(I received the following e-mail from Sara James today.....
Thank You! kz
Take my word for it. You never want to hear your spouse say: “I have a six centimeter tumor on my liver.” And so began our journey with cancer.
Many of you know my husband’s story. Barry was diagnosed two years ago with a rare, malignant tumor on his liver. His first surgery in November of 2005 removed the tumor, half his liver, and gallbladder. After a year, two more small tumors were discovered. Barry had a second surgery the day after Thanksgiving 2006. (I had Thanksgiving dinner by myself in the Virginia Mason cafeteria.) Now, 11 months later, scans are clear and we, along with Barry’s team of doctors, are very encouraged.
So what has this journey with cancer meant for me, the wife, the support person? Well, it’s about doing what you have to do, even when looking back you don’t know how you did it. It’s about being there for your spouse, your child, the rest of your family, the students you teach, and everyone else, while trying to take care of yourself in there somewhere. It’s about not taking anything for granted and having faith that life will be okay. As our journey continued I understood that it’s also about not just living, but living strong.
When Barry was first diagnosed he reached out to the Lance Armstrong Livestrong Foundation. He received a great deal of support and helpful information. In July of 2006, the summer between his surgeries, Barry competed in the Livestrong Challenge in Portland and ran a great 5K time. Seeing him cross that finish line filled me with many emotions, including much pride. We agreed Barry should run the Livestrong Challenge again, not knowing it would be after yet another surgery. The next Portland Challenge was scheduled for September 2007.
I’ve been a walker for many years, but have never been a runner. I decided last June to run the 5K at Livestrong, partly to support Barry, and partly to take care of myself and be strong. Barry’s support of my goal kicked in right away. He ordered good running shoes for me, set up my training program, and encouraged me when I came home after each run. I started out slow, but by the end of the summer I consistently ran 5K distances and then some. I felt good.
So do you remember your first race? I’ll never forget mine: The 2007 Livestrong Challenge in Portland. What an amazing first race! The event took place on a Sunday, and Barry and I arrived in Portland Friday night. We picked up our registration packets at the Nike Headquarters on Saturday and wandered around the exhibition, taking in all the ambience of the Livestrong event. We also checked out the 5K course. Barry ran the whole route while I jogged part of it. The adrenalin started to flow.
Sunday came with rain, but it didn’t dampen any spirits. I have vivid memories of that day: getting ready full of nerves (me much more than Barry), pinning an “I am a Survivor” bib on Barry above his race number, and one on me that said “In memory of Cindy,” my best friend who passed away in June 2006 after a 24 year journey with cancer.
I also remember standing at the starting line, back quite a bit, glimpsing Barry waving at me from the front. I visited with runners in the rain around me, noticing that many of them also wore survivor bibs and names of loved ones. I wondered about each of their stories. I sensed we were all connected even though we had never met before. There I stood among a bunch of runners, wearing a race number. I felt nervous, but excited. I knew I could do it, for Barry and for myself.
Then Lance Armstrong addressed all the runners and walkers and inspired us to keep up the fight against cancer and not to let the disease take over our lives. He talked about living strong: “Unity is strength, knowledge is power, attitude is everything.”
So the race began and Lance and Alberto Salazar (former marathon world record holder) led the way, with Barry right behind them. I headed out and felt good on the course. As you know, that rush of adrenalin feels amazing. Heading in the last half-mile I saw Barry running toward me. Even though I wasn’t in the mood for conversation, my heart swelled and I smiled as he ran next to me, encouraging me on that last leg. He eventually went on ahead and stood right there at the finish line as I crossed, just as I had been there for him before. Barry and I were there together, and I completed my first 5K. We felt too many emotions to put into words.
It turns out Barry raced even faster than at Livestrong 2006. He came in 7th overall, was the first cancer survivor to cross the finish line, and even beat Lance and Alberto, who both shook his hand at the finish line. For me, the fact that I ran the Livestrong 5K and achieved my goal was more important than my time (which was actually quite respectable and faster than I had hoped for).
So will I keep running? Of course I will. And to quote John “The Penguin” Bingham: “The only person I will ever have to outrun is the person I used to be.” My goals now are to keep taking care of myself, continue running, do races here and there, and slowly improve my times.
So will Barry and I keep living strong? Take my word for it: Yes!
Results: Barry James—18:46 Sarah James—30:43
(permission from Kruetz Photography to use the attached photos)