I was known as the running doctor who was frequently spotted running through my small town. If I missed a day of running I heard about it in the office. I’m now known as the running doctor with cancer and can still be seen running through town! Running and exercise play a key role in my life and in my ability to live with cancer.
Although I played soccer in college, I actually didn’t enjoy exercising. I walked as little as possible and only ran when playing sports. It was not until I stopped playing soccer that I started to understand the benefits of exercise and began running to relieve stress. Once I started running I never looked back.
When I was 35 I was diagnosed with early stage endometrial ( uterine ) cancer. At the time I had just completed a marathon in an unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the Boston marathon and had decided that I had too many aches and pains to ever try it again!
My cancer diagnosis came as a complete surprise. I was too young and healthy for cancer but somehow I was suddenly a cancer patient. My treatment involved surgery resulting in instant menopause. This was followed by 6 weeks of daily radiation. I had to lay off serious training until my surgery healed. However, I started lifting very light weights as soon as possible and walked until I was able to run without too much pain. All of a sudden my nagging aches and pains seemed minimal. I felt that if I could beat cancer nothing else mattered. Over the next 6 months I increased my mileage with the intent of running another marathon. It was an amazing feeling to be able to run through cancer and one year after my diagnosis I qualified for the Boston Marathon.
Over the following 18 years I continued to exercise daily: lifting weights, running and participating in whatever activity was in season. Exercise helped me balance the intensity of work and life with my husband and children. Last year I was shocked to find that my cancer recurred and was in my liver. It seemed impossible to me. I thought I was cancer free. I was strong; raising a family, running, biking, working out and working full time. It just did not seem possible that I had metastatic cancer.
My cancer could be managed with treatment but could not be cured. I started chemotherapy immediately and never stopped running or working out. I told my oncologist that the day I stopped running would mean the end was near and I meant it. I figured that if I could still exercise I could get through anything chemo would throw at me. Some days I was moving so slowly that my mind was the only one who called it running. But I didn’t miss a day;even times when I was so dizzy I was tipping over or it was so cold that my snot froze! I completed 9 months of chemo before my body could not tolerate it anymore.
My cancer only responded partially to chemotherapy but has been stable on other treatment. Unfortunately, the chemo led to nerve and muscle damage in my legs. It’s a challenge every day just to get out of bed because of my leg pain. It takes longer to move which is frustrating but ultimately I’m just happy to be out there running, lifting and doing seasonal exercise. On the bad days I find that if I just try to move for 5 minutes most times I end up feeling well enough to keep going for the full workout. Even if I cut it short I feel mentally and physically much better with any exercise.
So, even now, I still run daily and continue to work out and be active. Exercise was and still is the best pain killer there is. It has no side effects and has many benefits including pain control, improved strength and balance, and improved mood. Mentally, exercise has given me an outlet that helps me move forward with my life. The ability to continue to exercise through whatever cancers throws at me is incredibly empowering. Although no one ever plans to get cancer it impacts many of us. Exercise has been key for me in survival.