“Ms. Hastings, watch this video”. Andrew, the ninth grade student sitting with me during lunch, says as he turns his phone in my direction.
I see another student I know from advisory, Roger, riding his bike along Broad Street when he leans in close to the corner of a Septa bus, just narrowly having it miss him or him miss it. The bus slows down, comes to a halt. Roger straightens up and rides faster along Broad Street.
I gasp, “What is that?”.
“It’s called a Suicide Swerve. We do it with cars, buses, people, cops.”
“Really, Andrew? That’s dangerous. Why are you showing that to me?”
“Yeah, but it’s funny.”
“No, really, it’s not. What are you going to do when you get hit, or someone has a heart attack or someone chases after you?”
Yesterday, I sat in my writing room glancing through a journal from just a year ago. Anxious words captured a mind wanting to write, a story that floated just out of my reach.
Yesterday, I ran twenty miles. Twenty is considered the milestone to making the marathon distance. I am surprised I went twenty miles. I am surprised I registered to attempt to run a marathon. I am surprised I am keeping up with training.
That little voice I’ve gotten to know well creeps up: Regina, what are you running to now? What are you running from?
I know I don’t have an easy answer to these questions. Had you told me a year ago that I’d be running twenty or thirty miles every weekend, I’d probably have gasped in shock. A marathon was never my goal.
Writer – goal. English teacher – goal. Marathon Runner – Not so much. Breast cancer battler – NEVER.
That voice that creeps up now during these runs, she hedges the reminder that I’m on borrowed time. I’d done a suicide swerve as Andre would have said. I run further miles to escape the thought.
I know! I know! The woman who tattooed “Own Your Story; Know Thy Strength” on the insides of her arms admits to running from her story.
It’s just that those tattoos were inked four days before the lump was found, when a new chapter in my life was beginning and I had just headed to the doctor for a routine check-up to make sure all of my parts were in order. Those words belonged to the story I had told about teenage depression and a suicide attempt. That was the story I owned http://tothebooks.com/blog/the-a-okay-team-owning-my-shit-mile-4. I couldn’t own cancer, I couldn’t even say the word. It was just those malignant cells on the “Know Thy Strength” side of my body, the words that seemed to mock me when my right arm had to be up during the mammogram, the ultrasound, the biopsy, the surgery, the six weeks of radiation.
While I am out on my runs now, I keep hearing myself saying: Cancer isn’t my story. Cancer belonged to social media and writing Regina, not so much alive, in person Regina. When people asked me how I was doing, I often said: “Good, and you?”, not realizing that they were asking about Regina with the condition. I never did well talking about it.
But cancer is a part of my story, it showed up. Those cells made an appearance and I was given a personal choice about pursuing chemotherapy. The numbers, above 31 – yes, chemotherapy definitely; below 18 – no, chemotherapy not necessary; my number – 25. Right in the middle, I chose diet and I chose running.
As a teacher, when it’s time to teach plot, I reference the movie, “Final Destination”, you know the one where a young adult has a vision of impending doom so they get off the roller coaster or unboard the plane and everyone besides them and the few believers escape death but death comes for them one by one.
That’s how I see this arrival of cancer in my life. I run uncertain, uncertain as to when it’ll be back but I keep running. It’s not away from from it. It’s to appreciating the life I have, savoring every moment that I’m living.