Let me tell you about a girl named Jen Young. This girl goes to my gym. This girl is 30 years old. This girl also happens to have cervical cancer that has now metastasized to her liver.
September is Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, and with her September 27th fundraiser approaching (in the form of a Crossfit Master’s Competition at Burlington’s Crossfit Altitude), it seems only fitting to share her story. Here is a post she wrote on her blog only one year ago:
I haven’t posted in long while. My spare time has been filled with my new part-time jobs coaching at CFA, and writing for Sweat RX magazine (getting paid to write has unfortunately trumped writing up recipes for free on the interwebs :). I am sad to say that it is not a tasty new dish that has me busting out my slightly rusty blog again; I decided to hijack my own recipe space to share en mass some recent news and subsequent reflections.
On Sept 6 I found out that I have cervical cancer. I spent 10 very anxious days having no idea how bad it was or what was coming next and finally, yesterday, the results of some extra testing confirmed that it is a small cell neuro-endocrine tumor. This is a particularly nasty sort that normally lives in the lungs, apparently, and has a tendency to spread. It is also very rare. My Doctor is apparently somewhat of a Bigwig, and he and his Biggerwig colleague have seen only a dozen cases in their 20 years. However, I’ve caught it fairly early, and Bigwig assures me he has killed much larger beasts of its kind. I will kill it also. But it will come at the cost of several weeks of chemo (I start next week), then several weeks of radiation and probably major surgery, to make sure it doesn’t resurrect.
I don’t know if I will feel well enough to move, let along work out; some people are knocked on their asses, while others feel mostly fine, but I hope to visit CFA nevertheless as much as possible.
That’s the Readers Digest version. To those in my life, please don’t be shy about talking to me about it. I (probably) won’t burst into tears. Ladies especially, I’m very willing to talk about the details of discovery and diagnosis if you’re curious (men, don’t worry, I won’t start talking about the cervix here ;).
So onward to the philosophical part and the motivation for the title of this post.
During those 10 days of waiting, and even today after learning the gory details, I find that I’ve actually surprised myself by not having a 24 hour meltdown. My cousin went through a similar ordeal ~5 years ago (also cervical cancer under the age of 30, coincidentally) and I distinctly remember thinking, “I don’t know how she’s so strong and positive, I would be a mess.” And when I first found out, I was a mess, for about 5 hours. But then, channeling my cousin, I gathered my composure and I went to my box to coach and to work out, because that’s what I’d planned to do, and I didn’t particularly feel like crying anymore.
It was a surreal experience, watching everyone around me carry on as though their world hadn’t just stopped spinning….because for them, it hadn’t. I have a new appreciation for this: you never know what’s going on in someone else’s life. Be kind, always.
I capped the very surreal day with a doozie of a WOD (100 burpees, interspersed with either 2 rope climbs or 5 deadlifts, every minute on the minute) that left me weeping (only half because of the rope climbs) in a heap on the floor.
I have had the occasional meltdown since then; last Sunday the frustration of 200 double-unders squeezed the emotion right out of me and I found myself sobbing in the back lot during the rest period. But these periods of stress and panic are far fewer than I had expected, which has lead me to conclude that CrossFit has made me far more capable of handling the Real Life unknown and unknowable than I ever imagined possible.
CrossFit, and especially competing in CrossFit, has trained me to accept what I can’t control. I don’t pick the daily WOD, I don’t influence who else shows up to compete, and I certainly can’t do much about their performance and eventual score. Fretting about what others are doing (or what has happened to other people with cancer) won’t help me to do better. Whining about a workout won’t change it, and no amount of moping is going to make my cancer disappear.
As I sat in my car in the parking lot after the first news, having a good cry and wondering how I would deal with what was to come, something Brit said once, ages ago, came sharply to mind. “You know,” she said, “if I lost a leg or something, I’d just go win the Paralympics instead.” She may have been joking, but it struck me as inadvertently profound life advice. More recently, I interviewed Stouty, an adaptive athlete and fantastic crossfitter, who lost the use of both legs and actually DID go win at the Paralympics.
I am entirely in charge of my own actions and attitude. I can’t control what the treatment will do to my body, but I can do my best to prepare it with good food and sleep, and I can manage my stress by staying as positive as possible.
I am approaching this cancer as I would approach a heavy bar; determined, ready, and convinced that it will go overhead, because I trust that I have trained sufficiently. I know that my body is in the best shape it’s ever been in, and I trust that crossfit and paleo have made my body as strong as it possibly can be.
I feel physically prepared to win this battle, but I also feel mentally prepared. This last 10 days has proven to me that even though “Murph” and “Fran” make me feel anxious over the pain I know is coming, I also know, without a doubt, that I will finish them, one way or another, and that you all will be there cheering until the very last rep.
I refuse to let this disease dictate my every waking moment. I will not let it take the joy from things I love to do, and the people I love to be with. CFA is my sanctuary; a place where I know that I can go and forget the world for an hour of shared pain and exhaustion, or find a hug if I need one. Thank you all for making CFA the place that has prepared me for this, and that I am confident will help me through it.
Please come out to support a great cause on Saturday.