Our Dashing Whippets teammate Caitlin D. Jones is raising money for Gilda’s Club Charity to run the Chicago Marathon. As a recent cancer survivor herself, her story is powerful reminder of having a goal to help overcome a difficult situation. We hope you will share her story and consider donating to her campaign. You may donate here: [Caitlin’s Fundraising Page]
Here is Caitlin’s incredible story:
Running the Chicago Marathon…
“Faith is having a reason.”
By Caitlin D. Jones
“Unspecified abnormal cytological findings in specimens from cervix uteri.”
It sure is a mouthful… even more so when talking about your own cervix. Not to mention, when youʼre 52 days away from running your goal marathon…
Before that day, the letters “CIS” meant my phone made a typo for CSI (the crime show or College of Staten Island.) I was on a beach in Hawaii, sitting alone in a cove with the tide starting to come in, with my dress still over my swimsuit.
I sat watching the waves crash while a pair of honeymooners were having some sort of make out/instagram shoot/make-out-some-more session a few feet away. I wasnʼt moving — I was the weird lady crying alone in paradise— and apparently, neither were they.
I thought back to my senior year AP Literature class in high school when we read The Sun Also Rises. The meaning of a “Code Hero,” exclusively a higher moral authority for men of fiction, seemed to make so much sense to me then.
Hemingway defined the Code Hero as “a man who lives correctly, following the ideals of honor, courage, and endurance in a world that is sometimes chaotic, often stressful, and always painful.”
The measuring stick for this silent modus operandi? To Hemingway true courage was “grace under fire”. To him, showing emotions and romantic commitments are a sign of weakness. The rite of “passage” for the Code Hero, the ultimate test of this grace under fire, is facing death.
I got a little annoyed with the honeymooners, so I offered to take photos for them. They were thrilled with the results and finally left me in peace. When the water hit my waist from the volcanic formation I was sitting on, I was ready to face my family again.
My mother had yelled at me in the middle of the beach, saying I was being “dramatic,” (despite being uncharacteristically calm and withdrawn) and that “I KNOW YOUʼRE LYING CAUSE THEY CANʼT TELL WHAT STAGE IT IS WITHOUT A BIOPSY.”
Trying to be the know-it-all that most nurses are, I did have a biopsy… the day before we left for our trip.
Iʼd been having “abnormal pap-smears” since I was 19 years old. This has always been a hot-button topic for my mother who has survived breast cancer, cervical cancer, and uterine cancer. If there was a female cancer olympics, she would win the prize.
When this pap came back “bad,” I thought it was a routine colposcopy and biopsy and “see ya next year, doc!” I usually bleed a ton and get very woozy. Being an old pro at the procedure, I treat them like “ainʼt no thang” and bring a friend.
Tatyana, my close friend and neighbor, pulled the shortest straw because she works closest to the Staten Island bus stop, lives nearest to me, and volunteered to go anyway. She was the only one who knew; I played it off as “no big deal.” She brought candy and orange juice so I wouldnʼt get light-headed. She was literally the best “biopsy buddy” I could have asked for… I mean, she took me for pizza after! When in “Rome” (aka Staten Italy), I guess you must take in the local cuisine.
This fun anecdote failed to charm my mother. In fact, hearing me repeat that I had a CIS that was stage 2, inside me, on that beach, that very moment, enraged her. I learned, in hindsight and from other family members, she isnʼt really “the worst nurse ever;” she was just over ridden with a guilt that, for better or for worse, I am her daughter:
I have my motherʼs gregarious sense of humor, her knack for “school smarts,” her almost stubborn decisiveness, and her gynecological irregularities that predisposed me as a candidate for cervical cancer. When my mom was diagnosed, she was done having three kids. It wasnʼt ideal, but it didn’t put a kink in their family-making plans.
The next appointment with my doctor, I went alone to “discuss my options.” He kept talking and talking and I couldnʼt stop staring at the letters C I S in black-and-white with a bunch of numbers and jargon I canʼt remember after them. Carcinogen in Site. The soonest operating room was open on March 3, and Iʼd do pre-op testing on February 25. Thatʼs when I snapped back from my trance.
“So if the surgery goes well, then you might not have to do radiation… which youʼre too young for that anyway,” my doctor said, without taking a breath.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, put it this way, itʼs not fun and youʼre young and we want to preserve your fertility versus going in so aggressively… you wanna have kids, right?”
I hadnʼt thought about it in a long time. In my early 20ʼs, I fantasized about the day I became someoneʼs “Mommy.” As Iʼve gotten older and realized, under no unforeseen circumstances, has anyone Iʼve ever slept with been “co-parent material,” that dream has become more a macaroni necklace kept up in the attic.
“Right?” he said, trying to be empathetic.
I looked liked I was spooked and just nodded “yes.”
