The doctors left the port in her chest, so that she wouldn't need a new IV every time she got a chemo treatment. Some days, her left arm is so weak, she can hardly bend her elbow. Last week,they told her that the disease was not responding, and is much worse than they thought. She needs radical surgery, but they can't do it until she is stronger. She works out as if her life depends on it. Which, in a way, it does. I was spotting her in the weight room this week. Shoulder press with dumbbells. Hard for anybody. Nearly impossible for her. Our faces were inches apart when I saw the tear roll down her left cheek, same side as the tumor. "It hurts." "What hurts?" I asked quickly. You don't take pain lightly in my business. "Everything." I was about to stop her, then my glace fell to her jaw. It was set steel cable tight. "Two more reps," she growled, her lips barely moving. She ground two more presses out like an NFL linebacker, then dropped the weights to the floor, leaned into my chest, and soaked my shirt with tears of courage.
He was my best friend for a long time. A class mate. An ordained minister. A Christian education director. A flamboyant, joyful man, trapped behind the barely latched closet door that his church forced him to hide in. He was the one who reassured me that in spite of my curiosity, artistic temperament, and unsettling dreams, I was most definitely not a homosexual. One night, just after Thanksgiving break, he passed a joint and rubbed his eyes dry with the heel of his hand as he told me about coming out to his fireplug of an ex-Marine father. He trembled in fear as the old man smoked quietly for a long time, finally breaking the silence when he asked, "Ok. So, what is it that you do, exactly?" They talked long past midnight, gradually unpacking fears, truths, and a couple of stories about life in Greenwich Village in the 70's that still make me cringe. My friend was prepared to be disowned. Instead, he found a father's confused, but unconditional love. By the time he finished telling me about it, we were both crying tears of gratitude, cross-legged on the floor of his dorm room.
The week before your first Marathon is not the time to discover a lump in the shower. No time for this shit right now. That Sunday, he broke four hours, and hoped the nub would go away. Three months later, he joined the 1%: only 2200 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. "Lucky me." In spite of his initial denial, the docs said that they caught it early. Minor surgery seemed successful, but left enough doubt room for error that several rounds of chemo followed. Hair loss. Sunken eyes. Disappearing muscles. See-saw emotions. Weight gain. "Less than a year ago, I finished a marathon. Now I have to stop and rest when I walk to the john. I have to run again You have to help me run again." "I'm only a trainer," I told him the day we met. "I can't take a step for you. But as long as you're willing to run, I'll run beside you." For months, he was always early to class. inundating me with questions about nutrition, and exercise. He banged out reps in the weight room. Rocked the rowing machine. Made the stationary bikes hum. Soaked the treadmill belt with sweat before the rest of us were even warmed up. He was dragging through the front doors as I was clocking out after teaching an aerobics class this morning. "What's with you?" I ribbed. "You look like you've been pulling a plow." He glanced around the lobby with a weary sparkle, as if to be certain we were alone. "Last night. 3 miles in 32." Runners and cancer survivors: we have a shorthand all our own. We wrapped our arms around one another in the sunlit lobby: a big, back-slapping bear-hug that quickly became the kind of long embrace a proud father gives his son just before it's time to leave for college. "You son-of-a-bitch," I whispered. "Guess you'll have to run by yourself. I can't keep up with you now." He punched me in the arm, laughing. I was careful not to raise my head until I could duck into the men's room. I soaked a brown paper towel with salty pride.