Last year, I ran in the Las Vegas Rock n Roll Marathon with Team Lifeline. (Actually, I ran the 10K.) Here is the speech I gave last year at the pre-race pasta party about my experiences with Chai Lifeline and why I run with Team Lifeline. I’ve told this story many times, but I’m posting it now because while I am not going back to Vegas this year, I am still running with Team Lifeline in the Miami Half-Marathon this January. And this time, I’m running with my son.
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Enjoy the speech.
In my English classes, I teach a famous story about a man named Sisyphus who was condemned by the gods to push a boulder up a mountain. The key to his punishment was that when he reached the top, the boulder would roll all the way back down to the bottom, and poor Sisyphus would have to trudge down the mountain, get behind that rock, and start pushing it back up again. He does this for all eternity. Over and over. And as you can imagine, it’s a pretty tragic fate.
I finally understood the myth of Sisyphus when my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor two years ago. And like the Sisyphus legend, we were faced with a huge mountain, a massive, incomprehensible rock, and a job that no one would ever sign up for. The diagnosis was even more unfathomable as it came exactly a year to the day of my own breast cancer diagnosis. And so there I was, rushing my unresponsive son through the same ER rooms that I had spent time in, and getting the crushing blow that we were back at the base of the mountain. And this time, the burden was far greater than myself. It was my 8 year old son.
Nothing can prepare you for that moment, no matter how many movies you’ve seen, how many lines you’ve memorized, how many feel-good books you’ve read. Once the shock wears off – and that happens rather quickly – you’re sent into auto-pilot. We read every study on the NIH website. We researched doctors. We learned a whole new vocabulary – words that suddenly became part of our everyday vernacular – which my daughter coined the “dictionary for the afflicted”. We were at the base of a seemingly insurmountable mountain, and all we could do was get behind the rock and desperately push it to the top, hopefully leaving it there for good.
But, like Sisyphus, just when we thought it was over – after the 10 hour surgery, after the medications, after the endless testing – we would find ourselves back at the start. There was always something new. And when we thought we could rejoice at the victories, we found ourselves facing new challenges, new complications, new burdens at the base of new mountains.
However, there was one main difference between our Sisyphean challenge and the one from the original Greek myth. Because while Sisyphus was alone on his endless quest, we were not. We were with a group of people that lightened our burden, that stood on the sides as we worked our way through countless doctors and offices. A group of people that in every respect helped us transcend that rock and somehow, brought happiness and light to that darkened plain. We were with Chai Lifeline.
Chai Lifeline reminded us that while we were focused on getting that rock up that mountain, our son needed to be a child. He needed to laugh. He needed to be silly. He needed to get back what was taken from him that Friday night in the ER.
Chai Lifeline gave that back to him in hospital room pie-fights, in trips to Disney, in visits with magical highly-caffeinated counselors whose sole purpose was to get my son to smile when it was the last thing on his mind. They helped us as well, bringing endless supplies of food and snacks and warm blankets during hospital stays, navigating our insurance nightmares, opening doors to specialists who normally had months-long waiting lists, and calling us up when we were at our wits ends to talk us off the ledge, hold our hands, and support us through our journey.
Having Chai Lifeline with us while we tackled those bad days, days when the mountain was so high, the rock insurmountable, was like being carried through the task. The best analogy to understand is probably from running marathons. Last year was the first time I ran with Team Lifeline. It was the first time I ever actually “ran.” I remember somewhere around mile 8, which is the mile of absolute death, I started losing hope of finishing the race. I was by myself. It was cold and raining. The miles loomed large. And the finish line was nowhere in sight. And then, I saw some Team Lifeline jerseys a bit ahead of me and caught up to two Camp Simcha counselors. Running with them spurred me on. We finished the race together, helping each other out, cracking jokes and passing the time and the miles as if they were nothing.
For my son, that was Chai Lifeline. They were figuratively running alongside him, cheering him on, distracting him from the rock that was constantly in front of him. I’m not sure I can adequately convey how vital that happiness was for my son’s healing. But we saw it.We saw it every day. We saw what a difference it made.
When they invited him to Camp Simcha, though, I balked. I knew it was “the happiest place on Earth” but in my mind, I would be forever labeling him as a sick child and I didn’t want him to have that identity. I hesitatingly let him go. What I didn’t realize, is that as crazy as it seems, kids are not “sick” at Camp Simcha. It is a place where their ailments are secondary to their primary identities as children. At Camp Simcha, he wasn’t that kid with the brain tumor. He wasn’t that kid that takes medication. He was simply a kid. And for two weeks, he was in the happiest place on Earth, celebrated and carried on the shoulders of incredible volunteers, championed every day. He came home remarkably changed with newfound courage, with self-esteem, with friends he could relate to, and with a smile we hadn’t seen in a long time. He came back ready to find his rock at the base of the mountain, and start pushing it to the top again – facing it with a power and inner-strength that camp gave him.
When you deal with a medical crisis, the first task you need to do is put together your medical team. We had surgeons, radiologists, neurologists, oncologists, and every kind of “ist” in the hospital. Chai Lifeline is part of that team as well, and you – the members of Team Lifeline – well you are quite literally our team. Your training, your fundraising, your long runs on Sundays – puts you squarely on that mountain with my family as the cheerleaders behind our efforts. You provide the reason my son smiles through the hard days. Our mountain – our rock that my family constantly struggles with – is unfortunately one of many that countless other families find themselves battling. And many of them are much larger, heavier burdens than what my family has dealt with. When you run tonight, you are running alongside all of them. Those that are still fighting and those that are no longer with us. You are card carrying members of the sickest, happiest, most important team – most important family – out there. Tonight, I am leaving that rock on the mountain to run with you. Tonight, let the laughter of our children and the happiness that Chai Lifeline brings to so many impossible situations carry you to the finish line. We are Team Lifeline, and there is no mountain that we cannot conquer together.
Click here to support Binny in his Team Lifeline run! https://www.teamlifeline.org/team-lifeline-miami/binny