No matter what I tried, the cancer kept growing. I was devastated. Then I took a run that changed everything.
Photo: Becky Castleton
Running has brought me so many beautiful moments: I've witnessed glorious sunsets, run through stunning scenery, and crossed many finish lines. It's not just the outside stuff either; running helps me think and connect with myself in a way nothing else does; it makes me feel beautiful. Yet my run on the day after Christmas in 2012, felt anything but beautiful. It felt like everything had frozen in time, and I wasn't sure how to move forward. I'd gone to Arizona for the holidays to be with my family but the festivities were dampened by a serious call from my doctor. Part of me wanted to talk to my family about everything I was feeling and going through but I couldn't find the words—so instead, I put on my running shoes and headed high up into the hills of Rio Rico.
See, six months earlier, I'd discovered I had breast cancer and despite undergoing many treatments, the doctor called to tell me it had gotten worse.
I've been a runner ever since I can remember. Growing up, my dad used to take me and my younger siblings to do laps around the track at a nearby school. At first, I hated it, but his warm hand on my back reassured me that I could keep going, even when my lungs felt like they would burst. Eventually, I grew to love those runs and joined the cross-country teams in junior high and high school. Running made me feel healthy and strong but it also gave me a sense of power and control over my body and my life. And it was that feeling that I was searching for as I ran higher up into the Arizona hills.
My cancer diagnosis had taken me completely by surprise. I'd always worked hard to be healthy and since being diagnosed I'd worked equally as hard at getting my health back. My mom and I read up on all the current medical and naturopathic cancer treatments and, encouraged by all the success stories we'd read, I tried most of them. I'd spent months going to a health clinic for weekly sessions where they infused my blood with various treatments. But it wasn't working. As hard as it was to accept, my most recent tests showed the cancer was progressing. I felt utterly lost. (Related: The Story Behind a New Bra Designed to Detect Breast Cancer.)
At the top of a hill, overwhelmed mentally and physically, I dropped to my knees and finally let it all out. I poured out my heart, praying. Why hadn't the treatments that had cured so many others worked for me? Hadn't I done everything right? Why was the cancer still progressing? And, most importantly, what was I supposed to do now? And then the answer came to me—but it wasn't what I'd expected. Instead of the heavens parting and the cure for cancer being dropped in my lap, I realized that God was telling me it was time to accept my cancer. I'd been working so hard to heal myself but I finally understood that I wasn't in charge of my cancer and it wasn't up to me to stop and kill the cancer. I couldn't control it.
Photo: Becky Castleton
Now don't get me wrong, I hadn't given up! On the contrary, I knew that if I wanted to live my life, regardless of how much was left of it, I needed to embrace this experience and learn from it, rather than trying to direct it. I had finally found peace in my diagnosis, accepting that I wasn't in control. It was during that run when I learned a new level of trust. It was humbling. (Related: What Your Cut Has to Do with Your Breast Cancer Risk.)
As I headed back home, I noticed the sunset. It was a sunset like so many I'd seen while running before, but this time it struck me differently. I watched as the colors in the sky grew brighter before fading into soft grays and deep blues. I realized how much a sunset could mirror life. Everyone has times when life feels crystal clear, with bright hope and brilliant colors, and there are other times when life is more like dusk when things are less clear and you're left pondering the gray area between colors—but both parts are necessary to make a beautiful sunset and beautiful life.
In 2013, I decided to have a mastectomy which put my cancer into remission, and I'm immensely grateful. I still run most days but now it's not about controlling my body or my life, it's about accepting whatever lies on the path beyond. And my favorite time of day to run? Sunset.