Sunday, December 7, 2008

Marci Actually Runs the Marathon (part three) My Visits to MSKCC and Liam!

The longer I wait to post the remainder of my NYC Marathon 2008 experience, the harder it gets. There is just so much to say about it, it overwhelms me, and I find myself avoiding the blog altogether.

So I will be as descriptive and succinct as I can, and then we can move on to more recent events.

Before we commence, though, a HUGE shout-out to all my Honor Roll members. There have even been some more donations that came through in the last couple of weeks, bringing the total amount of money sent to the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cencer Center to an astounding


As much as I want to shout their names from the mountaintop, the donors asked to remain anonymous.

I have been running lately, I'm trying for 20 miles a week or so, but my nieces gave me a lovely Thanksgiving gift -- a cold. I tried to shake it off, and even ran through it a few times, but now that it's made its way chestwards, there's no running for a few days while it works its way out of me. Blech. I love running in the cold, and now that I've got an early Xmas gift from Laura, the Brooks Wanganui Cabrio mittens, I fear not the wind whooshing through my fingers. The only thing I don't like about winter running is my hands and ears getting cold. As long as they're warm, life's good.

But back to the topic at hand. The after-marathon.

One of the perks of being on Fred's Team is that we get to rendezvous at the Cherry Hill finishing area, where are bags are waiting for us, instead of heading out to Central Park West to retrieve our bags. We're told to stay to the right in that vast sea of people heading from the finish line to get out of the Park, where we're plucked from the line and escorted to the transverse and up to the waiting tents.

At last, right at the entrance to Cherry Hill. A porta-potty never looked so good!

Chip clipped, bag retrieved, and I head over to the Team tent to put on my warm clothes and see who's there and how folks did. There were some PRs and some BQs, some great times (Lynn ran a 3:33:33!) and a few injuries. I was surprised to see Rich without Harrie, as they were running together. Rich said Harrie was having trouble and told Rich to go on. A lot of our first-timers did great, with some really amazing finishing times. After about half an hour of stretching, warming up and catching up, I headed for home.

The hardest thing about the marathon is not running it, it's getting out of Central Park afterwards. Even though I live A BLOCK AWAY, it typically takes me over an hour to get home. First of all, the only way to get out of the Park from Cherry Hill is to cross over a bridge, over the sea of runners in their heatshields. Yeah, after you run a marathon, you have to climb two flights of stairs, and worse, down two flights. Not pretty. Then the crush of runners trying to get out of the Park meeting the friends, family and supporters trying to get in the Park. It's a madhouse. God bless the NYPD for keeping as much order as one can possibly keep. And lastly, the streets are just choked and crowded, and with all the construction in the area, there are so many detours that just getting from 59th to 58th Street is a major hike. So I decided to take the subway with Michelle two stops, and come up from the south. Turned out to be an excellent decision.

Stopped at the grocery store. There were two bags of ice left. Bought them both and went home. Dumped the ice in the tub, turned it on, made some hot chocolate, came back into the bathroom and discovered to my horror I turned the HOT water on, not the COLD. All the ice had melted! Feverishly I dumped the water from the tub, turned on the cold, and got all the ice out of the freezer. So it was a lukewarm bath instead of an ice bath. Not entirely restorative.

Cleaned up and went back over to the hotel. Another perk of being on the Team is that the Swedish Massage Institute is there to provide some post-marathon healing. I had two women working on me. Heaven. Then in for the dinner, where I got to catch up with a bunch of people, see some of the pictures that the Team photographer took of us throughout the day, and most importantly, hear speeches from some of the doctors at MSKCC, especially the doctors who work in the research department and pediatric cancer center. You've gotta love a charity that not only tells you where the money you raised goes, you get to meet the people who benefit most -- the doctors and researchers who use the money to treat the patients, and the patients themselves.

And BONUS -- guess who showed up?

Yep, my running hero, Grete Waitz!

Monday morning 6:30AM, I'm on line at Tavern on the Green for the Marathon Monday store. Yep, I'm that nuts. I want to go that early because the first batch of people there get their medal engraved on the spot. That's what I wanted. I saw Dani from Florida there, we talked for a few minutes. She finished in her goal time and was thrilled to get her name in the NY Times (as she said, who knew that 6-point type could mean so much?) I also wanted to get my usual round of Finisher gear (because it doesn't mean as much wearing it on Tuesday!) and some souvenirs for the nieces and for Liam and Ella. Alas, this year they didn't have those little stuffed animals they had the previous years. So hats and bags it was.

Which brings us to the visit to the pediatric floor at MSKCC. Unfortunately I can't show you the picture this year, they're a little stricter this time around. But I can certainly tell you about it! Harrie was there (he wasn't at the dinner.) He had a LOT of trouble during the marathon, ended up in an ambulance for a while, even. But he finished. I remember reading a conversation between an elite marathoner and a mid-pack runner. The elite runner was amazed when the mid-pack runner said it took him 4 1/2 hours. "How could you stay on your feet that long?" the elite runner said, "I could never do that. That's amazing!" For the elites it's a question of speed; for us normal people it's an endurance issue. Looking at it that way, it's harder to finish in 4 hours than 2, and harder still to finish in 6. It's pretty amazing to have that endurance.

