On 10.10.10 I completed the Chicago Marathon. It was blisteringly hot for a 26.2 mile run, but it was my first, so I had no way of knowing what the cocktail of tough conditions, adrenaline, crowds, passion and enthusiasm would yield after my many hundreds of training miles. It was an honor to run those miles after all the support and love we received from many of you through the past 18 months. I am a lucky guy to have such a great cast of characters around me. My running gang, the folks at Sparrow Athletic, my coworkers, the doctors, nurses, clergy, and social workers who helped us through Moira’s cancer fight, and of course my close friends and my family all played a critical role. The roles varied…helping us face the challenges of being new parents, of Moira becoming a cancer survivor with me by her side, and, of course for you Average Guy readers, making me into a marathoner after lugging dozens and dozens of extra pounds around for a good chunk of my adult life.
We have received literally hundreds of emails, letters, and comments about how our story was something else, something exceptional. I truly appreciate that. The triple challenge of having Leo, Moira’s job evaporating, and the cancer battle, was a shock to our otherwise pretty easygoing existence. I was as guilty as anything of fishing for sympathy on the hard days…you could even say this blog is a testament to that. I started writing it for therapeutic and practical reasons. It helped me sort things out in an organized way, and it also let folks know the status of affairs. There were times, though, when I was just feeling down and wanted to say “Look at us! Our lives are so hard!”
It was Moira, in fact, who first let on that maybe sympathy from everyone around us was getting sort of old. She wanted to have things return to normal (whatever normal is after cancer, anyway). Our friends never pestered us or anything, and we love them so much for every supportive word they said, but you know what I mean. I kept writing, though, and struggled with vanity as I went. I like to think I spread it around some…I highlighted the good work many of our supporters were doing, like the Wellness Community of Southeast Michigan. I talked about my running group and the incredible folks at Brooks Running who helped make my marathon training financially possible. I talked about other survivors and their supporters.
The last one is what I am here to talk about today. I am proud to have finished a marathon, and many of you have congratulated me on this accomplishment. I hatched the idea soon after Moira was diagnosed and accomplished my goal. Thank you again. The thing is, though…there is little special in that compared to the accomplishment Moira achieved this year. She beat cancer, but there was no finish line photo or engraved medal at the end. It was just a gradual progression back to health and a fading memory in many regards. She is not alone, though. As special as Moira is to me, she is only one of millions of cancer survivors or people facing cancer. Millions. Cancer is sometimes treatable. Sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is as simple as a single surgery, sometimes it takes much, much more. Recently, the spouse of a friend was diagnosed and she was deemed cancer free after one minor procedure. However, the process scared her beyond measure. Moira faced a longer battle with her cancer, but that takes nothing from the other woman…they both, in their way and along their path, beat cancer.
In my close-up observation of the cancer community, I realized that most cancer survivors will never write a blog, will never run a marathon, will never do anything beyond the walls of their hospital room or the seat of their chemo chair. That is OK by me. I am not saying I wouldn’t set write about the Branigans in a blog were I to have this to do all over again, what I am saying is that we are not special among the cancer community. No one survivor or supporter is any more special than any other. We are average…perfectly average.
It was poetic that I finished the Chicago Marathon in (literally) the perfectly average statistical finishing time. I set out to run the marathon in four hours, fifteen minutes. When I was done, I had been deeply slowed by the heat and my own inexperience, and finished with a time of four hours and forty-three minutes. Of the nearly 38,000 finishers, four hours and forty-three minutes was the EXACT average finishing time. I could not have written it better myself.
I highlight this point to remind everyone that for every blogger and look-at-me cancer crusader, there are thousands of people quietly battling in this horrid, horrid war. I am inspired by those survivors and their supporters. I am inspired by my friend Steve, who raised over $120,000 for cancer charities by running two marathons a year for the past few years, even though he is not a survivor himself and never asked for any notoriety for his accomplishments. Most of all, I am inspired by my best friend and beautiful wife, who asked for no special treatment, who quietly endured the challenge of a lifetime, who won her battle with cancer, and who is too shy to tell her story herself.
This is not the last you will hear from Average Guy Hits the Road, quite the contrary. In the next few months, Moira and I will use this forum to spread the word about our favorite organization, the Wellness Community of Southeast Michigan. In the spring, I am running marathon number 2 in Seattle if all goes well, and Moira will run the half marathon, just about two years after her diagnosis. I am hoping to improve greatly on my running in 2011, and I am getting some extra help from an excellent new source, Marie at P.R. Fitness. With her help and my better foundation on which to build, I am hopeful that I can make healthful running an even more fun and essential part of who I am, and even though I want to improve, I am perfectly happy with being perfectly average.