I’ve been meaning to start a blog for a long time, but have never gotten around to it. Sometimes, I just have more to say than seems appropriate for Facebook and I’ve never had a space to put it. I really do want to/need to stretch out my thinking and I love to share my swimming experiences. So, in building my very own website, I finally decided to go for it! I’ve already uploaded some of my favorite, longer Facebook posts from the last year or so and there’s a link in the intro to my CaringBridge cancer blog, if anyone wants to re-read those. This is, officially, my first swimming blog post. Hooray.
I’m marking the occasion by sharing a memory. Two years ago today, I swam the Horestooth 10k. Horsetooth was my first marathon open water swim race, way back in 2007 and it holds a special place in my heart. Horsetooth is where I first met people who had actually swum the English Channel. This event, those swimmers, that water is what ignited my love for open water swimming all those years ago. Truly, without that overwhelmingly positive first experience and intro to marathon swimming, the last 10 years might never have happened. Needless to say, the event holds a very special place in my heart.
So that brings me back to the memory I wanted to share. Two years ago, I was just coming off of radiation treatment. I’d been through 5 months of chemo, a mastectomy, and then 5 weeks of radiation, which ended in late August. I was beat down. Broken. Depressed. Bloated. Puffy. Mostly still bald. Two weeks after radiation ended, I was still red, blistered and oozing in all the wrong places. But, I’d told myself I was going to swim Horsetooth this year, no matter what. I got clearance from my surgeon on the Friday before the race and off we went to swim a 10k on a Sunday with basically no training, 2.5 weeks after ending radiation zaps. More than one person told me I was being reckless. But when has that ever stopped me once I get an idea in my head?
The race director is a friend and he let me start in the very last wave. No pressure. No ambitious college kids to accidentally bump me or send water down my throat. I had no intention of racing. All I wanted was to enjoy the water and do something to mark the end of all my cancer treatment.
I started slow. Nice and easy. The first 800 meters or so, you’re on your own- you start, swim into a small cove, around a buoy and THEN you meet up with your kayaker. Ryan was in the kayak for me- not his favorite place to be, but he had happily admitted that this was a special occasion and agreed to kayak. I’m normally in the front of the pack in a race, making me fairly easy to spot, and for a while I was worried Ryan might not be able to find me or recognize me deeper into the middle of a bunch of swimmers. No worries- as I rounded the corner, I saw him waiting and we hooked up, just like it’s supposed to be.
And then I swam. Not hard. Not fast. Just swam. The day was beautiful, though had it been pouring rain and freezing, I doubt I would have noticed. I remember hitting the halfway point- no idea how much time had passed. I was still feeling surprisingly good, smiling up at Ryan every few strokes.
Two years on, there are still no words strong enough to express the joy I felt, swimming, in open water and sunshine, Ryan by my side. This is what I am made to do and after a really long 9 months, to be able to just get out and DO it again, with nothing holding me back… well it was a perfect moment. After months of sadness, sickness, and pain the freedom of just being able to swim again was a touch overwhelming.
When I walked out of the water at the finish line, I was close to tears of joy, just like the first time I’d swum that race 11 years prior.
Normally, a 10k is nothing for me. A warmup. I barely even notice 10ks as they pass. Every January, I joke that I’m going to count how many 10ks I swim in a year. Inevitably, I lose count sometime in February. In 2018, I swam exactly 2 10ks. I did one to celebrate the end of chemo, in May. And I did the Horsetooth 10k. I was tired for a week from the effort, but who cares! I DID it!
When you get diagnosed with cancer and make it through treatment, most people celebrate their Cancer Anniversary, i.e. their Cancerversary. Some people celebrate it as the day they were diagnosed and began their journey toward health. They say that from the moment of diagnosis, they feel like they were a “survivor.” Some people celebrate it as the day they were declared cancer-free. I never know what day to pick. It’s not like the movies where you’re sitting in a doctor’s office in your Sunday best and some nice doctor says, “Congratulations, we got it- you’re cancer free” and music plays and everyone embraces and the movie ends. For me, it was more a series of events- ultrasounds that showed my tumors were shrinking throughout chemo; a voicemail from my surgeon telling me she couldn’t see anything but dead cancer cells after my mastectomy; ringing the bell after radiation ended, marking the end of active treatment.
I think I finally settled on a date. September 9, 2018. The day I swam a 10k in the sun and proved to myself that I was going to be ok, that I won, and that no matter what happened next, cancer would never, could never actually beat me.