Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Endurance and Endorphins

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1)

Although I have never aspired to run in a marathon, I can recall a time when I actually enjoyed running long distance in college. I remember the daily 3-mile route through campus and down tree-lined neighborhoods. I remember the times I would get a stitch in my side or a cramp in my leg that would ease as I ignored the pain and lengthened my stride. I remember the cold, crisp mornings when icy air threatened to freeze-dry my lungs only to thaw as I pushed through to a steady cadence and continued to stoke my metabolic engine. Breathlessness was transformed into resonant rhythmical respiration followed by an almost invincible sense of strength fueled by endorphins. On the days I did not feel like running, my roommate could be counted on to goad me out of the dorm, then encourage me all along the course, often setting the pace.

Notwithstanding our desire to sprint to the finish in our competition with cancer, it is now clear we have signed up for a marathon event. When we returned to UVA on Thursday, October 2, a high-resolution MRI uncovered not one but six new metastases of the brain. These were all treated without complication by the marvelous technology of gamma knife surgery. Another MRI of the left hip region revealed that the previous suspicious area of increased PET scan activity corresponded with a one-centimeter lesion in the bone marrow of the proximal femur (thigh bone).

Although none of these lesions is causing symptoms, the oncologist concedes that the declaration of a remission from the melanoma was premature and he anticipates that further intervention is needed. Considerations include local radiation to the hip, another course of high-dose Interleukin-2, or some other novel therapy. There is no sure strategy for this segment of the course we are set upon.

The parallels to long-distance running are clear. Endurance is the key to finishing the race and finishing well. We have already pressed through much of the pain and have a foretaste of the endorphin rush. We are catching a second wind and hitting a new stride. In large measure our progress is credited to many of you, our “great cloud of witnesses”, some of whom have run the same course.

Most of all, however, it is because of the One who has set the pace for all of us, who has run through every muddy mile and won for us the promise of an invincible life… and who runs along side us still, sometimes prodding and always cheering us on. (Hebrews 12:2)

More than anything else, our strength is renewed because “the lovingkindness of God endures all day long.” (Psalm 52:1)


PS – We are currently traveling, visiting friends and family in Michigan and Illinois while awaiting word regarding specific treatment recommendations. We will keep you posted