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I run because my husband can't
How the spouse of a dying man finds solace in running. - photo by Kacee Houle
My husband has cancer. Stage 4 squamous cell carinoma cancer located in his maxillary sinus, to be specific. I never thought I would be the spouse of a "dying" man; but here I am. Here I am, the wife who had to wait 18 hours as they tore out a giant tumor in her husband's face, and then rebuilt it with a fibula bone and its muslces and vessels. Here I am, the wife who watched her husband suffer for days in the hosptial re-learning how to do simple things like eat, talk and walk. Here I am, watching my husband go through treatments. Here I am -- a wife of a dying man.

I have come to realize that I go through phases of "coping." Our lives are a little harder and more complicated than normal. And being the analyzer that I am, I've realized that with the different stages of this cancer process, I've gone through different stages of handling it. When he was first diagnosed I wanted to talk about it and share it. I needed love and support. It helped me wrap my head around what was about to happen and reassured me we had people right there with us. Then during his surgery and the few weeks after, I seriously wanted nothing more than to hunker down and wait out the storm -- and the day of his surgery I literally did just that; but in the weeks following, I did it internally. I had to put all of my emotions in a storm cellar in order to take care of my husband. He was feeling all of the terrible emotions enough for the both of us. As he was getting back to himself post-surgery, I feel like emotions came and went normally. Then radiation started and we were back in the cancer world. This time around my coping was physical:


Running has been a big part of my life the last 10 years. At different times in my life it has meant different things to me.

But this time around it has been everything. I run because I need to be outside in nature -- away from hospitals or cooped up in a house. I run because I need to "girl talk" and vent. I run because I have more thoughts, worries and "life" on my mind than ever before. I run because I have the Boston Marathon and some track races planned and I really want to PR so I can have that conquering feeling that I need in my life right now. And I have a new reason why I run:

I run because my husband can't.

My husband is the most passionate person I know; and one of his biggest passions is running. He was an amazing collegiate runner. Right before he was diagnosed with cancer he had decided to train seriously to see if he could do something with it.

I have a crystal clear picture of a run we went on just a few days before we found out about his cancer -- his last real run to date. We had gotten into trail running a bit and we were able to go on a little trail run after he got off of work one evening. I was running behind him as we were descending and, besides checking him out, I remember thinking how effortless he looked. He has a body that was built to run and a passion to fuel it. He looked like he was just flying down a rocky, single track trail.

Then cancer happened. We aren't sure if he'll be able to ever run how he likes to run again. We can't be sure that he'll be able to look like he's merely floating around a track while running a 46-second 400. The doctors say he will be able to run one day, and I pray he will.

Luckily, he is also so passionate about coaching. I don't know if you've seen this kind of passion. With his spare time, and to distract him from his current state of pain, he reads articles upon articles of human physiology and coaching philosophies. He has started to combine all of his experience and knowledge into a philosophy of his own and has a Word document to prove it.

I run because I am running for my husband. I am letting him at least get a taste of it by virtue of coaching me. I'm letting him try all of his coaching experiments on me so he can see how I adapt (and believe me, he doesn't hold back because I am his wife -- hello 16 miles averaging a 6:50 pace). I am trying to keep his passion burning bright at a time where he doesn't have energy to do much.

Running has once again proved to make life clearer and more full.

I'm sure that as life goes on running will take on different meanings to me.

But one thing will always be for certain:

I will run.