Running Through The Fire

When my husband Richard’s health began a downward spiral in 2010, I realized I would have to cut back on my activities and focus on taking care of him. Because I work full time, I was away from home most of the day five days a week. Richard was very fragile and I needed to be with him as much as possible. So, one by one, my activities were cut. No more bunco group, no more neighborhood association, no more mani-pedis, or girlfriend get-togethers and finally no more Saturday morning yoga class.

But I kept going to my Wednesday night runs with the East Nasty Running Club as long as possible. I couldn’t hang out afterwards but if I cut some of the longer routes, I would get home only about an hour later than normal once a week. It was a chance for me to hang out with my friends, get some much needed stress relief, and pretend I didn’t have a critically ill husband at home. Eventually, East Nasty got cut, too.

We learned that the only option available to save Richard’s life was a double lung transplant. It was a scary option, but even scarier to hear how little time he had left without one. But still I kept running. On weekday mornings, I ran early in my neighborhood, carrying my cell phone in case “the call” came. On weekends Erika met me for out and back runs close to my house so I would be able to get home quickly, if needed.

One Friday night, five weeks after he was listed for transplant, the call we’d been waiting for finally came. Richard was in surgery for 10 hours while I waited for his mother and sister to arrive from Virginia. After surgery, the three of us stayed at a hotel close to the hospital. Because I’m an early riser, I’d wake up early in the morning, throw on my running clothes and run through Midtown and Music Row to the hospital, where an amazing angel of a nurse named Meagan would let me in before official visiting hours. On one of those early morning visits, Richard’s transplant doctor didn’t recognize me with my ponytail and East Nasty running clothes. That year (2011) Richard was still in Vanderbilt recovering from transplant when the local East Nashville Tomato 5k took place. For the first time in many years, I wasn’t running the Tomato 5k or cheering the Potato to Tomato crew to finishing their first 5k, I was watching the news coverage on a hospital TV.

The first month after his transplant, we were required to stay close to the hospital. With Richard’s sister, Ann (who was his second caregiver), we lived in an apartment on the upper floors of the Hotel Indigo downtown. Ann kept an eye on Richard while I ran through Nashville early in the mornings. It was fun to run the streets of downtown Nashville by myself, before tourists filled the streets. Watching the city come to life reminded me of Richard’s post-transplant transformation.

A critical part of rehab for heart and lung transplant patients at Vanderbilt is exercise at The Dayani Center. Post-transplant, they are required to exercise daily to strengthen their hearts and lungs. I was allowed to exercise with Richard and we got to know several of the other transplant patients. Through the work of the knowledgable exercise therapists at Dayani, I watched Richard and his fellow patients rebuild both their strength and their confidence.

What finally ended up derailing my running wasn’t Richard’s health, but my own. The week before Richard’s transplant, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After two biopsies and an MRI, we found out it was more widespread than initially suspected.

I had scheduled my annual mammogram prior to Richard being listed for transplant surgery, like I scheduled my dental and hair appointments – to get them out of the way. If I didn’t have that mammogram when I did, I might be writing a very different story right now. For women reading this who have put off your mammograms – don’t. I know it’s uncomfortable. But trust me, breast cancer treatment is WAY more uncomfortable than a mammogram. I quickly learned that when a nurse reaches out to rub your back or hold your hand, you are about to experience something painful. And there were several painful moments.

I’m sure I will post other stories about my journey through breast cancer but for now I’ll just say that after a couple of surgeries, I was released to start running again in the spring of 2012. After a couple of runs on my own, I started going back to the East Nasty Running Club Wednesday night runs. Through the encouragement of East Nasty friends (shout outs to Erika, Dana, Susan, Polly, Holland, Chuck, Heidi, and Mike), I got my runs back on track and went on to meet new East Nasty running friends. Through the East Nasty Women’s Half Marathon training group, I met even more new running friends. After being stalled at 9 half marathons prior to Richard’s transplant, I have now completed 11 half marathons and am training for my 12th.

We’ve had a few challenging years but I’m finally back on track. And I’m thrilled to be back. Richard is so much more than a “lung transplant patient” and I am more than a “breast cancer survivor.”

I am a daughter, sister, wife, friend, and a runner.


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