This November, when I crossed through Central Park during the last leg of the New York City Marathon, it was already dark. The police had opened the streets to the public and there were traffic and pedestrians where you would normally see spectators lining the route. It was eerily void of the cheers from crowds and the bustle of fellow runners that would fuel me to the finish line during my 24 previous marathons. It took me 10 hours, 5 minutes and 6 seconds to finish—I came in second to last and took more than twice as long as my typical finish time of 4 hours and 30 minutes.
It was running that helped me discover something wasn’t right with my body. In that way, running helped save me. And it gave me a reason to stay strong amid the darkest days that were to come.
Those dark days began with a beautiful spring one last year. I was running in Forest Park, Queens, when I felt short of breath and experienced overwhelming malaise not normal for me. I went home and scheduled my annual physical and had blood work done, but it all came back normal.
A couple of weeks later, the left side of my body began to feel like it was shutting down. I had difficulty walking up stairs and little accidents like spilling coffee were becoming routine. It wasn’t until my wife, Susan, asked me to endorse a check and I couldn’t write my name that we both looked at each other and knew we needed to do something. In that moment we thought I was having a stroke, so Susan took me to a nearby urgent care center.
I was evaluated by a physician who agreed it could be a stroke. They quickly transported me to the emergency room at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Forest Hills where I underwent brain scans and diagnostic testing. I was lying on a gurney in their busy emergency room when the attending physician walked toward us and closed the curtain. We knew it wasn’t good. Our world was about to be changed forever.
“I wish I can tell you it was only a stroke,” the physician said. He proceeded to tell me the scans showed three masses in my head and one in my lung.
It was definitely one of those out of body “WTF” moments, to say the least. So, this is what it’s like to be handed your death sentence, I thought to myself. Oddly, I also experienced a wave of giddiness. It’s crazy, I know. But in an instant, every problem I thought I had on this planet disappeared and I was relieved of everything but this one diagnosis.
Susan and I stared at each other. There was devastation and tears, but we got it together pretty quickly and moved to the practical. After all, she had been through colorectal cancer only a few years earlier, so I thought to myself, it’s my turn now.