11/02/2011 02:45 EDT | Updated 01/03/2012 05:12 EST

Running Gave Me Strength, Cancer Gave Me Courage

A little over a year after I started running, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Running had made my mind and body strong. And there was never a time where I would need the strength more ...


It is soon to be six years since I laced up my first serious pair of running shoes. By serious, I mean I paid more than $50 for them, which, at the time, for somebody who was not really a runner, was more than enough! I was told that a good pair of running shoes would be the best investment I could make for my foray into the running world. So you can bet your bottom boots that, at just under $200, after adding tax, I expected these shoes to make me 50 pounds lighter, and let me run like the wind!

After the initial shock, and the fact that there were no running shoes with pink detail in my model or style, I actually grew to love my shoes, and they really did feel like slippers on my feet. It didn't take me long to realize that the shoes really do make a difference.

In the beginning, I was a very disciplined runner. I always did two or three short runs in the week, and a long run on the weekend. Sometimes I would cheat on the weekend by adding an extra short run the day before or after I did my long run. I was very enthusiastic! It must have annoyed anyone who ran with me, as I my competitive nature always pushed me to outdo anyone else in training time. After all, I wasn't experienced enough to beat their time... yet.

A few months later, I ran my first half marathon. I chose the Montreal marathon weekend because that's where I was born, and where I spend at least part of my time today. The fact that I am old enough to remember the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and all the fanfare, was a great motivator for me, as the half marathon and the marathon ended with a lap around the track in the Olympic stadium! I can remember the goosebumps on my arms as my inspiration induced last burst of energy kicked in as I dashed around the track towards the finish line.The memory always puts a smile on my face.

Finishing this first half marathon only gave me more energy, and my enthusiasm got me out the door more often than ever. I prefer running outdoors, and I can honestly say that, at this time, weather was not a factor. I would run in pouring rain, sleeting snow, and even on icy roads. Nothing could keep me away from my time on the road.

As the saying goes, things always happen for a reason. A little over a year after I started running, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Running had made my body strong. It had also made my mind strong. And there was never a time where I would need the strength more ... I often think back to that time, and how grateful I was to get back out on the road for a run. It was my coping mechanism, and it allowed me to think through things while I was alone on a run. Sometimes I would cry; sometimes I would run crazy fast with a burst of energy sparked by the anger cloud over my head screaming, why me? At other times I would run defiantly, head held high, knowing that I would be alright.

Running was my security blanket and my best friend. If I was running, I was alive. If I was alive, I would be well.

And then, suddenly (although, at the time, it seemed like an eternity), the cancer treatments were over. Besides the odd out-patient operation I would have on occasion, I was at the beginning of the survivor stage. Being on the 'other side' is shocking at first, but I knew that I had the strength to deal with cancer when I was diagnosed with it. In turn, it was cancer that showed me what courage was. I am already in my fifth year of survivorship, with my five year anniversary coming up next August. During this time I have become a very different person.

Yes, the initial, 'me' is still there. I am still the smart, opinionated, thoughtful, stubborn and sentimental person I have been since I was a little girl. But there is definitely more to me now. The new 'additions' are much more positive and uplifting... Patience, awareness, and being more authentic and true to myself are traits I only wish I could have acquired without going through the big 'C.' Regardless, they are now mine. They are mine because I had the courage to do the necessary internal work that allowed me to find them. They are mine because of the experience cancer gave me.

I still go out on a run to resolve the sticky situations in life, to organize a work project in my head, or to just listen to a good playlist. It's still the faithful partner that will never let me down. But like all relationships that become more long-term, one can sometimes find excuses to take a break. Yes, I still pick my races, and I'm still every bit enthusiastic about running. But sometimes, just sometimes, the weather may provide just the right excuse for me to curl up with a good book or a blanket, or maybe go to the gym.

It's November in Canada, and below zero Celsius outside. Tonight I will go home, dress warmly, and head out for a run!