Cancer, Happily Retired, NET Cancer, Running

Outrunning Cancer

NIK_0909-0035-10-2018. About twenty minutes ago, I just finished running two miles and I have this HUGE comeback grin that just won’t stop!  I have Neuroendocrine (NET) Cancer, and six months ago I had surgery to remove 25% of my liver, but I just proved I can run again!  My legs and lungs remember.  I found my cardio zone.  I even dug in and pushed up a short hill.  The fresh air in my lungs felt crisp and “sparkly” as I gulped it in and found my running stride.  I had a million happy thoughts during this twenty minute euphoric return to my speed of life, but my brain was mostly singing, “Yay, MEEEEE!” and “I really do feel healthy out here” and “I’ve still got my pace!”

A short introduction:  I am 61 years old. Running has been my speed of life since I was fourteen.  I ran cross-country in high school, and continued with two-to-three mile daily runs for more than four decades.  I’ve done group runs after work and on weekends.  I find my joy on breathtaking beach runs.  Over the years I’ve enjoyed fun runs like The Color Run, and the scenic four-mile run in San Diego over the Coronado Bridge.  My favorite races are the Carlsbad 5K, billed as “fast and flat,” where I once medaled in my age group, and the Seafair Parade 10K in Seattle, where you run along the parade route before the actual parade begins with people cheering you the whole way.

After ramping up my distance training in my 40’s, I completed the La Jolla Half Marathon two years in a row.  That was a big accomplishment!  I remember icing my knees with a cold beer stein after finishing!  In my 50’s I returned to running two-to-three mile distances for the cardio benefits, the endorphins, and to maintain my overall health.

For all my lifelong fitness, however, I haven’t been able to outrun cancer.  It first showed up in 2008, when a primary tumor was located in my small intestine. It was removed and my doctor identified it as NET Cancer.  For the next six years, my six-month scans were all NED (no evidence of disease).  In 2014, spots appeared for the first time in my liver, and I started receiving monthly shots of Sandostatin LAR (my miracle NET Cancer maintenance treatment) to keep me symptom-free as long as possible.  I call these shots my “Chemo-to-go.” With this simple shot every month, I have been able to keep working and enjoying life as before.

Last year in August, my NET Cancer specialist and his team at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center were continuing to observe a dozen NET tumors that had accumulated in my liver.  They had been growing slowly over the past three years and it was becoming painful when I breathed in, as my enlarged liver was pressing on my diaphragm.  At that time, I decided to retire from my full-time career in marketing communications. It wasn’t an easy decision but it was important to take time to prepare for major surgery ahead.  My oncologist said by successfully removing all the tumors, my liver would regenerate and I would likely continue with a high quality of life going forward for several decades more.

NET Cancer cannot be cured.  It is a rare cancer, and it does recur over time.  Fortunately, with tumor management treatments available today,  progression can be slowed down and regular life can continue for many NET Cancer patients for many years.

I may never be able to outrun my NET Cancer, but I love my newest return to 20-30 minutes of leg-pumping, heart-racing, outdoor moving meditation, running forward to my future, just as before.

For anyone who is a cancer survivor, I encourage you to get outdoors every day.  Do whatever you can do… take a walk at the beach or to the park.  Visit the public gardens in your area and enjoy the flowers in bloom.  If you live near water, go for a boat ride and feel the wind in your face.  Or find a comfy chair on your porch or in your backyard and close your eyes for a few minutes of sunshine.  Strive to be an outdoors person in some way every day, if possible.  There are cancer fitness programs in many areas too, with walking friendship groups for those that are able.

For anyone who knows a cancer survivor, invite them to experience the great outdoors with you.  Camping, sailing, a stroll in your area’s  botanical garden, a picnic by a lake, lunch by the ocean, a day at the local zoo.  If you have active friends fighting cancer, ask if you can sponsor them with a small donation to any fund-raising activities they support.  This means so much!

As far as running, I feel like a perennial flower in the garden… Blooming again every year. It feels so good to be back!