If I’ve learned one thing in recent weeks, it’s that I can put up with almost any kind of pain for an hour.
When USA TODAY‘s Nashville music critic Brian Mansfield was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 48, he figured that a lifetime of Southern-fried foods, extra-large sodas and stress eating on deadline had brought it on. Turned out he had a genetic syndrome that gave him an 80% chance of developing colon cancer. He’ll chronicle his life with the disease — and with only a small part of his colon — in a series of weekly installments.
How in the world am I having a harder time getting ready for a 5K than I did recovering from cancer surgery?
This weekend, I’m supposed to run in the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Undy 5000 Nashville run. Participants are encouraged to run in their boxer shorts. I’ve got a pair with chili peppers on them that I bought about 20 years ago. They’re still a little snug, but I think they’ll work.
I’ve been planning this since shortly after my diagnosis in June. At first, I expected to be in the middle of chemo treatments and have to walk it. When I found out that chemo wouldn’t be necessary, I started planning to run.
COLUMN: Last week’s installment
MORE: Follow Brian on Twitter
PLAYLIST: Music that makes me want to live
Initially, my training went well. Before I left the hospital, I was walking a mile a day, albeit in several short bursts. I kept walking when I got home; within a month, I could cover 5 miles in a wide loop around my neighborhood.
My first attempts at running hurt a little, jostling inner parts that hadn’t quite settled into their new positions. Eventually, though, I settled into a nice training regimen, alternating days of walking and days of running.
By mid-September, I had figured out a stride that felt natural. Apparently, my body operates at 150 beats per minutes. Maybe it has something to do with coming of age during the early ’80s: Several of the records that I remember causing the most visceral responses — R.E.M’s Radio Free Europe, Bruce Springsteen’s No Surrender, The Cure’s Just Like Heaven, not to mention Twister Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It and Quiet Riot’s Cum on Feel the Noize cover — all operate within a couple beats of 150 bpm. That tempo would put me on pace for a 30-minute 5K, which felt too good to be true of my first official run.
Just as I got to where I could run the right distance, run the right time, my body started falling apart.
My feet went first, developing tender spots just below the outer side of both ankles that made standing and walking difficult. I targeted a pair of overworn shoes as the culprits and threw them away, but the pain kept me off the street for a week.
Then, I tore a calf muscle during my first run back. Five houses from home, with my earbuds in, I heard the pop. The injury slowed me down enough that my wife and daughter could keep up with me when we went to New York a couple of weeks ago for a surgery-delayed vacation.
The morning we left New York, I cracked a tooth all the way down one root, biting into a slice of pizza. Before I could have an oral surgeon extract the tooth, I spent several days trying to maintain the fine line between passing out from pain and throwing up from pain meds. I got the balance wrong one day and had to cut short an interview, vomiting before I could return the phone to its cradle.
Wednesday night, I went for my first run in two weeks. From my first steps, I could tell my body wanted to run. My feet did exactly what they were supposed to, hitting right behind the ball, rolling forward and flipping back. I didn’t push myself at all, and my movement felt like an easy glide.
A few minutes in, though, and I started feeling every little twinge in my leg. Maybe a muscle was acting up, or maybe I was gun-shy, allowing my imagination to run away with me. Either way, I didn’t want to take any chances, so I eased up on my pace — running three minutes, walking three minutes.
Then, during the song that was playing when I tore that muscle two weeks ago — Joan Jett’s version of ZZ Top’s Tush — my left calf started seizing up again. Not enough to stop me, but enough to spook me. By the time I got home, my right leg had started pulling tight, too.
I went out again Thursday but took it real easy, going about 2 miles but running maybe a third of it. Right now, my calves are so tight that, if my muscles were guitar strings, I wouldn’t need a capo to raise the pitch. It’s not the kind of feeling I want to take into a 5K run.
But if I’ve learned one thing in recent weeks, it’s that I can put up with almost any kind of pain for an hour.
All I have to do is keep moving.
Music that makes me want to live
Cancer has changed the way I hear music, more than any other life event except marriage. Songs I once appreciated only on a surface level now strike deep at the core of my soul. Some inspire me; some terrify me. Others that I might have liked before I’ve got no use for now. I’ve also got more time to listen, whether it’s during my morning exercise time or while lying in a hospital bed. These songs form part of the soundtrack to my cancer story.
1. Meant to Live, Switchfoot
2. Get On Your Boots, U2
3. Run Run Run, The Explorers Club
4. Everybody Talks, Neon Trees
5. Cruise, Florida Georgia Line
6. Enola Gay, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
7. Constructive Summer, The Hold Steady
8. Believer, Goldfrapp
9. Something’s Got a Hold On Me, Etta James
10. Use Me, Bill Withers
- My Semicolon Life: Tracing my family’s cancer history – by Brian Mansfield (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- My Semicolon Life: After cancer, New York beckons, by Brian Mansfield (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- My Semicolon Life: Good news on the cancer front (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- My Semicolon Life: Putting cancer in context (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- Lynch Syndrome (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- Variants of Unknown Significance (VUS): A new trial for Lynch Syndrome patients (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)