#WhyIamRunning……..Kathleen’s long journey battling blood cancer.

Kathleen running prior to her diagnosis.
Kathleen running prior to her diagnosis.

I walk now, to remember all who supported me at the beginning of a long journey.

Mothers’ Day, 1986 I discovered two golf-ball sized lumps on my collarbone when I got up in the morning.

The next day I was at Northwestern Memorial. Two biopsies revealed Stage III B Hodgkins.By mid-week I met with the late Stewart Rosenfeld, M.D., a super-specialist who treated blood cancers. He used what I now understand was an early version of the Internet, personalizing my treatment protocol from the major research centers at Stanford and Ann Arbor.  Three cycles of chemo, twelve weeks of radiation, then six more cycles of chemo took a full year.

Two weeks  before this started, I ran an ultramarathon from Ravinia to Zion and back with a couple of hard core ultra runners. The running community turned out to be my mainstay.

Noel Nequin, M.D., a cardiologist and founder of our running group, contacted me as soon as he heard about my diagnosis. He reassured me that running didn’t cause the cancer (yes, that occurred to me even before others suggested it!) He added that in France, running was being used as an adjunctive therapy.

George Cheung, another ultra runner, brought me photos taken the night of our Lake County run, reminding me “never forget this is who you really are!”

George’s photos accompanied me to chemo, and Noel’s advice kept me going on daily runs, as well as the Grandma’s and the Chicago marathon and one ultra (50 kilometers) I ran that year. On my 40th birthday that November, the ultra runners  organized a group to run 40 miles along the lakefront in my honor.

My choice to run those races was controversial, with the radiation oncologist warning it was too risky. The others on my team prevailed, and a full cardiac workup a year after final treatment revealed my heart had actually strengthened. This came as no surprise.

At the time of my initial diagnosis, they found a large mediastinal mass on my heart, which probably would have taken me out before I discovered the fast growing collarbone mass.

Running got me to the starting line, through that year, and then some…

There were no effective anti-nausea drugs then, no Gilda’s Club, no support groups. I couldn’t have participated anyway: Newly single and the mother of a teenager, I had no choice but to keep working. Thanks to the prednisone component in my treatment, I had the energy.

Insurance issues kept me from leaving my teaching position until I retired last year. Medical debt kept me working evenings and weekends as an adjunct at Loyola University for a number of years.

I stayed active, marking my 10th anniversary of survival and 50th birthday with the six-day 500-mile AIDS Ride from Minneapolis to Chicago in 1996.

I completed a number of Chicago and Milwaukee triathlons through the early 1990’s, but decided to give it up after I saw too many young men die during or right after the swim, my weakest leg.

Immediately after the Boston Bombing two years ago, I resolved to return and run it again.

I’m less sure now. The stresses of my last two years of teaching and the daily 3-hour round trip took a toll. I’ve lost close to half my body mass, which had expanded over years of limited training.

Below the neck, I look very much like I did at the start line of this long, long race.

Kathleen 29 years to the day of first Chemo.
Kathleen 29 years to the day of first Chemo.