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How Running Helped Me Through Cancer

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The other day I was going through a box of accumulated stuff in my house. In one of the boxes I found a pile of Runner's World calendars. I use them to record my runs and my usual form of cross training; biking. I would also write down the times that I did weights in the gym.

I started doing this in 2007, a few months after I had run my first half-marathon in Montreal. It was very encouraging to look at the month on my wall and see all training I had accomplished. I would line the square with a different colour for each; pink for running, green for biking and orange for weights. It inspired me to keep it up.

Flipping through my calendars, I got to April of 2007. That was the month I was diagnosed with cancer. My first operation; a lumpectomy was done on April 25. I ran a 4k the day prior to my operation. One week later, On May 3, I did my first 3k walk (wasn't allowed to run yet). A couple of walks later, and two weeks after my first operation, I started running again. By the third week of May, I was back on track with my training schedule, and by early June, I had run 13.1k, or half-marathon distance.

During this time I had received the unfortunate news that the first operation was unsuccessful. The margins were not clear. We were now discussing a mastectomy.

But running kept me company during the hot summer months leading up to the double mastectomy operation scheduled for August 3, 2007. The operation lasted ten and a half hours, and I was in the hospital for one week; a long time in hospital standards here. For six long weeks I was recovering at home. I had strict instructions from my surgeon to stay at home, and for a few weeks, was not even able to walk off my property. It would cause serious damage if I was to fall.

I was allowed to start running on September 10. I had a big "OK TO START RUNNING" written in the square on my calendar for that day. I ran a 1k. Underneath my distance I wrote "very difficult." But I kept up with it and slowly started increasing the mileage.

Again -- and as fate would have it -- I was not out of the woods yet. They had removed 17 lymph nodes during surgery as they had found traces of cancer cells. I started the first of eight chemotherapy treatments on September 20 that same year. Running had become my lifeline at this time. I was running an average of three times per week, and even ran a 5k race in Ottawa, on October 28.

You see, running was good for my health; even then. Even when I was weakened by surgery and chemo. Even when I had a high level of stress in my life. As hard as it may seem, continuing with an exercise regime improved my outlook, helped reduce my side affects from chemo, and lightened my mood. I may not have covered the distances I would have as a healthy person, but the distances I covered mentally and spiritually were even better.

And my daughters saw, first hand, how to act in the face of difficulty. I hope this will be a comfort to them later in their lives. When I look back at this time in my life, I even surprise myself! I was a gold medal winner in the race of life.

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