Matthew Rodjom has not only run the National Race twice before, he won it in 2014. Matt is a visually-impaired, legally blind competitive runner, and is currently training for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. In June he won a silver medal in the 5000 meter race and a gold medal in the 1500 at the US National Paralympic Championships in Minnesota. We expect to see him first across the finish line in Washington, DC again this year as part of his team Daddy’s Blind Ambition.
There are certain days and timeframes that stand out in my memory, some happy and some not so happy. I remember the months when I was losing my vision, but before I knew why, as if it were yesterday. I remember the night I met my wife and when we got engaged. I remember when I lost loved ones. Each of these memories I learn and grow from.
One of those touchstones is when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. In January 2011, my wife Sarah was about six months pregnant with twins. It was a very busy, overwhelming, and sometimes scary time. We didn’t really think or talk about much else. We had just found out that one of our twins had a congenital lung condition that required surgery, so we were spending many afternoons each week getting check-ups and having tests done.
My mother-in-law Diane lived close to the hospital at that time so we got together after one of our ultrasounds, as we frequently did. She wasn’t her usual self and seemed almost distracted. She said she wasn’t feeling well and asked to get together another time. At the time we didn’t think much of it. In fact, we were probably even a little annoyed.
Later that week Diane called Sarah and asked her to come over to talk. When Sarah asked if everything was okay there wasn’t a reassuring answer, so Sarah knew something was wrong. The rest of the car ride home she started pulling threads of recent conversations with her mom and had a nagging feeling her mom was going to tell her she was sick. A few hours later, she came home and told me her mom had endometrial/uterine cancer. The surgery was already scheduled.
We felt helpless. What do you say? What do you do? You hope everything will be okay, but there is no way to know. We tried to do what we had been doing with the unknowns regarding the health of our twins and just take every day one at a time. As scared as we were about the lung condition of our daughter and the inevitable surgery and recovery, Diane’s cancer was different because cancer is different, and because cancer in unpredictable.
The day of the surgery we three went to the hospital together, all a little scared, with a bit of comic relief sprinkled throughout the day. Everywhere we went someone would stop Sarah to tell her she was in the wrong place and would try to direct her to the pink elevator for delivery. We had to keep assuring everyone that we weren’t there to deliver our twins, but to remove Diane’s cancer.
After we checked in, we waited in a small waiting room. We were the only ones there and considering we were in a hospital, it was oddly quiet. Sarah went back to anesthesia with her mom and stayed with her as long as she could, then rejoined me. We waited hours for an update. There are only so many magazines you can flip through (especially when you’re visually impaired), TV you can pretend to watch or hospital food you can eat.
Finally the surgeon came out and told us the first good news we’d heard in a while: the surgery was a success. The cancer, although very large, didn’t appear to have spread. They took out some lymph nodes just to make sure. A little while later we got to see Diane. She was clearly in pain, but relieved to have the surgery behind her.
When she was able to go home, Sarah tried to help as much as she could. Her mom has been a rock for Sarah; she wanted nothing more than to return the favor but felt helpless as she was trying to navigate her own health issues with the pregnancy. I don’t know how she did it or if it was her way of coping, but Diane charged through the pain and came over all of the time to help get ready for the arrival of the twins.
Her radiation started the week after the twins were born, so she was starting to feel the effects of those treatments in the early weeks when Sarah and I had no idea what we were doing. She’d go to radiation in the morning and then come over every afternoon to help Sarah. When Sarah and I were completely sleep deprived, Diane would take the middle of the night shift so we could get sleep between feedings.
Thinking about it now, four years later, I don’t know how or why she did it. How did she find the energy to help us when we had no energy to help her? Sarah says the only good thing about her mom’s cancer was the time that they got to spend together when the girls were itty bitty.
I’ll never know exactly how Diane felt or what kept her going when she was sick and weak and going through the radiation. What I do know is that from the outside looking in, Diane never let that cancer get in the way of her living. I admire her dogged determination to beat the cancer at all costs. As someone who has had to face a different type of obstacle when I lost my vision, I know I didn’t always want to get out of bed or face the reality — and sometimes I didn’t. Diane has shown me courage and taught me perseverance, and I am honored to be her son-in-law and grateful that my three children get to learn from such an amazing grandma.
Diane is four years in remission. When I first heard about the National Race to End Women’s Cancer I knew I wanted to run it for Diane. I have had the opportunity to race in this event the last 2 years. I can never thank enough Diane for all that she does for me and my family, but I can run in her name to raise awareness about the devastating effects of women’s cancer so that one day there can be a cure. I hope you’ll join me on November 8, 2015, and run with me and for Diane, and all of the women like Diane that have felt the effects of women’s cancer.
Register and run with Matt at www.endwomenscancer.org