Friday, April 26, 2013

Decide: Put Your Head Down and Make It Happen!

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1 year ago, my 41 year old husband was diagnosed with Stage 3 Small Intestine Cancer.

12 rounds of chemotherapy and 365 days later, my 42 year old husband just completed his very first mini-triathlon.

300 meter swim. 10 mile bike ride. 3.2 mile run. All the way to the finish line.

What a difference one year can make.

Proud is not a big enough word to describe how I feel about him today. His smile at the end of the race was breathtaking, and I will remember that moment forever.

He worked hard for this. No, he didn't join a team. He didn't even follow a training program. He just decided. He decided he was up for the challenge. He believed that he could swim, bike and run.

And he did. It was the same 1 year ago when we faced that terrifying news and the treatment that followed. We just did it. We decided to put our heads down and do it, whatever "it" turned out to be.

Everyday we decided as a family to make changes, to just change one thing at a time. We decided to be intentional with what we put in our mouths and how we spent our time. After learning that sugar is the main ingredient used in PET scans to locate and identify cancer cells, it was the first thing we kicked to the curb. It seemed wrong to supply any lurking cancer cells with more food to feed on, so we starved them instead. No more sodas. No more sugary drinks masquerading as water for the kids. No more foods with sneaky added sugars wearing suspicious names. We knew too much to ignore.

As I watched my husband jump into the pool for his very first 25 meter lap, I couldn't help but catch my breath. It was 1 year ago that I sat in a hospital waiting room as the surgeon handed me a picture of a 6.5 cm tumor - a picture that I blinked and blinked at, trying to make it focus and somehow make sense.

Today I stood outside the pool with the sun on my back, cupping my hands over my eyes, marveling at his long, confident strokes. It was clear he was a lifeguard back in the day. "He so underestimated his time for this," I said out loud to no one in particular as he passed three people in the pool. He put his head down in the water and got it done. 12 laps. 300 meters. Check.

For the past 6 months, I sat with him every 2 weeks as he was injected with a poison that would kill any hidden cancer cells. Just like the swim, he met this challenge head on - quiet and reserved, with an unconventional confidence. We were told that not many people last all 12 rounds, which made him want to go the distance even more. He impressed the nurses with his unassuming, low-maintenance ways. He put his head down and got it done.

Hopping out of the pool, he headed for his first transition. On his way out (on a bike not necessarily suited for this kind of race), he did a wheelie. I "woohooed" and hollered and generally made the video hard to watch later because of my celebratory outbursts.

But this is the perfect symbol for how we lived the past year - doing wheelies. Up and down. From resting and recovering to wrestling and rejuvenating with the kids. When he wasn't feeling tired and fatigued, we were moving. We were playing. We were doing the things that bring us joy. We enjoyed our children and their childhood. We intentionally made time for games. We said 'yes' more. He became the the 'Zen Parent'. We did wheelies, as best we could, throughout all of his treatments.

During one of his transitions, he expressed frustration about his 'not quite right' bike. It was slowing him down. But he quickly reminded himself to just enjoy the experience. It had to be a ride, not just a race. He put his head down, kept pedaling and began noticing. Noticing the beautiful stretching fields of cotton, the lovely houses, the way the wind felt on his face and how the early spring sun warmed his back.

It was the same during his treatments - he didn't talk much. He just showed up. He didn't dwell. He didn't wallow when things were hard. He crowded out the negative and opened himself up to new possibilities. He put his head down and decided to get it done.

As a family, during the past year, we focused on crowding out all of the processed foods in our lives. If it has more than 5 ingredients that we can't pronounce, we don't buy it. If it comes in a box but we can get it fresh, we don't buy it. Instead of processed foods, we bought a Vitamix blender and started making things from scratch. We made green smoothies and shocked our colleagues as we drank neon green juice from mason jars. We invented a new game where we try to do all of our shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store, never stepping foot into the aisles. We visited Farmer's Markets and started learning more about the dangers of GMOs. We got rid of plastics and stopped burning things that may be putting toxins into the air we breathe. We changed the supplies we used to clean our house. We started making 3 hour trips to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods in order to find the organic, non-GMO versions of the things we like to eat.

Back at the race, we cheered him on as he hopped off his bike and began the run. He put his head down and put one foot in front of the other. He focused on the remainder of the road, looking ahead towards the finish line.

When he crossed underneath the huge FINISH sign, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of accomplishment. I didn't physically run the race with him, but yet, I was there every step of his journey. That finish line was more significant than anyone around us could have imagined.

Sure, it was only a 300 meter swim, 10 mile bike ride and 5K run, but that finish line marked so much more than that. It marked an ending to some of the scariest times of our lives and the beginning of so many positive changes for our family.

To say things have changed for us over the past year is a bit of an understatement. We were a typical family. Eating and drinking typical things - out of boxes, bottles and bags. Making what we thought were the 'best' worst choices from restaurants and drive thrus. We considered ourselves 'pretty healthy' eaters. We didn't overindulge in the crazy foods, but we didn't always eat our veggies either.

Until that day. That day when the "big scary" happened for us. When the world turned upside down and a new normal was established.

That day we put our heads down and decided. We wouldn't start counting Christmases together. We wouldn't wallow in the overwhelming bad luck and fortune of it all. We wouldn't waste away in the fear of it. Instead, we decided to put our heads down and push forward with intention.

To use our time and energy wisely. Every single day.

To eat well and play more.

So... no matter what your motivation for change, the charge is always to:

Decide. Put your head down and make it happen. Use your challenges to fuel your changes.

With that, I'm off to the pool. We are training together for the next mini-triathlon because this one was all his.

This one was his finish line.

Sharon at MommyVerbs is a working Momma - a newly tattooed, 'just turned 40 year old' who enjoys writing about life with her family T, X and Y, while playing fast and loose with punctuation... engaging each day... one action word at a time. And, she's on a mission. To be intentional. To pay attention to the action of her world. To engage and encourage others to do the same... especially when it comes to health and wellness, what we eat and how we spend our time. Her challenge to you is: Eat Well. And Play More.

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