I think we all wonder what resources we have inside ourselves if we should ever have to face a life-changing diagnosis such as ovarian cancer. But when it hits, you think about how you are going to face the immediate issues, and only slowly begin to realize that your life has changed in ways that you never expected.
I have been a runner since college – never very fast, but always determined to conquer longer distances and reach my own personal goals. I completed two marathons when I was in my late 20’s, and since then I have run just because I love to be outside and want to be fit enough for all the other activities in my life. Running is a way to live in the moment and be conscious of my surroundings, a way to interact with nature, and it brings me an incredible sense of peace. So it is not surprising that, through running, I first started to suspect that something was not right. I was participating in my seventh Colorado Relay – a 170-mile adventure through the mountains of Colorado. Each team member runs three times during the relay, and I was looking forward to my 3:00 am leg – dark, quiet, just the sound of my breathing and the swing of my headlamp into the void ahead. When I finished that run, I had a stomach pain that was different than any stitch I had ever had in my side, and my teammate made me promise to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as we returned home.
There is something surreal about knowing that your body is capable of running 18 miles, but at the same time being told that you have Stage IV cancer. Although being fit didn’t prevent the cancer, I have no doubt that it helped me fight it, and that it helped me mentally throughout my treatment. The day after my first chemo, I made sure that I would get outside, at least for a walk if I couldn’t run. It was one of those perfect late October days, and I brought my camera with me, realizing that there was so much more I could take the time to see at my slower pace. By day 5 after chemo, I actually felt like I could try a little run. I still remember the feeling of lacing on my running shoes, heading out to one of my favorite trails, and attempting the slowest run I had ever done. It wasn’t long, and it certainly wasn’t fast, but I was running again. I ran every day that I could through treatment, and completed three 5km races on the good weeks. Each time I crossed a finish line, it felt like another skirmish won in the battle against this disease.
When I finished treatment in March of 2009, I went through the letdown that most cancer survivors experience – what now? The treatment had worked and I had “No Evidence of Disease,” but ovarian cancer has a notorious way of recurring. How do I come to terms with living and loving my life, while also dealing with the uncertainty I faced? While my long term future might be out of my control, my short term future was very much still in my hands. And I could think of no better way to celebrate than to commit to another race. While discussing this with my same friend who pushed me to see the doctor, we agreed that a marathon in the fall was the perfect answer. Six months to train from a slow crawl to my first marathon in 25 years? Why ever not? Although crossing the finish line in St. George, Utah, three days shy of the 1 year anniversary of my diagnosis was a triumphant event, it was the running, day in and day out, that gave me my confidence and gratitude back. Returning to my favorite trails, cooling my legs in the icy water of the creek, watching the continuous bloom of the season’s wildflowers – each day was a celebration.
I continue to center my life around things to be grateful for each day, to notice the first meadowlark of the season, to enjoy a sunrise when out running with my running group, to seek out the new spring wildflowers, to share my love of the mountains by leading hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and to celebrate my family and friends who have been there every step of this journey.