost in the mail).  The original turning point for me was New Year's Day 2006.  I finally decided it was time to make a change or my life would be miserable.  So, what started out as just a hit or miss trip to the gym turned into 15 half marathons, 2 full marathons, numerous 5 & 10Ks, and a Muddy Buddy thrown in for good measure.

Running saved me.  It saved me from a life of sadness and loneliness.  I have built great relationships out on the trail - amazing how much you can learn about people when you meet at the crack of dawn.  Those of you that know me well, know how I hate to run alone.  There are days when I feel like the easier option is to pull the blanket over my head and just stay in bed.  As a mother of three, there is always another load of laundry, another trip to grocery store, another school project, etc. on my to do list.  Plus, I am ALWAYS alone without other adults.  I love my kids dearly and I love their company, but it doesn't replace adult conversation and friendship.

Having a race lined up always keeps me focused on my training.  There have been races in the past that I haven't been able to train 100% for (unlike other runners) because life's "to do list" gets in the way.  Having a goal always allows me to make time for me, no matter how little extra time I have.

I am not a cyclist, as most LIVESTRONG fundraisers are.  I am a runner that owns a bike....a bike that gets dusted off once or twice a year to attend a LIVESTRONG Challenge.  My running gear on the other hand is warn shoes are always in the back of my why not use my running to help others, since running has helped me so much?

Oh, and not only has running saved me, it has saved my children.  Being a happy parent and raising my children in a positive atmosphere gives me strength.  Who wants a household filled with depression.  If I am happy, they are happy.  What goes around, comes around.

So, yes, I am doing this for reasons other than LIVESTRONG.....I'm doing this for me because even though Brian, my parents and my sister Janet, are not kids and I am!  We survive together!