Tuesday, October 21, 2008

North to South Day 4

North To South – 13th October 2008 –Batroun to Byblos - –16 kms
Admittedly, my legs were extremely tired this morning. Nevertheless, I was confident that I would be able to easily complete the distance. This morning Ali and I had the company of Marlene, on her bicycle, and two of her close friends, Tony and George. The run started on the outskirts of town at around 8.30 am. The sun had been up since 7am, and the temperatures were soaring to around 30 degrees centigrade.
Ali and I are falling into a pattern whereby we begin with a relatively slow pace to try to shake off the lactic acid in out legs from the previous days, and to warm the muscles up without causing ourselves injury. Back to back running invariably places the body under quite a bit of strain. This morning I was acutely aware that whilst today was 16kms, tomorrow would require us to cover some 40kms.
Marlene, Tony and George thankfully were very understanding of the spirit of the run – this was/ is not a race to the finish, it is about using the run to share experiences, learn from each other, and most of all to promote cancer awareness.
After about 8kms when everyone had settled into their stride, Marlene pulled her bike up beside me. I told Marlene that I had heard that she was a cancer survivor. I said that I found this hard to believe. Marlene is exactly six days older than me, yet has the looks and energy of a twenty-one year old. Moments before I had watched Marlene free-wheel down a steep hill, arms outstretched at her side, wind in her hair, whooping and hollering with joy at the world around her. Four years prior to this, Marlene was diagnosed with cancer. Marlene had previously lost her mother to cancer, and subsequently her father to a ‘broken heart’ having missed her mother so much.
I forgot about the pain of running completely as I listened to Marlene describe in great detail the hardship of the illness she had confronted as a vivacious young woman. Foremost, Marlene had to raise 500,000 USD in order to pay for the treatment, which would be required to combat her illness. As chance would have it, a benefactor, Pierre, stepped forward to assist Marlene in covering a portion of the costs to pay for the treatment in the United States (St Judes Hospital).

Marlene’s initial hope was dashed when Pierre became ill and fell into a coma just as he was about to sign over the required funds. When Pierre recovered sufficiently, Marlene was able to at last begin her chemotherapy.
So began over two years of chemotherapy. Marlene described losing her hair, suffering heart and liver failure, the paralysis on one side of her body which lasted for over a week, the weight loss, and the overall feeling of decaying illness.
As part of her treatment, Marlene received a bone marrow transplant from her brother Mario. Following surgery, Marlene lived at the risk of infection for several months. On the day that Marlene went in for her first major surgery, it transpired that Pierre, her benefactor, passed away on that same day (although Marlene was shielded from the news for some time until she was sufficiently strong).
We continued together in peace for a few hundred metres before Marlene described the process of managing her body and mind back to health. She said that she gained strength through other cancer patients (some who lived and some who died), and from the power gained through her faith, and prayer. Week after week Marlene worked on a treadmill, first one minute per week, then two minutes and so on.
Marlene is now 35 years young, extremely fit and she has a full head of beautiful hair. Most likely Marlene could easily out cycle Ali or myself. Marlene carries a special air about her. She attracts friends with ease and she will always make a room glow when she enters it. Marlene lives each and every moment of her life to the fullest.
I know that these short paragraphs do little justice to the story I was told.
As it was, the run passed by with relative ease. Marlene’s story was and is representative of why Ali and I are running, why the Beirut Marathon Association is backing the North to South Run, and most of all, why people should always have hope.
Today was one of my best and most memorable runs ever. Cancer survivor and elite cyclist once wrote; “its not about the bike”. Today I realized that “its not about the run”. Thank you Marlene.

Post script: Other highlights from the later part of the day were a visit to Pepe’s Fishing Club in Byblos, and a wondrous visit to a local sculptor studio and garden.

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