I woke up a bit disoriented this morning. Even though it was only the sixth day of the run, I have already started to adjust to life in the RV. When I opened my eyes, the ceiling was a lot further away than usual, and my feet weren’t hanging off the end of the bed. My world view started to make sense after I wondered into the lodge kitchen and made a cup of coffee. Thankfully Chuck remembered to bring in the french press and the Dollar General can of coffee.

Chuck, Dean and David were up shortly after I started making noise, and they all looked fresh and ready to roll. I had oatmeal, two eggs and a piece of toast. Dean isn’t a big breakfast guy, so he usually fuels with a veggie protein shake in the morning, and Chuck rarely breaks his fast until after I start running.

Since Dave drove a rental car from Raleigh and would need it to get back, it was decided that I would start the day running on my own, Dave would drive ahead to our next campsite in Newport, and then Dean would drive bring him back to meet up with me. The next planned stop was less than 18 miles away, so it shouldn’t be too terribly long until they made it back to me.

The morning was cool and a little foggy, but not rainy. I turned East from the lodge, and made an immediate left after passing the Davis First Baptist Church, then ran west at a steady pace on Highway 70. I had not run more than a mile or two before a friendly voice yelled “Have a great run!” from a sedan as it passed me. It was the local preacher who was so kind to support me and anyone else that wandered through their piece of the Mountains to Sea Trail. Trail angels, indeed.

For five or six miles, I witnessed black needlerush, morning glory, herons, pelicans and marshland wake and warm-up as the sun started climbing in the sky. The dunes were gone, but the climate still felt very coastal and I’m sure that ocean storms often kept these roads barely above sea level. It wasn’t long before Dean and Dave caught up with me, and Dave let me set the pace for the first day or our three days running together.

I love the start of running with friends whom I haven’t run with before. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn about each other in an emotionally safe zone. I think of it as “foxhole” mentality. We’re sharing in the battle, so we’re already vulnerable. We feel inclined to open up, just because our suffering is mutual. Opening up this much is often like cliff diving – dangerous and an adrenaline rush. It can make for amazing friendships too.

David McConkey is a retired family counselor, a podium-placing ultramarathoner, and he has multiple myeloma. Over the past couple of years, because of his experiences, treatments and active lifestyle, Dave has also taken on a roll as a patient advocate for Myeloma Canada.

Dave isn’t in remission either, and after his transplant in 2012, he has undergone various levels of maintenance chemotherapy. For decades, running, and a healthy lifestyle have been part of his almost daily activity. He has run (and placed) in races from 10k to 100 miles (with monikers such as “Canadian Death Race”). Since moving forward, breathing heavy, and gobbling up miles are now part of his makeup and emotional coping mechanisms, it’s not surprising that Dave was eager to condition his body in position to move as soon as possible. In Canada, he has the opportunity to live and run through an almost dream-like part of the world where icebergs float near his backyard, and cars are often the exception than the rule. Ferry rides to access doctors, hospitals and other modern conveniences allow time for reflection, and planning.

For the next 3 days this like-minded soul in running shoes is my friend. We share a bond of motion, momentum, affliction and accomplishment. We want to make life better, but we want to share with others how amazing life already is. In spite of our common illness, we examples of why others should keep moving forward until they cannot.

We ran at an easy pace, and Dave was gracious enough to allow me to move as fast as I felt I should. We made a couple of turns, following Highway 70, dodged cars and large trucks and talked about ourselves. We would and will make plans for what we can do to help others, but that could wait. We spent about three and a half hours discussing running, life, people, and myeloma. I was in awe of his journey, because of where he came from. Like me, Dave is undergoing chemotherapy and he keeps up the physical activity as a life-balance and a return to the familiar.

There are lots of folks undergoing chemotherapy all over the world right now and we all respond differently – and for a variety of reasons. Some medicines are necessarily harsher than others. Every patient is taking the medicine for different reasons and all of us – when comparing the same medicine and doses amongst patients, respond differently. As intelligent and educated as our doctors are, this type of therapy isn’t an exact science – not yet anyway.

For the past three years, I have been treated with three different chemotherapy medicines and for different purposes. Revlimid and Velcade were both administered at high doses for almost 6 months prior to my bone marrow transplant in 2015, and two days before the transplant process began, I was given one dose of Melphalan, which made me lose all my hair, caused me to not be able to hold down food (and sometimes water) for several days, and allegedly made me extremely grumpy.

Because of the transplant in August, 2015, my cancer was forced back considerably, but it didn’t go away entirely. I’m not in remission, but I’m stable and I’m still on a maintenance course of treatment. I take a lower dose of Revlimid for 3 weeks, and then I take a one week break before I start the cycle over. Towards the end of the 3 weeks, my energy levels are pretty low and my alleged grumpiness might show up now and then.

When combined with the chemotherapy, lots of miles every day is a challenge I don’t think I fully grasped when planning this journey. I still have another 2 weeks on this round of Revlimid, but the familiarity of this running routine and the excitement of seeing something new every day helps me put one foot in front of the other. Interestingly, it seems that the increased activity alleviates any initial fatigue. In other words, I handle the fatigue factor better.

On cue, I was starting to get pretty zapped as we neared Core Creek. Dean found a good stopping point for the day, Dave and I hopped into to the Tahoe and we headed for camp at Whispering Pines Campground. A shower, lots of food and a nap were on the agenda. There would me more planning tomorrow.

Move mountains, swim oceans, and make stuff happen. You have it in you. Keep moving forward.


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