Now that I’m home and have had time to think about and process completing the Dopey Challenge, I finally feel like I have the ability to form coherent sentences about my journey! So, without further delay…
What’s that noise at 2:30 in the morning? Oh, my alarm! Awesome! Dad and I were up early – me with little sleep and Dad with almost no sleep. Sam and Donna stayed in the room for this one – we were planning to be back before they even woke up. Dad wore my homemade Mulan fundraising t-shirt! Of all four days, Thursday was the warmest in the morning, so I wore my homemade Incredibles fundraising shirt and sparkle skirt, with no worrying about layers! Off we went!
There are 2 pictures that I typically get every race that I couldn’t get during the 5k. The first was on our walk from the busses to the start line. We walk past the Epcot ball and people usually stop for pictures and selfies. I don’t know why, but the race volunteers weren’t letting us stop on the 5k day, even though I could stop the rest of the days. I got this one instead to commemorate the long walk to the start area!
We met up with the Team in Training group, and I got to introduce Dad to Coach Ed. Then I had the honor of giving the Mission Moment before we headed to our corrals. A teammate recorded it, with the text below.
In Fall 2002, I had a missed call and a “Call me when you’re out of class” text from my Dad. I was a sophomore at the University of Georgia when I heard, “Honey, I have cancer. Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulemia.” So I took a deep breath and asked, “Okay, so what’s next? Surgery? Radiation? Chemo?” “Nothing, we wait until it gets bad enough for treatment.” I didn’t quite understand because he was only finally diagnosed after passing out in a Barnes and Nobles, which seemed bad enough to me. But, he explained that while the cancer isn’t curable, it was maintainable with some drugs, but ones you can’t have too many of. So you wait until the symptoms, immunoglobin numbers, and blood thickness reach a combined threshold, then knock it back with chemo for as long as it lasts. The average life expectancy was 5-7 years.
In 2003, Dad moved to Athens and joined Team in Training. Even 20 years ago, he was the oldest in the bunch! But he ran his TNT Marathon in Nashville in Spring 2004. He coached a Virginia Beach Half Marathon and was an honored hero, too.
His first round of chemo was in March 2005. The closest doctor that knew a thing or two about this rare Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (only about 1500 cases are diagnosed a year) was an hour away. He was in a Phase 3 clinical trial and trying a three-drug cocktail that the doctors thought showed promise. That night he let it slip that when he got home he climbed on the roof to fix his satellite dish – by himself. That’s the kind of stubbornness this man has!
In the early years, he was going through chemo for about 6 months every 2-3 years. In 2018, after his last round of chemo, they harvested his stem cells, hoping to use them the next time his numbers got bad. Except, they haven’t gotten bad enough yet. He’s had a few skin cancers and a vocal cord cancer since then, but just last month he was given another, “Call if anything changes. If not, I’ll see you in 6 months.”
Turning the big 4-0 can be a big deal. I decided I wanted to make it meaningful, to give back. As luck would have it, my birthday is tomorrow, and there just so happens to be this crazy challenge in my happiest place on Earth. There’s no other way I could even dream about run-walking 48.6 miles without the Disney magic, without the support my new Team in Training family has given me, and without the purpose to keep funding the research that’s made it possible for Dad to be here with me today. The Waldenstrom’s average life expectancy is now closer to 15 years. LLS’s unyielding commitment to research and cures has made that possible. The only thing that might get me through the last 6 miles of my first marathon is knowing you will be there on the other side of the finish line. I’m just so lucky I get to continue to make you proud.
I was in start group C and Dad was in D, so I dropped back to run with him. We got into the corrals later than normal after the Mission Moment, so although the race started at 5 AM, we didn’t cross the start line until 5:57 AM! People were finished and waiting for a bus back by the time we passed them at the half-mile mark!
The thing with running in Disney is that it’s dark when we start and the roads aren’t always runner friendly – a pothole, a speed bump, a reflector light on a highway lane marker. The 5k is also the most crowded race – there’s a lot of people and they only have 3 miles to spread out. The last thing I wanted was a visit to the medical tent on Day 1 with a twisted ankle for me or Dad, so we took it easy, stopping at every mile marker for selfies and then some. We also didn’t stand in any character lines. By the time we got there, some were at least one or two tenths of a mile long.
The second picture I couldn’t get was a selfie with a character at the finish line. The platform was empty when we were getting near, but as soon as we finished, I noticed Goofy climbing back up. We missed him by about 15 seconds! But, we finished! We got a few more pictures and headed for the bus – back in the hotel by 745!
Kicking off the Dopey challenge with Dad, giving the mission moment, hearing the Disney music, seeing the Epcot lights, and finishing hand in hand was definitely a moment to remember!