It’s a Marathon


Leonard Zwelling

         I hate the cold, but I love my son so I found myself on
Sunday November 3, 2013 standing in 40 degree weather with a stiff wind chill, first
in Brooklyn at mile 8, then at the foot of the 59th Street Bridge on
the east side of Manhattan at mile 16, and finally at mile 25 on Central Park
South cheering Richard on as he ran his first marathon in New York. He is
almost exactly the age I was when I ran mine 32 years and 2 days before.
Judging from the crowds, running is a lot more popular now than it was when I
started in 1970. The runners have more colorful footwear from far more
manufacturers (when I started it was Adidas vs. Puma only). They have power
bars, electrolyte gel and edible fuels of all colors and consistencies to get
them to the finish line. When I ran my marathon is was water every 5 miles and
no Gatorade until mile 20. Nonetheless, the 26.2 miles is no shorter today and
the agony associated with most of us traversing it is no less.

         Often, as I have aged, I have thought about the sense of
urgency I brought to everything I tried to do when I was younger. Nothing could
wait. Everything was critical and it was all my responsibility to fix. No more.

         Finally, over the past 5 years I have learned that life,
like the race my son ran, is a marathon not a sprint. After all, we all know
how it ends. Of course, I came to this realization two by-passed coronaries, three back operations
and numerous psychotherapy sessions down the course. Better late than never to learn what
is and what is not my dog! After all, in this race, I really have no idea where my finish line is.

         As I moved into my new job at Legacy, I actively decided
that for the first time in my life, I would try to bring the marathon attitude
to my work place. In the past, I was always afraid I was being graded on a
daily basis in previous jobs. Thus, I sprinted through them all. As a Duke
intern and NCI fellow, I wasn’t far wrong because those judging me also had a
severe case of sprintitis despite many of them being real marathoners. Even as
a vice president, I always had a sense of urgency about my work and to be
honest, that was what the faculty I was serving called for. Even on Capitol
Hill, everyone’s hair is always on fire (that’s what they call sprinting up
there) and you see how much good that did with the passage and now
implementation of a terribly flawed bill reforming how we pay for health care
in America.

         Not this time; not this job, for me.

         I really need to take my time and understand a new
organization that is operating in the new medical world of ObamaCare and
downward cost and price pressures from the medical marketplace while millions
go uninsured, many of whom we need to care for at Legacy. If I am going to make
a contribution here, it will depend upon the clear, Jim Watson-like thinking,
great patience as the various forces at play slowly reveal themselves to me,
and an empathetic ear to the many new people I will meet.

far, so good. I love it in this new, slower race. Besides, what’s the rush?
With luck, I will be busy for years.

         The same is true at Anderson. Sort of.

         The ultimate goal of eradicating cancer would be wonderful
to accomplish tomorrow. However, we know enough to know that we don’t know
enough to do that. It’s still a marathon. And since it is a long race and not
one that is likely to end at any predictable given time, or any time soon, or
by any plan anyone can devise currently, perhaps we should all adopt the
marathon, grind it out mode at work.

         Remember, the astronauts enjoyed the views most at the
beginning and the end of their moon shot journeys. Those views were of Earth.
As we continue the assault on cancer, let’s recall it is a marathon and take time
to enjoy the view as we peel back the mysteries of life that will be the only
way possible to eradicate cancer. It is likely to be slow—like a marathon—and
every bit as rewarding for those who pace themselves and finish.

            Making Cancer History? Not tomorrow and perhaps in any
of our life times. History takes a long time.


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