72: Breaking Through Barriers

72: Breaking Through Barriers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Breaking Through Barriers

There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved. It is God’s finger on man’s shoulder.

~Charles Morgan

She was just your average runner, a middle-of-the-pack jogger with modest goals. She was also a businesswoman, a mother of two young children, and my wife. But more than anything, Linda was an inspiration to anyone who has ever pushed beyond personal limits and broken through barriers they once thought insurmountable.

Linda was forty-six and had spent the last fifteen months of her life battling a rare form of cancer called primary central nervous system (CSN) lymphoma. She underwent countless sessions of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. She had endured a bone marrow biopsy, the insertion of a portacath into her chest, and an Ommaya reservoir into her head. She had been given methotrexate, Neurontin, MS Contin, and dozens of other drugs and medications. Doctors had done everything but douse her with holy water from Lourdes.

During her stay at University of California San Francisco’s oncology ward Linda suffered hair loss, weight gain (from steroids) and a nightmare roller coaster ride of stomach-churning emotions.

Not once, though, did she lose her spirit. Don’t focus on the negative. That was always her philosophy. Take your problems and make them challenges.

Fighting cancer took its toll on her. One of her first challenges was to regain her strength. To do so she turned to running. Linda’s training routine started at the hospital, sandwiched between chemo treatments that left her sapped, hollowed out and violently ill. Along with a few other hearty souls, she would climb from bed and drag her IV stand around the oncology ward.

The goal was sixteen laps, or one mile. A seemingly easy distance, but one that would cause the average cancer patient to crumble like an old Tinkertoy fort. Some jokingly referred to it as the UCSF endurance run. A race filled with sick and bald and pasty white athletes pushing themselves to greater distances, working outside their comfort zones.

The hospital workouts were just a warm-up for Linda. During her brief visits home, she would run with me on the steep trails in the woods behind our town.

“It’s a chore,” she admitted. “Every day is an excuse to wimp out. It’s hard to get my breath and maintain my stride.”

I asked her, “If it’s so hard, why bother?”

“It’s good for my heart, for my strength,” she replied. “I feel happy when I make myself do it.”

Linda knew there were no guarantees. Her cancer had already gone into remission, and resurfaced, Hydra-like, dozens of times. The tumors had disappeared and reappeared, almost overnight. Battling the disease was paramount to climbing Mount Everest or winning the Tour de France.

Just ask Lance Armstrong.

“During the journey I’ve found out many things about myself,” she said. “By having this, I’ve learned to live life one day at a time, and to be thankful for what I have.”

The future was uncertain but Linda was prepared for anything. When she ran, she reached for the impossible. In my heart I knew she was going to beat her cancer. Our family simply didn’t plan on losing her.

When Linda died we suffered greatly. Looking back on that shipwrecked period, I remember the kids telling me how much they missed their mother. I found myself thinking about Linda constantly. I would catch sight of her portrait or hear one of her favorite songs and just lose it. I would dream about her and sometimes wake up with her on my mind.

In the following months my life seemed to spiral downward. I drank heavily and became increasingly depressed. For a time I was hanging on by a thread.

My struggle ended one morning when Linda broke through another impossible barrier and came back to visit. I was in the backyard when I felt a hand on my cheek. Then I smelled the scent of her skin. It was heaven ethereal. I glanced up and saw a cloud directly overhead, one solitary heart-shaped cloud in an otherwise flawlessly blue sky. It was a message from Linda, of that I have no doubt. She was sending her love.

My life changed that day. I found strength in knowing that I was not alone. Linda was watching over us. She is still here today, giving me the willpower and the courage to go on.

~Timothy Martin

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