Winning my age group and placing in the top-10 female overall at the recent Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Boston was not something I expected.
I had been jogging only 2 to 3 miles a day at an 11-minute-per-mile pace for the past six weeks. It was a beautiful day with temperatures perfect for a race and the course is flat, fast and scenic along the water on Day Boulevard. When I saw that my first mile split was 7:26 and that I was ahead of elite New Balance runner Sarah Brown I was very excited. At the turnaround point, my right shoe became untied but I did not want to stop to bend down and tie it.
My competitive instincts took over and I kept running, focusing on not tripping over the laces while trying to maintain a decent pace. I crossed the finish line in just over 23 minutes, with an average pace of just under 7:40 per mile. I used to run marathons at that pace but on that day, I was thrilled to keep up that pace at a 5K!
Less than six weeks before the race, I was diagnosed with a metastatic breast cancer recurrence to my hip, spine, lungs and skull. The six weeks since the discovery were filled with long biopsies, CT Scans, MRIs, injections, infusions and daily targeted chemo. Being able to run relatively fast and enjoy myself gave me a new sense of hope in this otherwise dark diagnosis. Races help me focus on “living with cancer” rather than “dying from cancer,” even though I am now on a regime of daily chemo, monthly injections, infusions and follow-up blood tests to manage the cancer.
Six years ago, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 invasive breast cancer and underwent over a year of treatments which included radical mastectomy, aggressive chemotherapy, 7 weeks of radiation and 5 years of medication. The breast cancer diagnosis came as a total surprise as I was a healthy athlete with four children and had no family history. The oncologist told me that the tumors had been there for at least 5 years which meant that I had run all of my marathons with some stage of breast cancer, including a PR of 3:17!
I had just started a new five-year medication plan and was feeling good. I had survived these treatments as well as an advanced stage thyroid cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments in 2014, thanks to the support of my community, my family and my running. I was able to run and race during all of my treatments and even ran the 2010 Boston marathon in four hours, just weeks after finishing radiation.
I made a choice to find the silver lining in my dark cloud of cancer diagnoses over the years. I chose to be open about my diagnosis and be as honest as possible about my treatments. I try to maintain a sense of humor and positive outlook despite these setbacks. I love to organize fun runs and dress while promoting fundraising for various causes. Every year that I train for the Boston Marathon and fundraise, I can be found somewhere along the course dressed in a pink Mexican wrestling “luchadora” mask or a Wonder Woman costume! As a runner, I can help others by raising awareness about cancer and staying active during treatments. Running and participating in road races has also reassured my children that I am strong and that I will get through the treatments. When we told them about the metastatic recurrence in August, they all cried but within minutes of the news, they all asked if I will still be able to run the Boston Marathon in 2016! They also expect my husband, Amin, to run the marathon each year as they know that our first date in Switzerland was a one-hour run! They like to guess who will cross the finish line first each year.
My cancer journey has also led me to discover my “gift” of being able to combine my love of running with my passion for grassroots community activism and philanthropy. I have been a spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen MA affiliate and New Balance and have raised, along with my husband, over $50,000 since 2011. I founded a Thanksgiving Day road race in my hometown of Wellesley, Mass., and incorporated as a nonprofit in May. Our mission is to raise money for local charities in the areas of cancer, education and the broader umbrella of community service, which includes any non-profit that makes an impact on the community, whether it be a domestic violence program, food pantry, etc. This year, we have also started a “Couch to 5K” group that brings runners and walkers together every Friday and helps novice runners/walkers accomplish the goal of completing a 5k. It has been very rewarding and we have new people joining each week.
As race director and founder, I work almost full-time on the event from September through December and part time the rest of the year. It is rewarding to connect with local businesses that support the race so that I can donate all of the proceeds back to the local charities. We work with the local charities to present a “community impact” statement on how the funds that we donated have made a difference, and most of all we enjoy reaching out to the community and putting on a fun event that has become a beloved tradition in the town.
When I run, I feel like I am working towards healing my body. My mantra when I race is “I am the cure” and it helps remind me that I can get through the sometimes scared feelings that come with a cancer diagnosis. I feel powerful and happy and if I can show others that despite my illness, I can get out there, run and smile and be positive, then I feel that I am making a difference—not only in my life, but in the lives of others.