Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Run For Those Who Can't

Many runners have mantras that go through their heads to guide them through the toughest of mental struggles during a run. I've heard everything from "I will survive" to "tall and strong" and "light and focused". The running mantra that I use the most is "Run For Those Who Can't".

I run for my grandmother, Rachel Sterne, and uncle, David Sterne who unfortunately are not here with us today. My grandmother used to love to go on walks around her Kansas City, Missouri neighborhood and I run to keep her memory alive.

My grandmother was a generous woman with a compassionate heart. My earliest memories of her were when she fixed zuchinni bread for my cousins and me during a visit to Kansas City. We took a trip with her to Oklahoma to find our heritage and I ended up with an infection and she had her careful eye on me for the entire trip. I would later remember my grandmother hooked up to IVs and tubes in her hospital room in Kansas City. She had purchased all of our Christmas presents back in the summer to prepare her for this moment.

I didn't have a clue as to what was going on with my grandmother at the time. My mom told me that she was getting a tumor removed. What I didn't know was that the tumor was caused by a genetic disorder, Neurofibromatosis. The tumor was cancerous and the doctors found that it had spread too much when they went to remove it. It had also released a lot of adrenaline causing a very complicated surgery. Eventually, they were able to remove the tumor but only with a tough diagnosis-- my grandmother had only a few more months left. My grandmother was undoubtedly worn from the physical and emotional stress of going through this surgery just as many other patients with Neurofibromatosis go through.

What I didn't know about my grandmother is that she had already overcome so many other struggles in her lifetime. She had been in a car accident with my Uncle David. David was the youngest of 7 and was driving the car at the time. My grandmother foresaw the accident happening in front of her and grabbed the handle on the door. This opened the door and my grandmother flew out of the moving vehicle. She was in a coma for a very long time and the doctors said that she was not going to make it. The doctors wanted to take her off of life support but my family refused to let it happen. My grandmother, Rachel Sterne, lived through that horrible car accident. She sustained major brain damage and had to learn to do do everything all over again. She performed miracles by becoming a grandmother who nurtured me during tough times like when the boy down the street chased me down with a mouse or when my baby brother was born and we were moving across the country.

My uncle, David Sterne, came out of the accident walking and talking fine. However, he sustained one large side effect. Just like my grandmother, David had Neurofibromatosis. It was believed that the accident caused his symptoms to flare up and he was diagnosed with cancer attributed to Neurofibromatosis. I can't remember visiting David in the hospital, but there are pictures of my cousin and I holding hands as we went to see him. David died before I really ever got to know him but the memories of him are still very much alive. My mother has told me about how David used to play practical jokes on her all the time and about how he always had a smile on his face. She told me about how my grandpa used to sneak David out of school so that they could go fishing together. I've seen the tears roll down my mother's cheek as she tells me the story about how David had called all of his friends in to say goodbye one last time.

My grandmother and grandfather had a very hard time after the death of their youngest son. This created an even harder time for my grandmother as she laid in the hosptial years later during the removal of her tumor. The surgery went well and my mom flew home to be with us kids for awhile. Meanwhile, my grandmother contracted pneumonia in the hospital. She was tired of struggling and did not want to be treated. My mom planned a trip back to Kansas City and called my grandmother. Grandma told my mother something that she will never forget. "David is in the parking lot waiting for me. I have to be going now." The nurse in the room said, "Rachel, now you know there is no one out there." My grandmother went to be with David shortly after.

My grandmother was only in her 60s when she died. It is hard for me not to be upset that I missed out on spending more time with her but I believe that she has been watching me. I wish I had gotten the chance to actually get to know the uncle that everyone called the jokester. David was younger than I am today when he passed away. They are the reasons that I run and the reason for my mantra.

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