**Guest blog post by Phil Toomey, Chicago Marathon Participant 2013**
This photograph was taken in February 2013 at the LIVESTRONG Austin Half and Full Marathon. I saw the LIVESTRONG booth and decided, on the spur of the moment, to run the Half in honor of my sister-in-law, Camille, who had died of breast cancer a few years past. It was weird. I’m not emotional, but I was simply overcome while in the booth. Overcome by the sea of cards. Overcome by the strange concept of fighting something that seemed set on stealing joy, and cutting short life. Weird. Overwhelming. Definitely not “normal.”
A couple of weeks after the run, a close friend, Cheryl, was operated on for what, supposedly, were cysts. It turned out she had Stage 3 ovarian cancer. At the hospital, after Cheryl’s diagnosis, I made a decision to run Chicago in her honor. My wife, Celeste, made the decision to run Chicago as her very first marathon, again in honor of Cheryl.
Then, a few weeks later, something extraordinary occurred. I myself was diagnosed as having cancer. Unexpected. Certainly not prepared. The LIVESTRONG Foundation was there for me, and for that I am very grateful. It taught me I was a survivor from day one. Not a victim. Certainly not a statistic. I may not be a fast marathon runner. But I am a survivor. While I always “knew” my life had a limited shelf life, once I heard the word “cancer” the abstract became concrete. LIVESTRONG gave me a plan. It gave me facts. It gave me a reference point.
LIVESTRONG helped me focus on the reality that with the time I have left, I must live my life intentionally, and for all that it is worth. To pour into others, and enjoy. Not live in fantasy, or regret, or fear. Not to go to the store, and when the salesperson asks if they can help, flippantly reply “I’m only killing time.” To invest time. To embrace each waking, each breath, each Monday, each doctor visit as what they truly are: gifts.
In the roller coaster that has been the last few months, from being an observer to becoming a survivor, one thing has become very clear: my disease is a blessing. God is funny that way. I now have a gift of compassion and understanding I lacked before. When I sit across from someone who is on a similar path, and who I am called to walk alongside, I “know” what it’s like. The 7-minute conversation the doctor had to tell me something inside was trying to kill me, before he had to step out for the next appointment. The confusion of conflicting options. The uncertainty. The fear. The depression. Telling my wife, and then my children. And looking at the end. Questions—do I really believe that which I have professed all these years to “believe?” Is what I’m doing “worth it?”
And then, like a flower blooming from the ashes, “hope” appeared. For me, not necessarily hope of cure (although that is a big part of it), but hope of being of value to others (which is the much bigger part). I do not want my cancer to be wasted. I am a person of faith. For me, this is another opportunity to “carry” a message.
I can’t help but think that when I was in Austin, at the LIVESTRONG booth, when the photo was being taken, my body “knew.” Knew what I had. Knew what I would face. Knew, also, that I could, if I was willing, carry a message. And knew that in front of all those yellow cards, I would “see” a single word—hope.
And know that I was not, and am not, alone. Sure, there is and always has been God. But, as well, there is flesh and bones that is willing to walk with flesh and bones.
The race doesn’t always go to the fastest, but to the one that keeps running. Thanks to LIVESTRONG for keeping the pace, even when its founder took a torpedo. Thanks for being there, and being what you are: flesh and bones.