Running Away From Breast Cancer

After watching her mom battle cancer, columnist Ann Brennan took a different approach to health and fitness.

I was a junior in high school when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I held her hand while her surgeon performed the needle biopsy. I sat beside her taking notes as the doctor told her it was indeed cancer.  I was in the waiting room with my grandmother, brother and sister as she had the radical mastectomy. And I was there when the doctors returned several days later to tell us that the cancer had progressed much further than they had expected, and she should set her affairs in order.

It wasn’t until the following year that I realized how scared I was of facing the same fate.

I had gone in for my annual checkup and realized something I had denied for several years. I was fat, overweight, obese. 

But as I stood on that scale, I didn’t see the numbers.  I didn’t hear the words.  Instead I saw, as though it was written in flashing neon letters, CANCER.  Suddenly all of the research I had done when my mom was first diagnosed came back to me, and for the first time I was scared for myself.  It finally occurred to me that I might one day be at risk.

I have been running from breast cancer ever since.  I left the doctor’s office and immediately headed to a local running store where I bought my first real pair of running shoes and sports bra.  I wore the clothes out of the store and went straight to the park where I road ran my first mile and thought I might die. 

But I didn’t quit.  I was running away from something, and I was not going to stop until I outran it. 

What had hit me as I stood there looking at the scale was the list of risk factors I had read during my research on breast cancer. The one risk that had always stuck out for me was obesity. So many of the risk factors were not within my control, but my health and fitness were. I needed to take control.

January will mark 20 years since that run. During that time I have continued to run away from breast cancer and toward a healthier lifestyle. I have continued to run and have altered my lifestyle to be the healthiest that it can possibly be. I know there are no guarantees that I can outrun cancer, but knowing that I am doing something, knowing that I am taking control of my health and fitness, makes the prospect less scary. 

As I prepare to celebrate my 20 years of living healthy, my mom is celebrating 21 years as a survivor. Though she was given less than a year to live, she is still kicking, still fighting and still winning. Maybe that is where I got my fighting spirit. As long as I can keep running from it, you can find me out there, on the roads, running away from cancer.


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