Running Down the Past: Why I’m Running the DONNA Marathon for Breast Cancer

My mother wears her scars unapologetically, never giving the cancer more power than it should have. To her, it was a hard time in her life, and she'd rather help other people than dwell on the past. It's a rare and quiet asset to be able to hide your own pain and fear in order to protect the people around you. 

"Whatever," I replied. I'm as stubborn as she is. "I'm running the damn marathon for you whether you like it or not."

But the marathon talk opens up something inside her. As I doggedly insist on calling her each day with a training update, she starts talking about that time period like she hasn't before. One morning, she jokes about how my father was more upset about the diagnosis than she was. Another day, she laughs about how she's certain she caught the cancer early thanks to her small breast size. She also admits it was a scary time—no one really knew what was going to happen. 

"You know, there's one thing I never forget," she said on an evening call. "When I visited the doctor's office to pick up my records after the biopsy, I ran into the surgeon who removed the tumor. I was carrying your sister, and she must've just turned three. I was feeling OK—fine, really. But the doctor who had cut the tumor out of me gave me this look, a terrible, depressed look, like I was going to die." 

It was the mid-1990's and cancer, though prevalent, was still talked about like a death sentence. It was like a secret to be guarded behind closed doors, in stark contrast to the awareness and openness that we have today. Maybe that's why she hasn't talked about it much until now. 

"I didn't say anything to her," my mom said. "I just thought, Nope. Not going to happen.

Those words have become a powerful—if strange—mantra on my long runs. "Nope," I think with every mile down. "Not gonna happen." I laugh about the lunacy of her determination, how something so beyond her control, a disease that leaves most people cowering in fear, was to her just an obstacle to get beyond--another mile behind her. 

This February 11, I will celebrate my new reasons to run: to give back and honor the woman who taught me to be stubborn and determined as hell--and to have fun while I'm at it. The DONNA Marathon will be a different kind of race for me. Usually, I run to compete against myself, and like most recreational runners, to beat my personal best. But this race is bigger than me—bigger than my own arbitrary goals. So, despite the course being flat and fast, I'm going to take it slow. I want to really see the city of Jacksonville Beach—run over the Intracoastal waterway marshes, next to the Atlantic Ocean, along beautiful oak-lined streets—and see the legendary crowds and yes, wear pink.

I hope you'll join me as I report live from Jacksonville Beach on marathon weekend. I'll be talking to survivors, runners and spectators as I offer each mile to my mom. 

Whether she likes it or not. 

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