December 1, 2011: Kilometer #38

I have run five full marathons. Despite the fact that each one is unique and stands apart in my memory, during all of them I got to experience what I call the “Kilometer #38” syndrome.

After running 38 kilometers, you do not feel at your best. No matter who you are or what pace you have been running, I don’t think anyone is really comfortable at kilometer 38. Your legs and lungs burn, your feet kill, and everything else feels like it’s about to just fall of your body like the muffler on an old VW Bug.

Mentally, it’s also tough. If you have never run a marathon, you might assume that everyone is happy at kilometer 38, since you only have four more to go. You have finished ninety percent of the race. The rest should be a piece of cake, right?

Wrong. At least for me, those last four kilometers feel like another forty. And knowing that the pain will continue — and in fact get worse — can be pretty darn demoralizing. Last January in Tiveria, I had run the race of my life, but at kilometer 38 I was about to admit defeat. I felt I could just not face those last four kilometers. If it were not my friend Chaim running next to me, I might have stopped right there.

Despite all the fantastic news — and we are so aware of what a miracle we are seeing unfold — Stella is right now at kilometer 38. She is battling through another round of chemo that is really knocking her around. After the chemo, we have lots of tests to get ready for the surgery, then the surgery itself will be on January 1.

Yes, all of us who love Stella are dancing and singing with joy that she CAN have the surgery. But we are not the ones who have to HAVE the surgery. Already feeling low from the chemo, Stella is not looking forward to this very involved operation and the recuperation period after it. She mentioned to the surgeon how she was a “bit nervous” about the operation, perhaps looking for some comforting words or reassurance. Maybe he would tell her that this procedure was nothing to worry about, that it would be a piece of cake.

He just looked at her and said “Do you want to live?”

Well, it IS an answer.

While the rest of us are like spectators, cheering her on for reaching kilometer 38 in great form, none of us can really feel what she is going through right now. Chemo sucks. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s number one or number six. It just sucks.

It’s interesting. Time used to be the enemy. I wanted to slow time down or even stop it, so we could value every moment that we had. Now, I want time to speed up. I want her to leave chemo behind and quickly get through the operation. Now that I know a complete recovery is a definite possibility, I want us to get there right away.

But no matter how much you want to cross the finish line a few seconds after passing kilometer 38, it just doesn’t work that way. You have no choice but to somehow find some more strength and gut through the end of the race.

I do know that no matter how bad I have felt the five times I have hit kilometer 38, they were followed by five wonderful moments of crossing the finish line with my arms held high.

And so Stella and I both know that one day we will dance and sing together and this whole chapter in our lives will be over. But right now, we have no choice but to deal with the pain and keep moving forward.

The Surgery is scheduled for January 1. What a way to start 2012

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