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Sharing Our Victories as Members of the Stomach Cancer Community

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There is a phenomenon in sports when you follow a group of people over a season. When you celebrate the highs of victories and walk through the low valleys of trials. When they finally make it to win the World Series, Super Bowl, World Cup, or win gold, we tend to say, “We did it!”

We share in the victories.

We claim them as our own.

We do so because we know the hardship and heartache that takes place over the course of a season.

Over the past three years I have been living without a stomach, I have really come to find an incredible community: Team No Stomach. Our tiny community from around the world linked together by CDH1/hereditary diffuse gastric cancer, but committed to bringing a positive contribution to the conversation, alongside the hard realities of life without a major organ.

Online and through blogs we share our struggles as a reminder that we do not have to go through these trials alone.

We celebrate each potato chip that does not come back up, and each sip of diet coke we can muster.

We remind each other with each setback, “You are not alone,” and with each victory, we claim as our own because know the journey.

I never got to write about my experience, but in May of this year I was able to accomplish one of the most difficult physical challenge of my life with or without a stomach — crossing a finish line after a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run at Ironman 70.3 in Santa Rosa, CA.

The complete experience of Ironman 70.3 is a blog post on its own, but five miles into the run I dropped all of my electrolyte pills,  which meant I had to fight my body as it cramped up. With each step after I dropped my pills, my quadriceps would twitch with a shooting pain down my legs for the last six miles.

Mentally, I had to fight the temptation to quit, with each mile marker reminding me of how far I was from the finish line. In these moments I had to borrow courage, remembering all the people who had been a part of this journey with me: my family, the stomachless community, my church and beyond.

This was not just my race. It was a race for everyone who had journeyed with me, prayed for me, ran alongside me, rode before sunrise with me, swam with me, and cheered me which motivated me to keep putting one painful foot in front of the other.

Triathlon has become deep a metaphor for life without a stomach: to “embrace the suck” (thank you, Navy Seals, for this phrase), digging deep for the resolve to keep moving forward, setting your own checkpoints, and celebrating the people who journey alongside you.

As I approached the final stretch — which includes a red carpet, Ironman flags, and fans in the stands — I was filled with emotion, thinking about the people from the community I got to represent. And when they put the medal around my neck, I knew it was not just my finishers medal, but it belonged to you, too.

This is the beautiful thing about the stomach cancer community. We remind each other we are not alone in setbacks, and because we go through the highs and lows of this season together, I believe we get to share in each other’s victories.

So what is next for me? The mental grind of training for Ironman 70.3 was brutal, especially because I did not want my training to get in the way of my family. That meant getting up at 4:30 a.m. to finish rides or get to work early so I can run for a couple hours in the afternoon before picking up the kids from school.

For me, training was more mental than it was physical, because it is a grind every day. During the race, I met people who literally quit their jobs to make Ironman their focus, with the hope of qualifying for the championships at Kona. I commend them for their commitment, but I am not willing to make that level of sacrifice at this time in my life.

Triathlon is a piece of my health pie and I want to compete alongside the love I have for my family, friends and my vocational calling.

After Santa Rosa I just wanted to have fun, so I found myself riding my bike a few times a week with my teammates and just enjoy being alive. But I’m starting to feel the itch again, and am considering signing up for Ironman 70.3 in Madison, which is the home to both Ironman and No Stomach for Cancer in June 2018.

I am going to have to see if my schedule will allow me to race, but if I get the opportunity, I’m going to make it happen.

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Getty Images photo by madop1984

Originally published: November 24, 2017
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