Why I Keep Racing With Team in Training

The weekend Hurricane Harvey hit, I signed up for my fourth Team in Training (TNT) commitment, a half-marathon in Austin, Texas. The timing was coincidental, not intentional. (Also, I will also not be running, but that has nothing to do with the hurricane that was Harvey and all to do with the daily storm that is my health.)

I try to space at least a full year between events, because they require fundraising, and I do not like to beg you kind people on the daily to donate money to even a cause as worthy as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). When I looked over the options for 2018, most were full marathons in places I wasn’t terribly interested in returning to or events that my body, which is still recovering from a failed, very recent back surgery, cannot handle in its current state, even with training. While I’d love to sign up for an Ironman, I haven’t completely lost my mind yet. Frankly, I’ll be lucky if with even five months of training, I can walk 13.1 miles, but I have faith in myself, even if my back has an uncanny ability to test me every single minute of every single hour of every single day. I can honestly say cancer, on most days, was easier to deal with than crippling back pain, which is truly saying something.

Racing, as this headline would suggest, is a loose term — when I sign-up for endurance races through Team in Training, I am not competing for a personal record or trying to beat anyone else to the finish line. What I sign up for, and what every one of my purple-clad teammates signs up for, are by definition races, but I don’t participate to compete, unless you count the donations board, in which case I’m always determined to be one of the top 3 fundraisers. We all have to have goals, you know?

No one has actually asked me why I keep signing up, so this isn’t an angry response to someone who just doesn’t get it, as I’ve been wont to write. It’s simply a question I’ve been asking myself lately. I’ve just wanted to clarify it a little bit more, I think, because it goes beyond the surface response, that I’m a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, so if I’m going to raise money, of course it will be for LLS.

I could raise money for lots of different causes though — the American Cancer Society also works towards finding cures for cancer. The oncology center at Cedars-Sinai kept me alive. Stupid Cancer is a fantastic resource for young adult cancer patients and survivors. There’s a children’s hospital right down the street that could use all of our help. But as individual people, there are only so many ways we can stretch ourselves, both financially and emotionally. For me, LLS is the logical non-profit to raise money for, because they helped me while I was sick.

When I finished my six rounds of chemotherapy and one month of radiation, I was about 15 pounds heavier, having been put on steroids to combat the side-effects of chemo, and you know, starting off as a fat kid who likes cookies to begin with. Most cancer patients at least get the lovely side effect of fitting into their jeans better — I got to finally stop shopping in the juniors section at Target.

Every time I looked in the mirror, I felt sick. I was fatter. I was balder. I had the complexion of Casper. Radiation burnt my insides so much it hurt to take a deep breath. This was not how a 28-year-old should look, feel, or think. Frankly, it sucked.

As soon as I got the OK from my doctor, I joined a gym, not doing much more than walking on a treadmill and as many squats as I could squeeze out. Before I got another OK from my doctor, I discovered that Team in Training not only had endurance races but also hikes in national parks like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. In my pre-cancer life, hiking was one of my favorite activities. I love exploring, by car or foot, and stumbling over rocks in the sun-beaten Santa Monica Mountains was always a good time until I fell on my ass or forgot my water at home. If I could get through training for a hike, I might be able to get back into some semblance of shape, which might even lead to my self-esteem slowly crawling back, all while raising money to fight cancer. Seemed like a win-win.

More than that, I thought about those six rounds I sat in a puffy chair, hooked up to IVs, surrounded by people at least two decades older than me. No one should go through that, and kids, teens and young adults in their twenties especially so. The more money I raise, the more goes into the pot at LLS, which helps get them closer to finding cures for blood cancers. Some of their findings have even helped other strains of cancer, so every test and discovery gets us one step closer to a cure in general. Cancer is a many-headed beast, and while I hope to see an end to it in my lifetime, I know that it’s an incredibly difficult hill to climb. But maybe, just maybe, if more people join me in racing and raising money, if we can paint the country purple, maybe there will come a day not too far from now when no one has to sit in a chair hooked up to IVs, asking their nurses about the different colored liquids going into their body or asking for wi-fi passwords in oncology wards. It’s a lot more fun to catch up on Gilmore Girls in the privacy of your own home and without battling an illness. I should know, I currently do this every day.

There’s also a part of me that feels obligated to train. I completely understand that I am not, but I don’t know if you understand the power of survivor’s guilt combined with Jewish guilt. Keep trying to talk to me about Catholic guilt — it’s light years away from my one-two punch of stomach-gnawing feelings. To be slightly more clear, it’s a personal obligation. I like training to walk distances no human should walk in one day. I like traveling to new cities. I like meeting my TNT teammates when I’ve arrived in said cities. I do not like standing up in the middle of Inspiration Dinners to find I’m not only one of the few survivors in the room, but most definitely the youngest, but hey, that’s par for the course. Literally. I like knowing that the money I’ve raised — that you’ve so generously donated — is going to a worthy cause. Walking is the least I can do.

Also, there’s this fun anecdote:┬áMy first thought when I was told I had cancer was that I was going to put on a charity comedy show. That is a dumb though. Like, a supremely dumb thought. My first thought should have been to call my parents or what to ask the doctor next or how many chocolate chip cookies I was now allowed to eat, but instead, it was that I was going to raise money for a disease, one that at that very moment, I did not even know the specifics of, as far as my own misbehaving cells were concerned. Once I was done with treatment, I figured I should follow through with this stupidity, and I did, throwing my first Comedy Fights Cancer show under the umbrella of my storytelling series, Stupid Smart Kids. Next month, I’ll run variety show number four, in what has become a not-so-annual-but-sometimes-more-than-annual variety show. If you live in Los Angeles, I hope you’ll come out, and you can find full details on the September 30 show here. This time around, proceeds will be split between LLS and the Texas Children’s Cancer Center in Houston, because I can’t imagine how terrified I’d be if I was a kid going through treatment during such devastation.

If you’re interested in finding out more about TNT, my race in particular, or would like to donate, please click here.

Long story long, that’s why I keep “racing.” Thank you for being complicit in my insanity. It means the world to me.

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