Exercise is helping me cope during my dad’s illness

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My father, Ed Coleman, sitting on his back porch with me and my sister Angela Pierce earlier this year.

I’ve always known that exercise kept me steady. But the past two weeks have been some of the hardest of my life, and my bike, my running shoes and swim practice have gotten me through it.

My dad, Ed Coleman, during a Ride for the Roses bike ride about 12 years ago.
My dad, Ed Coleman, during a Ride for the Roses bike ride about 12 years ago.

My dad is dying of non-smoker’s lung cancer.

He was diagnosed last December. After almost nine months of chemotherapy, doctors told him two weeks ago it wasn’t doing any good. They gave him about a month to live.

This sounds awful, and in many ways it is. My heart is broken. But as crappy as these days have been, they’ve also been magical.

We’ve made the most of the time he has left, talking about everything from whether or not there’s a God to the time when, as a newly minted Texan, he tried to grill a brisket in 45 minutes.

My dad, an aeronautical engineer with an insatiable desire to explore the world around him, made me who I am. He planned family outings to see dinosaur tracks, walk trails and pitch tents. He made me curious – and, I think, naturally happy. He taught me you don’t have to have a lot of money to explore, that seeing things within a few hours’ drive can be as gratifying as traipsing off to far-flung corners of the planet. He also taught me to jump at any chance to see those exotic, faraway places.

My dad loved airplanes. Here he is at a reunion for female World War II pilots.
My dad loved airplanes. Here he is at a reunion for female World War II pilots.

He taught me why it’s important to keep up with politics. He gave me a respect for and sense of awe about nature. He made me want to share those experiences, too. He made me a reporter.

These last few weeks I’ve been alternately weepy and giddy. I’ve learned that it’s possible to cry underwater and bike to work with tears trickling down my cheeks. Running gives me quiet time to think things over.

Thank goodness for the relief that comes with pushing my muscles and making myself sweat. Without that, this would be even harder.

Author: Pam LeBlanc

Pam LeBlanc writes about fitness and travel for the Austin American-Statesman. She has worked for the Statesman since 1998 and written her weekly fitness column, Fit City, since 2004.

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