Taking it in stride
Yesterday Ramón completed a half-marathon that he’s been training for since his counts recovered following his last round of chemo. Younger, pre-cancer Ramón ran half-marathons whenever he pleased with little to no preparation whatsoever. He’s always been quite athletic, and we have ongoing debates about which professional athletes he thinks he could beat in a 40-yard dash. Ramón also claims that, if he had known the rules of football when he played in high school, he would have been very talented. Yes, he played high school football despite not knowing how downs worked.
After walking through the emergency room doors on May 7, Ramón hadn’t set foot outside the confines of the hospital except for the ambulance ride transferring him from one hospital to another. After getting clearance to come off the continuous infusions, he was excited to be freed from his IV pole, which he called his “ball and chain.” On May 22, Ramón was feeling pretty good and wanted to walk to the cafeteria (Imagine that!). So, together with his original ball and chain, we slowly made our way across the hospital. As we neared the cafeteria, we passed a revolving door and saw the bright sun and blue sky. Ramón sheepishly turned to me and said, “I kind of want to go outside.”
In this moment, I realized he hadn’t been outside in 15 days. That’s more than two weeks without a breath of fresh air, instead watching the outside world from his window – a spectator. Ramón stepped outside and basked in nature, something that doesn’t garner much day-to-day thought, yet is always worthy of gratitude. The excursion outside lifted his spirits so much that we went on another walk that evening. We first walked to the car. Then we started it, left the parking deck, headed to my parents’ house, and visited the dogs. (Pro tip: Shift change is a great time for adventure.)
I was caught off-guard when Ramón first mentioned signing up for the half-marathon. I was more surprised when he found a training plan online and stuck to it rigorously. As race day drew nearer and nearer, he began feeling a little defeated, comparing himself to how he used to be. I kept reminding him what his body has endured over the past nine months. Despite my mentions of leukemia and chemo, Ramón never adjusted his competitive spirit.
So, yesterday, in the 30-degree weather, Ramón ran a half-marathon in under two hours. That’s 13.1 miles in less time than it takes for a single infusion of high-dose chemo or a blood transfusion – both of which he’s come to know very well. This afternoon we head for a follow-up bone marrow biopsy. As we impatiently wait for results, I’ll remember that, regardless of where life takes us next, the Ramón on the left (outside the hospital) and the Ramón on the right (from yesterday) are the same guy: the generous, strong-spirited, hardworking man that would lose to Tom Brady in a 40-yard dash.