Picture of Peggy CummingGuest blogger, Peggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher – retired after 34 years in the classroom – and an athlete.

So, the CT report found nodules that are ‘highly suspicious for lung cancer”. Now what am I supposed to do with that news? How am I supposed to react? How am I supposed to feel? There is no rehearsal for this, I thought. No class to take, no website to consult. I realized that I was alone in figuring out how to deal with this.

I needed several days to digest this information, to accept it, to find the courage to make it real by saying it out loud. Eventually, I was able to speak the dreaded words, to tell my two adult children. Because we are a very pragmatic family, and not given to drama, they were very calm, and declared their support. I also think, because they had been through Breast Cancer with me 29 years ago as children, there was a certain familiarity for them, and they had faith in a positive outcome.

I realized that I had to learn from them, and that the best way to handle this was to carry on with my normal life and my daily routine. In my daily life, I am a Swimmer. I put a capital there, because I strongly self-indentify as a Swimmer! For the past twenty years, I have swum four times a week at the YMCA on Argyle Street, with the Ottawa Y Masters. The hour long practice is directed by our coach, who sets the practice, decides distance, drills, strokes and times. He gives us a hard and encouraging workout, both in the interests of keeping fit and preparing for competition. For many years, I have participated in local, provincial and National swim meets, and I am proud of the medals that I have won for the team. This year, I ‘aged up’; meaning that I entered a new age category, 70 – 74 years.

This year also, I entered five events in the World Masters Swimming Championships, held in Montreal in early August. Throughout the spring, my pool and gym training was geared to increase power, strength and speed, in order to swim my best at ‘Worlds’.

Being able to swim at a Worlds so close to home was A Very Big Deal for this swimmer! Many of us on the team were training hard and very excited about this great opportunity. I was on track!

Then, I was diagnosed with pneumonia, just six weeks away from this major event! I was so terribly sick and weak; I believed that I would not be able to compete. Thanks to antibiotics, though, my breathing and some strength began to return, but still I was reluctant to consider participating because I had lost a month of training time. Eventually I talked my self back into the pool, and was very discouraged to manage only one length before needing to rest. But I returned day after day, slowly adding distance, feeling my stroke return and gaining confidence. Mentally, I reset my goal to swim my best at Worlds, to cheer on my team mates, and to have fun.

Picture of Peggy Cumming waving at the camera, while surrounded by other swimmers, by the side of an outdoor pool

Peggy, waving

Date – August fourth. Place – Montreal. Event – 100m breast stroke. I stood behind the starting blocks for my first event. Thoughts flashed through my mind – post pneumonia – possible lung cancer – biopsy – MRI – What am I doing here? – Focus on the race! Take your mark. Go!

For three days, I swam, cheered, met swimmers from all over the world, had dinner with team mates, and banished all thoughts of what medical issues lay ahead. I felt totally ‘alive’ and I clung on to that feeling. On the drive home after the last event, one of my team-mates was checking results on his phone. “Hey Peg,” he said, ‘did you know that you won a tenth place medal in 200 individual medley!”

“Are you kidding me?’ I cheered! And I thought, “Take that, you Lung Cancer!! If I can win a medal at Worlds, I can find the courage to get through this!”

Peggy has her own photoblog, the F-stops here, where she posts a photograph every day.