Chicago Fitness & Recovery Center

It's World Cancer Day. Meet Jen.


Today is World Cancer Day. It’s all about raising awareness, looking cancer in the eye and staring it down. For all of us, it’s personal. For me, it’s about my cousin Jen. Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer and she fought like hell. She looked cancer in the face and told it to suck it. She ran through all of her months of chemo and radiation – even when it meant running was a slow shuffle on the lakeshore path before or after her treatments. So today, we’re going to tell her story. Spoiler Alert: She won. And she is a badass.

 

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How did you get into running?

I had always been a pretty reluctant and unhappy runner but was always athletic. One day, a colleague, Kim, quite out of the blue asked me if I wanted to run a marathon back in 2002. I said yes. Four months later I was crossing the finish line at the Hops Marathon in Tampa. A few months after that it was clear that my running buddy had become my bestie, and we have since run many races together, mostly half and full marathons.

 

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Catch us up to speed – When were you diagnosed? When did you start treatment? When did you officially kick cancer’s ass?

I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in August of 2009, about a week before school started. I was in the chemo infusion suite three weeks after that. My oncologist declared that I was cancer free in May of 2010 after I had completed my 7-week course of radiation, though I liked to think I kicked cancer’s ass the minute I was diagnosed because I pretty much decided that’s how it was going to be.

What were the best and hardest parts of running throughout your treatment?

Best parts were just being able to do it. I had to do fewer miles, but I always ran. It was annoying feeling tired and slower than I was used to, but even as my hair was falling out I felt lucky. The hardest parts were usually related to feeling tired and always thinking of my ‘normal’ pace or mileage. I’ve never been fast but I was sad to lose so many seconds off my mile time.

What was the most important thing you discovered through the process?

To be humble and resilient. I’ve experienced nothing so humbling as being diagnosed, needing help from other people, having my body change in ways that I couldn’t really control. Being able to adjust to all of these things and remain grateful rather than resentful of my bad luck was a lesson I continue to remember.

 

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What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone staring down a similar challenge?

When the docs tell you a diagnosis, they always say “you have cancer.” It matters to me that they don’t walk in and say “cancer has you.” I took this to mean that I got to decide what cancer could have from me. I decided it could have my hair and those seconds off my mile time but that was it. Anyone facing a diagnosis has a similar opportunity to decide what cancer can have.

Has your training or running changed at all pre and post cancer?

I feel as though I’m slower and feel less powerful than before, but I still maintain a race schedule that’s pretty similar. I try to do 2-3 half marathons a year and a full every two or three years and scattered 5ks and sprint tri’s and team ultra-marathons here and there.

 

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^^^Jen/I at a Sprint Tri. Racing with family...doesn't get any better than that!

 

What was your first race after cancer? How did that feel?!

My first after treatment finished was the Indy Mini half marathon in the spring of 2010. It was incredible. Probably my favorite race after my first full just because it felt like such an accomplishment. I ran happily, a little slowly, but I ran the whole race feeling so filled with gratitude that it was just amazing. I knew I was back when I finished that one.

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I know you’re always looking for a challenge…What’s next for you?!

Pre-cancer, my default goal time for a half marathon was under 2 hours. My PR is 1:50. I haven’t been sub-two since before cancer, so my goal for this year is to finally crack that. I think that I’ve been undertrained for most of my races in the last few years so my next race is the full marathon in Kalamazoo, MI on May 8. My plan is to train for that so that I can nail the Sunburst half marathon in South Bend on June 4.

^^^ Aaaaand Jen’s gonna get a custom half marathon training plan to get her to that goal :)




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