Having to make a decision about your potential fertility on the spot when your last real date had been in November in 2015 felt like screaming “IʼM GOING TO DISNEY WORLD” before you even try out for the NFL. Itʼs just silly… but real. He started speaking “doctor speak” again, and then a clutch of fear hit me and I blurted out, “But, can I RUN?”
He looked at me, confused. “Iʼm signed up to run the LA marathon in six weeks and I need to BQ and I need to know if I can run.” He paused and looked at me with a thousand words that might be summed up as — “no one has ever asked me to ALLOW them to run a marathon two weeks and three days after I remove a quarter of their cervix before.”
But, seeing my legitimate and sincere concern, he finally broke and said, “I mean, you SHOULD be healed by then, if everything goes well.”
That was all I needed to hear.
On the bus home, I called my sister, who was also my marathon coach, and told her the “good news.” She then adjusted my training schedule so Iʼd get my final 20 miles in on March 2, the day before my surgery, and then call my two week recovery, where I was supposed to be on my feet as little as possible, an “exaggerated taper.”
Then, in an 11th hour decision, Megan decided to run with me. Not just a shake out, not just a training run, but THE WHOLE DAMN MARATHON. So, I called my rep at Skechers, who is the title sponsor and my running sponsor. This was the first time I was telling them about the cancer and the altered training.
Without skipping a beat, they gave Megan a comped entry and the same level of “VIP” that everyone on team Skechers receives. (Thank you, Skechers!)
About 7 miles in, I knew my BQ was far and out of sight, but I knew that now this race meant much more than a ticket to Boston. I needed to finish because I needed to regain control of my body. I FELT fine before I found out I had cancer, I didnʼt have a fever, or aches that didnʼt seem like menstrual cramps, but here it was, a malignant tumor, cramping my marathon style.
I felt like a cancer cheater, because I had a doctor who let me opt out of treatment after surgery and go run a marathon instead. So I needed to “earn it.” Even if Megan had to carry me, I was crossing that finish line.
And, we did cross the finish line, in a little over 4 hours. It was amazing, we both cried and, I thought, I had won. I wasnʼt bleeding for the first time since the surgery! I was CURED!
Megan went back to New York and, for the rest of the week, I stayed in LA with close friends for work stuff. At the office, late that Friday night, while organizing and packing, I suddenly felt a pain. I ran to the bathroom and found that I was profusely bleeding and clotting. I went through four “Overnight” size maxi pads —since youʼre not allowed tampons for two months after surgery — and I meant THROUGH, as into my pants. I was starting to feel light-headed.
I took a car to my friendʼs house. After he went to bed, I pulled his wife aside, as I was pretty confined to their couch and whispered to her what had happened. Her eyes grew three sizes and was like— “We should go to the hospital.”
I was far from home, far from my doctor, and was afraid. So, I just asked her for another maxi pad and said Iʼd like to wait it out. Her response was classic: “If I wake up for the baby in the middle of the night and youʼre not breathing, I am driving you to the hospital.”
After calling it a deal, I got a good nightʼs sleep in and woke up to a much more “normal” level of bleeding that was “par for the course” for where I was in my recovery.
At this point, you may see a trend here: I tend to pull someone aside and tell ONE PERSON crazy important information and then just act like itʼs no big deal. This is why “I HAD NO IDEA” has been a common reaction when I announced my partnership with Gildaʼs Club for the 2017 Chicago Marathon.
After cheering for my sister in Boston, one of the proudest moments of my life, I realized… there are so many other women who have been where I was and were not so lucky as to run a marathon after. Women who told one person news because thatʼs all they had. Women who just wanted to survive and feel less alone. In the car on the way to pick my sister up from the Post Race Party in Boston, I emailed the Gildaʼs Club chapter in Chicago. I told them my story and they were more than happy to get me a spot on their team.
I fundraised like a champ, cross-trained like a beast, and got my long runs done. Still, I canʼt remember being this nervous about anything in my life. This race isnʼt just about me anymore; Itʼs about something bigger than myself — and I donʼt mean cancer, I mean Gildaʼs legacy.
Gilda Radner was one of the funniest women to grace the SNL stage. Her husband Gene Wilder was so heartbroken over her loss, he started a foundation that helped patients and their families deal with the complex emotions that come along with cancer diagnosis and treatment. In some patientsʼ cases, Gildaʼs Club gives them a reason to keep going and, in my case, a reason to keep running… with that Rachel Platten song “Stand by You” on my iTunes, reminding me of the day my sister didnʼt let me quit.
Love, if your wings are broken
Borrow mine so yours can open too
‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you
Even if we’re breaking down,
we can find a way to break through
Even if we can’t find heaven,
I’ll walk through hell with you
Love, you’re not alone,
’cause I’m gonna stand by you
To learn more about the Dashing Whippets Charity Matching Program, click here.