The first place we visited was the dayroom, where the outpatients are. It's a bright, cheery room, and they had pictures of everyone from pediatrics who ran up on the wall. There were a bunch of children in there, and they were all wearing Fred's Team shirts! Even the littlest peanut of a girl was wearing a shirt that was more of a ballgown on her. We showed the kids our medals and played with them a little while. A lot of them were having a good day, especially these two boys who carted each other around in a wagon, shouting "BEEP BEEP!" as they ran around the room, bumping into everybody and everything. Eventually the nurses had to step in. And that's the amazing thing about MSKCC. Yes, these are children who are very sick, but they are CHILDREN first, and treated like children. There are rules they have to follow, and when they misbehave, they get scolded like any child would. Dr. K was there, Liam's doctor, and I got to spend a few minutes talking with him. He's got so much love for the children, you just know that they're in good hands. Dr. K also runs the marathon for the Team; he's a pretty good runner too.

We split up into groups to visit some of the in-patients. Our group met a teenage boy and his mother. He had been a big sports player (basketball, I think) but couldn't really do that. We told him about all the survivors we had on the Team and tried to talk them into joining. His mother seemed really enthusiastic -- you could tell she was a real force of nature -- and who knows, maybe one or both of them will be there next spring, lacing up.

We met a young guy for a minute or two who really wasn't feeling too good, so we didn't stay too long with him, and then the other people we were supposed to see were sleeping, so we went back to the dayroom to play with the children some more. There was a little toddler there, just maybe a hair over 1, just a little butterball, rolling around on the floor, his parents pushing his IV pole. And again, I said this last year, you think you'd cry seeing all these sick children there, but because they're being treated like children, not like patients, and because of all the love the staff has for the children there, it's just the opposite. It's just the most relentlessly positive place you could ever be, and you come away feeling so good, so lucky to be able to play a small part in making the place what it is.

And a few days later at last, my long-awaited visit to my buddy and my inspiration, Prince Liam! You might be surprised to hear, after how much I talk about him, that Liam and I have never met. I've met Gretchen, but never Liam. So I was super-excited to get to see my little champ in person.

Gretchen was at work, but the kids were home from school with their nanny. I brought little gift bags for Liam and his sister Ella, because I know what it's like when one sibling gets a toy and the other doesn't (tangent: there's an absolutely hilarious picture of my brother and I on is probably his second or third birthday. He's just been given a toy car parking garage, and there's a picture of him standing on a chair in the kitchen, holding onto the garage, and beaming from ear to ear, the happiest boy in the world. In the corner is me, literally seething, teeth bared, holding my hands out like claws, ready to pounce.) They were less interested in the gifts and more interested in taking me into their rooms and showing me all their toys. We read some books and then we started playing trucks. At one point Liam said, "Don't leave, I love you!" Oh boy. My heart melted.

Then we started getting silly. Now, there is something about me that I think little kids pick up on, I don't know what it is, but I somehow inspire children between the ages of 2-5 to get really hyperactive and nutty. Within minutes, I had Liam jumping on my back, Ella jumping on my front, and me trying to remember if I had my physical therapist's number on speed dial.

We crashed around like that literally for hours, until Gretchen and Larry came home. Turns out, we played right through dinner, and the family was getting ready to head to Jersey for the weekend, where they have a house. Gretchen and I talked for a while as the kids were getting their pjs on and eating some chicken nuggets. She updated me on Cookies for Kids Cancer and what was going on with them. She is really amazing. So many people, when something like this enters their lives, turn inwards and concentrate on the family. Gretchen is one of those rare people who can also turn out and say not just my family, what can I do to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else either? Where she gets the energy to work, run Band of Parents and Cookies for Kids Cancer, and most importantly share her life with a husband and two children, one of whom happens to be ill, is beyond me. Their whole family has really been, at the risk of sounding repetitive and sappy, a real inspiration. Every time I felt I couldn't do one more hill repeat, or take one more step, I thought about Liam and what he was going through, and I thought, if Liam could deal with something infinitely more painful and life-threatening, and do it without complaint, then so could I.

Which is why I was so proud to be able to give him this:

I may have run 26.2 miles, but he's running a much bigger race, and I know he's going to finish strong.

I have to tell y'all, at one point Liam thought it was medicine day (he was getting his second round of antibody treatments) and that he had to go to the hospital when his parents got home. Two-year-old Ella looked at him with big eyes and asked, "Liam, does it hurt?" He shook his head, said "Noooo," and waved dismissively, like it was no big deal. Contrast that with some of Gretchen's posts in her blog, talking about some of the tests and procedures Liam has had to go through, and how much he cried and how much in pain he was -- and keep in mind, this was less than a week after his most recent trip to the hospital for an infection/allergic reaction -- and is it any wonder why this four-year-old boy is my hero?

1 comment:

Brooklyn said...

That is such a great post. I am so touched you had the medal engraved with Liam's name. Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye...