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Surviving Breast Cancer : Finding Normal Through 26.2

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            Last July, I got the news that nobody ever thinks they’ll get. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I quickly learned that it doesn’t matter your age, it doesn’t matter your fitness level, it doesn’t matter if you’ve run 20+ races or if you Crossfit, cancer doesn’t discriminate.  Life happens suddenly and you are forced to pause everything and deal with your own mortality.

           

            So after going through surgery and starting an intense regimen of chemo this past October, I was sitting at the farmer’s market with a good friend and my Coach and I was lamenting not being able to run the LA Marathon this year.  As crazy as it sounded, I still wanted to run. It weighed heavy on my mind that I would be sidelined by breast cancer and not by my own choice. In an “F-U” moment to cancer, I decided with the support of my family and medical team that I could still complete the marathon safely. I wouldn’t be racing, instead it would be a completely different experience, and I could focus on enjoying the sights and moments.

 

            I thought I might have a chance to train, bus as chemo settled in, the side effects sucked the life out of me. The fatigue, nausea, diminished immune system… I couldn’t find the energy to run until late January when I realized the marathon was only three weeks away and I decided I had to force myself to run a little.  I couldn’t let cancer eat away at my life.

 

            So with almost no training, I went into the marathon with a loose game plan. On my mind was my health and safety, so if it got too hot, or my symptoms proved to be too much, then I would have to DNF. There were a lot of things going against me physically. Inactivity for six months, recovering from surgery, being at risk for lymphedema, and the various side effects of chemo made me question if I could pull this off. But, I had two very important things going for me that made me think I could: my mind game and my training background. After all, why else do we train?

 

            Just before the marathon, I told my crew, “Do not ask me how I feel- I will let you know if I can’t go on.” Honestly, I didn’t want to focus on the pains I would be feeling. 26.2 miles even in my best shape is never easy and invariably some kind of fatigue or pain creeps up. Running a marathon is like life. You hit a wall and you have to make a choice. Do you give up or do you keep on moving?

 

            The first part of the marathon was really fun and I was feeling great. We stopped to take pictures at the dragon gates in China Town and by the Taiko drummers near Disney Hall. We took time to enjoy the run and at about mile 7 we ran into our first group of friends, the Clarkes and company. They cheered us on, encouraged us, and gave us hugs. Then at about mile 9, we saw Gordo’s big head on a sign and I knew it was the Ganbatte Browns all smiles. Even Cash with his spirit animal sign gave me more energy and pushed me a little further.  We stopped and took more pictures.  Everything was still going well.

 

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            When we reached just past mile10 we ran into Emma, Anders, and Arnie. Again, they cheered us on and told us we were looking great. We snapped more pictures and off we went. We kept up and finally arrived at my favorite part of the marathon, Sunset by the Pantages and Mann’s Chinese Theater around mile 11. I was starting to fatigue and the absence of my training was starting to settle into my legs, but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t let myself down or anyone else that was cheering me on. I wasn’t ready to complain to my crew and we kept on moving.

 

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                 Then at mile 13.1 when I saw the half marathon relay team exchange spot, I was jealous of those completing their run and I started to doubt myself. Maybe taking on a marathon in the midst of chemo wasn’t my brightest idea; maybe I wouldn’t make it until the end. My arm was starting to swell and I could feel my fingers puffing up and we were only halfway! I still didn’t want to say anything, so I pushed the thoughts aside and thought, “One mile at a time, one step at a time.”

 

            I started relying more on my training background. I could hear JP’s voice in my head… loose ankles, relax and on and on. JP told me that the Ganbatte Browns were waiting for us again at Mile 18. The self-doubt was starting to fade, and I started to realize that finishing was possible. It was definitely getting tougher, but armed with ice, oranges, and love, we moved on towards the VA.

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            With the new route, we didn’t go into the VA this year, and that’s when I realized I hit a wall. I couldn’t quite calm my heart rate, my arm was swelling more and now my fingers were feeling numb. I felt defeated and I started thinking about how long it would take if we stopped running and only walked. We walked more than I wanted and I was starting to worry a little but then JP mentioned that Leanne and her crew were up next. It was time to make a choice. I could either give up and walk the rest of the way, or I could decide to push forward. I sucked it up and off we ran to see Leanne and her team waiting for us just past mile 21. The heartfelt hugs brought me renewed hope and pep in our steps. We were getting closer to the finish line.

 

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            We continued on to meet our next group of supporters, Justin’s family at mile 23. This spot I know well, just before the last hill, just before the downhill begins and the ocean breeze near the finish line is within reach. I knew at this moment that we would make it to the end. More oranges, ice, and more hugs… we climbed up that last hill and started our descent onto Ocean Boulevard towards the final stretch. My eyes welled up as I literally felt the love and support of everyone.  

 

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            It’s amazing to think just when you think something is impossible, there’s someone waiting at the next corner to propel you forward. Family really is everything. Family supports you when you’re feeling your worst and when you’re facing some heavy crap.  The truth about me is that I am a marathoner and I love running.  It’s my normal. Running the LA Marathon made me feel normal. Running the marathon with everyone’s support made me feel loved and ready to continue my fight.

 

My final thoughts:

 

1. Family is everything- At Ganbatte, there are so many amazing individuals. I have mad love for everyone and the support we give each other not just when we’re at our best, but mostly when we’re facing unimaginable challenges.

 

2. Life is like a marathon. When you hit a wall, you make a conscious decision. Either you can or you can’t accomplish your goal. At Ganbatte, we train our minds to push past that wall. Sometimes in life you get pulled back and ultimately only you know what you’re going through… At this point, all you’ve got is your mind game. This is why we train for life.

 

Ganbatte 

Marisa

 

 

 

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