Published in the April 28, 2016 edition
(Editor’s Note: May is Melanoma Awareness Month. The following article was written by Kate (Wohlfarth) Beland, a Stage 3 Melanoma fighter with a mission to touch as many people as possible and raise awareness about the disease. A 1993 graduate of North Reading High School, Beland will celebrate her one year cancer free anniversary on June 11 with the Market Square Day 10K race in Portsmouth, N.H., a race she couldn’t run last year because of her illness. To help her reach her fundraising goal to benefit Melanoma research at Mass. General Hospital, input the last line of this story into your web browser to make a donation.)
By KATE (WOHLFARTH) BELAND
PORTSMOUTH, N.H.— In a million years, I never thought I’d be the poster girl for kicking cancer’s butt … but here I am after what has been an interesting and adventurous past nine months. I am a Stage 3 Melanoma Survivor, surviving the past nine months of treatment and recovery. As a child and teen of the ’80s and ’90s, laying out with oil and tanning beds before Prom was the norm. When I was 25, I became diligent about sunscreen, was anti–tanning beds and went to the dermatologist for yearly skin checks. I had no idea how deadly Melanoma is. Did you know that one person dies every hour of Melanoma? Did you know that it can metastasize through the lymph nodes to organs? Now that I am on the other side of my treatments and getting back to some normalcy if you will with a serious cancer recovery plan, it is my mission to touch and educate as many people as I can. This is a bird’s eye view of what it’s like to live with the C–word.
It’s funny how being a washed up athlete makes people think you are fearless … like, somehow, you automatically seek out daredevil adventures and are always pushing to the extreme. Tied into this expectation is your mental toughness, bravery and courage in the face of hardship, in the face of having to kick someone or something’s butt — in this case, cancer.
Every week, there seems to be a new story of some athlete going to the extreme, running a 100–mile race after cancer, running 3,000 miles as a survivor to raise money for cancer-related causes. They all appear so fearless, strong and brave. But I am willing to bet they are just like me, except that they are running from their fears, which makes them appear brave and fearless.
I am not fearless. I never was, and I sure as hell am even further from it now.
Cancer is not all pretty ribbons and race–for–a–cure events. You don’t always come out a better person with perspective on life or see pretty rainbows and unicorns at sunrise. Cancer steals. It steals people’s lives, their loved ones, their sense of normalcy. It drains bank accounts and antagonizes insurance companies. It has one goal only, defeat.
All over the Internet, we can find motivational quotes, many to the effect of: “Those who have seen dark truly appreciate the light” and “After the storm, we come out a better person.” I am just as guilty as anyone of looking toward some of these quotes to try to cope with this thief.
Here’s the truth and I won’t apologize for calling it like it is: Cancer has stolen my sense of living in the moment.
Think about this carefully: If you are truly living in the moment, you are not thinking about what lies in your future. You are in the now. If you are eating ice cream, you are thinking, “Man, this Moose Tracks is insane.” Your deepest thought beyond that might be: “Going to have to run extra tomorrow,” or if you are running in the 90-degree heat and humidity, you might be thinking, “Crap, I should have gotten up with the alarm … this is brutal.” If you are yelling at your kids for doing God knows what, you are thinking, “Why don’t they ever listen?!” You are not having all kinds of lollipops–and–daisies perspective. You are in that very moment as it stands.
Cancer stole my in–the–moment. This is some of what I am left with:
I am afraid all the time. I only just recently stopped planning my funeral, that’s the truth. I fear that I won’t have time to ever see my house completely finished. I fear that my poor girls will end up without me when they need me most. I am afraid that I will never write that book I said I would write. I fear that I will never finally break down my emotional walls that I put up because I am that person, trying not to expose how emotional and sensitive I really am. I am really, really afraid of heights … jumping off things or falling off things is a recurrent nightmare I have. I wonder if I will ever run another marathon in the time I feel I am capable of. I fear that all the work I did to make myself believe I am beautiful, looking in the mirror, was stolen when I was left with my “shark bites” and potentially permanent thigh swelling. I am afraid that somehow that will pass on to my girls, my newer sense of insecurity and that really ticks me off. I am afraid to put myself first, even though deep down, I know I have to. I hate that my husband has more than once checked if I was OK when he heard some loud bang in the house. I hate that he’s afraid, even if he doesn’t speak about it. I fear that I am never going to fully adjust to this new normal.
I hate this disease. I fear that this disease might eat me alive … this lifelong subscription to a club I never wanted any part of.
I am not fearless. But, despite all that this disease has taken from me, I will fight to take something back. I will fight to fear … less. I will look past all my scars and swelling and try to see that I am still strong and healthy and beautiful, only with depth and maybe a good story behind it. I will openly pipe up and speak my mind. I will sometimes just say no. I might jump off something before fall ends. I will take some ski lessons so that maybe I can run the gates with my girls this winter. I will tell my husband to go suck an egg because he and I both know I can still kick his butt in a race. I will love a little louder and laugh even harder.
I will fear … less.
Kate Beland does not believe that cancer defines her. She is an athlete, a marathoner, a mother, a wife and a writer. When she is not conducting her three-ring circus act, she is busy kicking late-stage melanoma’s butt and keeping herself sane through her running and her writing, more of which can be seen at: https://www.curetoday.com/community/kate-beland or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/runningandcancer/?ref=bookmarks or donate to her cause for Mass General Hospital Cancer research: https://fundraise.massgeneral.org/kate-beland?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=f&utm_campaign=mgOy