USA TODAY‘s Nashville music critic finishes a chapter of his cancer story with a successful 5K run.
6:29AM EDT October 27. 2012 – 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.
The chili-pepper boxers hadn’t come out in ages.
I bought them in Austin a good 20 years and about that many pounds ago. They never were practical for everyday use because, well, they don’t open in the front. I think I keep them only because they remind me of a dear friend who died too young.
Maybe that, and the fact that they don’t open in front, is why they seemed the perfect choice to wear at last weekend’s Undy 500 in Nashville. The run, which raises funds for the Colon Cancer Alliance, encourages participants to run in boxer shorts.
I look ridiculous in them, of course. Not even my black Johnny Cash T-shirt — another article of clothing I couldn’t fit into four months ago — made me look less silly, especially once I added the black knee-high compression socks I bought to help keep me from tearing any more calf muscles. But after posting detailed accounts of my bodily functions here and on Facebook for the past four months, I don’t embarrass easily.
Fortunately, friends from nearly every part of my life — from high school, from work, from my neighborhood — were willing to not only be seen with me, but to wear their own boxers and run.
One in particular, my pal Cindy, has never been more than a phone call away since the very start. If I remember correctly, I had to cancel lunch with her the day I got my diagnosis. We were part of a weekly lunch group, but I had no idea then that she’d be one of the first people to visit me in the hospital and to bring food to my family when I got home. As a runner who’d recently completed a half-marathon, she even agreed to pace me on the 5K.
Having not had a good run in three weeks because I kept getting hurt, the run concerned me, especially when I realized the course’s first mile went uphill. We started in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame and went straight up Demonbreun Street to Musica, a giant statue of dancing naked people you may have noticed recently on ABC’s Nashville during a video shoot for Hayden Panettiere’s character. The next mile cut through the Music Row area, going down 17th Avenue South to Edgehill Avenue — which, I didn’t realize until I had to run it, is so named because it’s on the edge of a hill — up to 16th Avenue South, then to Musica again. From there, it was all downhill, which was good, because by the time I got back to Musica, I felt like I was ready to throw up.
Cindy might have let me throw up, but she wasn’t about to let me stop. We started too fast because we didn’t want to run in a crowd. When she realized we were on track to make my dream pace — a goal I’d all but given up when injuries prevented me from training — she kept encouraging me, giving me our times at each mile marker, moving in front of me on the inclines so I could watch her feet instead of staring at the top of the hill, reminding me in the last stretch that “You can do anything for four minutes.”
Friends like Cindy have helped me all through my journey with cancer. From simple, reassuring Facebook posts to offers of substantial amounts of money, support has come from all over — from people I loved, from people I admired, from people I hardly knew. Most often, it came from places I wouldn’t have expected. I used to think I had a hard time making friends; now I realize I just had a hard time recognizing them.
According to Cindy’s running app, we crossed the finish line nine seconds under my dream goal: 29 minutes, 51 seconds. The official time had me just over, 30:20 — a reminder to never, ever slow down when the finish line’s in sight, no matter how well you think you’re doing. Either way, I couldn’t possibly have done that before my diagnosis. I guess that means I’m healthier now than I was before I had cancer.
My cancer story’s not over, though. I’ve only finished this chapter. Because of my genetic disorder, a new cancer is always a possibility; the scar across my bellybutton and the changes to my digestive process are daily reminders that my life will never be the same as before this summer and could suddenly change again. I can do things to minimize the likelihood that new tumors will grow. With my doctors, I can keep a vigilant watch to catch future problems early. But even if I never receive a troubling test result, in my mind cancer will never be farther away than just around the corner. There’s always a better-than-average chance that it’ll be what eventually takes me out.
I don’t think about beating cancer, though. We’re not in a competition. I absolutely understand why some people approach treating cancer like waging war, but, to me, it’s not a battle; it’s more of a workaround situation. Besides, right now, I don’t have cancer. I have Lynch syndrome.
Cancer is just a complication.
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. This week’s soundtrack to my cancer story comes from some of the musicians the world has lost to cancer. I admired all of them, and I knew far too many of them.
- Drift Away, Dobie Gray
- All Things Must Pass, George Harrison
- And When I Die, Laura Nyro
- Redemption Song, Bob Marley and The Wailers
- Last Dance, Donna Summer
- Turn Off the Lights, Teddy Pendergrass
- Inside My Love, Minnie Riperton
- Son of a Preacher Man, Dusty Springfield
- I Just Want to Love You, Eddie Rabbitt
- The End of the World, Skeeter Davis
- Green, Green Grass of Home, Porter Wagoner
- Blue Suede Shoes, Carl Perkins
- And I Love Her, Chet Atkins
- Wysteria, Dan Fogelberg
- When I Go Away, Levon Helm
- There Is a Light, Duane Jarvis
- Walk By Faith, Stephen Bruton
- Keep Me in Your Heart, Warren Zevon
- One Dyin’ and a Buryin’, Roger Miller
- What a Wonderful World, Joey Ramone
- My Semicolon Life: 5K prep tougher than cancer surgery, by Brian Mansfield (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- My Semicolon Life: Tracing my family’s cancer history – by Brian Mansfield (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- My Semicolon Life: Putting cancer in context (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- Lynch Syndrome (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- Life-Saving DNA Test Overlooked in Rise of Colon Cancer: Bloomberg News (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- Less than 10% of bowel cancer patients at high risk of Lynch Syndrome are screened for the condition | Beating Bowel Cancer (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)