I set a goal to run a race early on in my treatment for breast cancer. And when race day finally came and I crossed that finish line, I realized everything was truly going to be OK.
“A cancer diagnosis can feel fast, whereas going through cancer can feel slow.” I heard this once from an elderly woman who sat next to me during one of my treatments early on in my cancer journey.
I was 33 years old and scared out of my mind. As usual, I was the youngest one in the treatment room and seeing the odds of my survival around me wasn’t lost on me.
I decided at that moment that when I got better, I just wanted to go fast! 30 weeks of chemotherapy and a bilateral mastectomy later, I signed up for my first 5K.
The only problem was getting my body to that finish line. It was time to plan for my future.
On the day I decided I wanted to run in a race less than 6 months after being told I had no evidence of disease, I could barely walk. Chemotherapy had reduced my bone density and left me with a permanent skip in my heart.
I felt weak, but I knew that unless I signed up for something that would publicly humiliate me if I failed, I’d end up being one of those people that said they would “start on Monday.” So, I started walking.
At first, I started walking only a few minutes at a time around my street. We lived in Twentynine Palms, California, at the time and it was roughly 110°F (43°C) on an average day. Learning to run after treatment wasn’t going to be easy.
My face was beet red after 10 minutes and I wondered what I was thinking. I enlisted the help of my husband to walk next to me, and as the days progressed, I noticed my legs getting stronger and my breath getting easier, and it felt so great that I went to sleep with a smile on my face every night.
We found a local park that had a walking path around the exterior of the play structures, and it seemed destined to be our place. It helped me worry less about cancer and recurrence. I found that my mind stopped thinking the worst and focused on the big race.
When race day came, I pinned on my number, felt like I was dying, and I crossed the finish line in 53 minutes. That time seemed like such a win to me!
Before treatment, though, I used to be able to run that distance in 20 minutes. Although I crossed that line, it wasn’t fast enough or far enough for me. So instead, I found a 10K that seemed harder. I knew I might not be able to do it as fast as others, but running 6.2 miles certainly wouldn’t be easy!
I found another reason to focus on something other than worrying, and it was bringing my body back to where it once was. I had gained almost 60 pounds during treatment from the steroids and liquid Benadryl they packed me with. I was so happy to be able to fit into clothes I once loved.
When I ran that 10K, I crossed it in 1:13:27, and I was elated! I did it. But it was time to think bigger.
On November 2, 2022, I went out on a limb and signed up to run 9.32 miles (15K) with my husband. It would be the longest distance I’d ever run, and I had 5 months to train my body.
I listed out my plan, I printed calendars, I posted on Facebook so friends could keep me accountable, and I signed my husband up to be my pacer. I bought water bottles and energy chews and cool running shoes, and I hit the pavement with a fury I had never felt before.
Every time I started my watch and hit play on my run playlist, it was like the weight of the world disappeared. My breathing was steady, my mind was clear, and I sat on my steps and bawled my eyes out after every single run. Tears still come to my eyes even as I type this.
I woke up nervous on the day the race was scheduled. I had run over 200 miles training to run this 15K, and it seemed like I still didn’t believe I could do it. The longest run I had done while training was 6 miles and I was terrified to know that I had to put an additional 3 miles on top of that, on a course I was unsure of, with legs that had failed me time and time again.
We got to the starting line and my chest felt empty, like there was no air to breathe. I was scared out of my mind. My husband squeezed my hand and said it would be OK — and it was. We both crossed that finish line in 1:58:10 and I immediately collapsed on the pavement in tears.
Every moment of the last 4 years flooded me at once. I thought of every surgery, every needle poke, every treatment day. I thought of each nosebleed, every time I threw up, every day I worried my husband wouldn’t love me without boobs, and I realized it was all going to be OK.
I know that not everyone can run 9 miles, and not everyone will have or even want the opportunity to do so. But I wanted to live fast.
My diagnosis seemed like the end of the world to me at 33, but it wasn’t. I was alive. I had set a goal early on in that treatment chair and I held myself accountable every single day to make that dream happen.
My knees were killing me, and I had the worst foot pain of my life, but I crossed that finish line with so much pride. I did it for myself, but more importantly, I did it for that elderly woman that gave me reassurance as she fought her battle next to me.
I did it for the women who came before me who won’t get the chance to run a race. I did it for the women after me that need a goal, too. Sign up for the race, no matter what that means to you, and I promise it will be worth it.
Medically reviewed on June 01, 2023
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