Biopsy. It’s not a great word. The first time I heard it directed at me was six weeks after a reprehensibly bad gynecological procedure done by a horrible male doctor. I had always believed doctors infallible. This guy changed my mind. And so, after refusing to return to him when the going got awful, my new doctor requested the biopsy. In contrast to the previous fellow, she was lovely. The biopsy, on the other hand, not so much.
Out of an abundance of caution, we proceeded with treatment as if the results came back positive. A week later, when the results returned inconclusive, I was glad we had. It took another six months before we could repeat the biopsy. Mercifully, it came back negative. There are certain moments in life when you realise you haven’t been exhaling properly. That day was one of them.
I was fortunate that my results came back as they did. I’ve known too many others for whom things turned out differently. I won’t pretend I have the eloquence to capture the toll cancer has taken on the people in my life. It’s a nasty, pernicious, destructive thing.
For me, six months wondering gave me time to think and time to prioritise. I walked away from the experience knowing that I would do my best not to take my health for granted again. I was also determined to be a better advocate for my own self-care…and to punch cancer in the face every chance I got.
Mudmoiselle Guelph was an opportunity I fanatically embraced. The event, run by the Canadian Cancer Society, is held annually at Cox Creek Cellars just to the north of the city of Guelph. It is a 5km obstacle course designed for the moderate to advanced athlete. (They recommend you train for at least six weeks in advance.) The event does allow Mudmonsieurs, by the way, though anecdotally, I’d say most of this year’s 500 participants were women.
(Image of me covered in mud wearing a Mudmoiselle medal.)
My team of five intrepid Mudmoisellers called ourselves “The Flailings.” Our team slogan: “Let’s get ready to FLAIL!” None of us had participated in the event before, so we figured t-shirts would be handy to help us pick each other out in the crowd. Obviously, a flailing air dancer was a perfect mascot. (Even if it did end up looking like a weird, ghost-like creature according to my five-year-old.)
(Snapshot of the back of our team t-shirt with the words “The Flailings” and “Mudmoiselle, Sept 15, 2018.” A neon green flailing arm dancer is the centre image.)
Our team was a part of a mid-day heat. The organisers had us begin by reciting the “Mudmoiselle oath,” a moment of sobriety that, I fear, only heightened my team’s sense of giddiness at the ridiculousness of five grown women running around a vineyard in the scorching heat. I don’t honestly remember many of the obstacles that we ran through, though some are etched in my mind forever. First among them, the second obstacle, which was true to the event name.
This memorable obstacle was nothing less than a giant pit of fenced in, man-made, oozing mud. I suppose I give Mudmoiselle credit for putting it so close to the beginning, because if you’re going to get muddy, you had better get to it sooner rather than later. And, of course, the only way to get to the other side was to crawl through the goo. By mid-day, participants had established two parallel ruts, one on the left-hand side of the pit and one on the right. I looked at my team members beside me. We cheered a good cheer. And then I made the only possible decision: go down the middle.
Throughout the remainder of the two-hour experience, we launched ourselves over hay bales, scaled muddy inclines, walked through bogs (while, obviously, singing “Stand By Me” and praying for a lack of leeches), and swung from tires. By the end of it all, I had rope burns, ripped knees, purpling bruises, and exhausted triceps. I also had a blast. I do not remember the last time I cheered on strangers, particularly as they muscled themselves over questionably stable wooden walls. We were all there to help one another along, because goodness knows for many of the participants these obstacles were symbolic of so much more.
(I crouch on my hands and knees on top of a large hay bale.)
There is something unique about the sense of community that emerges out of a group of people dragging themselves through the mud together. At the end of it all, my team and I sat at a table, marvelled at our crusty, sore bodies, and shared stories of people we knew who were touched by this awful disease. We raised a glass to those we had lost.
On the car ride home, with multiple towels draped over my seat to protect the car, the children moaned about mommy’s awful smell. And all I could think was, yes my dears, that’s the smell of being alive…and bog water. Actually, it’s mostly bog water.
(I walk sideways along a wobbly wooden plank while holding on to a guide wire.)
Kimberly Francis is Acting Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies at the University of Guelph, where she is also an Associate Professor of Music and a passionate feminist musicologist. She’s not ashamed to say that Taylor Swift, Guster, and many, many tracks from Big Shiny Tunes can all be found on her workout playlist.