Hanging on to Fitness and a Few Strands of Hair Through Breast Cancer Treatment

I am a Medical Oncologist, a wife, a mother of 4, runner of 12 marathons training to run my 13th with a goal to qualify for Boston when the diagnosis of breast cancer caused a significant detour in my well-planned life. When I asked for guidance on how to continue to stay fit while receiving treatment, I received blank stares and found little data. While I never intended to be in this experiment, I find myself now generating my own data about fitness through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. I am writing this in hopes to help others who find themselves in this same situation.


The Charlottesville 10 Miler

I care a lot about what I put in my body. I avoid eating packaged foods that contain preservatives. I prefer organic foods. I don’t even like to take Tylenol. But now in the last few weeks, my body has been loaded with all kinds of chemicals required for tests that I have gone through to get a complete picture of this breast cancer. My body was loaded up with radioactive isotopes that would congregate in any abnormal places in my bones which would then be visualized on the bone scan. I was given intravenous and oral contrast prior to the CT scan in order to help differentiate vessels from potential soft tissue abnormalities. I wondered what these crazy chemicals were doing to my body in addition to making it possible for the radiologist to visualize my internal structures. But here I am in this new world.

The great news is that I received results of my bone scan and this did not show any abnormalities. The results of the CT scan are still not available, but for some reason, I am much less worried about this result.

Although I still have not had surgery to remove the known breast cancer and every day I have to wait feels like an eternity, I have chosen to accept these pre-surgery days as an unexpected gift. Today my celebration was running the Charlottesville 10 Miler. When I received this diagnosis earlier this month, I did not think that it would be possible to run this race. Now I feel so grateful to have had the chance to really put my fitness to the test.

My goal was to achieve a PR. The last time I did this race was 2015 and my time was 1:27.26. I thought that based on my fitness, this was a realistic goal. But I was secretly targeting 1:25 and knew that I needed to maintain an 8:30 pace to achieve this. I realized that was a bit of a stretch goal given that 2 weeks ago I ran a little slower (~8:39 pace) in a ~5 mile race. BUT, I was sick during that race: coughing the whole 5 miles and just 4 days out from getting the "bad news", so I also knew I was not in an optimal state on the day of the 8K.

I ended up chatting with a friend before the start of the 10 Miler. As we discussed time goals, we realized they were similar. But we also admitted to each other that we each preferred to "run alone" in a race situation. So for the 1st two miles, we traded the lead several times, but then she finally passed me for good around mile 3. And ultimately she was so far ahead of me that I could not see her. I really didn't give it much thought. I was feeling great and actually significantly ahead of the pace that I thought I would be running. So I just kept running. This is a hilly course, but I realized that although there are a lot of "up hills" there are also a lot "downhills", and I just allowed myself to fly down the hills and I was careful to not kill myself going up. I did a lot of smiling and relaxing and just taking it all in and appreciating everyone around me and the great weather and how good and strong my body felt. Then approaching mile 8, I saw my friend again from the pre-race chat. And I was gaining on her. I was feeling great. I felt a little bad, but I passed her running up that hill. Ok, I’ll admit, that was kind of fun. Then for mile 9 I kicked it in and gave it my all. But in retrospect, I wonder if I had even more. I felt fantastic at the finish! Maybe too good. My finishing time was 1:23:10! Mission accomplished! Goal achieved! What a gift. I am so happy.

Of course I am sad and pissed off that I don't get to run the marathon I planned to run in May, but I am so grateful that I had a chance to put my hard work to the test at the 10 Miler. I know that I was on track to finally accomplish this BQ goal, and feel that I am in the best shape of my life. Who knew that this training was actually to put me in the best position possible to take on a challenge so much bigger and so much more important that any marathon could ever be.

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