In just a few weeks, I will have been a black belt for 10 years. I know the majority of the cancer community objects to metaphors involving fighting: “fighting cancer”, “the fight with cancer”, and “the battle with cancer”, but martial arts is my sport, and when I started in 2006 I never dreamed I would be in the cancer world.
On March 1, 2019, I am testing for my fourth degree black belt rank in Songahm Taekwondo, something that I have been preparing for 5 years. Since I never had a dramatic, sudden, miraculous healing, these have been years of thinking every class could be my last: each midterm as far as I could go, each year a legacy I’m leaving behind. I have tears in my eyes in the pictures of every one of mine or my 3 teenagers’ testing. They don’t understand why I want to take random pictures after a black belt class, now that the 4 of us are third degrees.
I admit I started martial arts as an activity to do with the kids and for the social aspect, which was a good way to start. It takes my breath away to think of all that I have learned, even though I think my lessons have come slower than most of the students. Now 13 years later, I have had incredible instructors, seminars with the highest ranks, world renowned champions, and have made lifelong friendships. To this day, their support is humbling.
I started taking martial arts seriously and really pushing myself to the limit after I had the Cyber Knife on my lungs. The high dose of radiation prevented us from seeing if it was working by scanning, so I had the crazy idea that I would work out as hard as I could to see if my lungs could take it. So yes, there is the possibility that now I am afraid to stop. I get asked a lot if I think martial arts is the reason for my current status of No Evidence of Disease. No, I do not. But I know it has made my life with cancer so much better. By throwing myself into the short term goals in the studio, I stopped focusing so much on my cancer, switching my focus from what I can’t do to what I can do. My oncologists have been encouraging me to keep the cardio, weight bearing, and the mental challenges consistent. (The sparring, not so much) I have gotten stronger than I ever thought I could be, both mentally and physically.
Three years ago I shared a ride to the airport from the metastatic breast cancer conference with the sweetest, soft spoken young woman. We chatted about the conference and going back home. Her cancer had metastasized to her bones and the weekend exhausted her. She said that the following morning was going to be really hard to get up for a walk around the block, but she would since her doctor insisted on it. She looked me right in the eyes and asked in her quiet voice that I could barely hear, “Do you exercise?” With the guilt swirling around my head, I could barely nod, let alone answer. She patted my hand and said. “I know it’s difficult, but it’s really important. You keep it up.” The next morning as tired as I was, I was at kickboxing at 9am. As we warmed up with jogging around the mat, I couldn’t get her out of my mind, wondering if she found the strength for that short walk. So instead of jogging, I ran. I ran and ran and ran until my lungs hurt. I wanted to work out until I ached like she did. I was working out for both of us.
The longer I live, the more friends I lose to this disease. I had the opportunity to ask a life coach how to deal with survivor guilt, and she told me that the best thing I could do to honor my friends who have passed is to live the best life I possibly can. So here we go, girls. On March 1 st , I’m taking you with me, and we will do this together. I will do this with you; Stephanie, Christine, Kristi, Jessica, Sue, Ellen, Joyce, Camille, Ishiuan, Audrey, Melinda, Beth, Sarita, Heidi, Mandy, Katie, and Susan. And I will hear you cheering me, Jack, Dina, Kevin, and Jon. Let’s do this.
Hebrews 12 (NIV) 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith . .
Psalm 116 (NIV) Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.