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The Unspoken Rules of Being a Badass: A Runner's Guide

Running With Cancer – Part 1

RIF #5 Lisa Gonzales

Note: I am going to be doing a series on my bout with ovarian cancer and how my running was affected by it and helped me deal with it.

2013 was supposed to be a big year for me. I had big plans – streak through at least October to complete a 1 year running streak, run 3000 miles, and lower my marathon PR to sub 4…and hopefully qualify for Boston. 2013 was going to be stellar!

Or so I thought. Things didn’t go exactly as I’d planned. Life is funny that way.

2013 started off okay. I wasn’t getting where I wanted to be  though so I hired a coach and that helped. But I was tired most of the time. I felt like I was overtrained even though I wasn’t really doing that much. I was frustrated. I kept telling my friends I was tired and nauseous and that something didn’t feel right but it never felt serious enough to go to the doctor.

Then in July, I found a bump in my abdomen. It felt about the size of a lemon and I went to have it checked out. By the time I had an ultrasound and then an MRI, it had grown to the size of basketball! I had surgery on September 30, 2013 to remove it and that’s when I found out I had Ovarian Cancer.

The C Word.


However, I was one of the lucky ones. Every year, about 22,240 women are diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer and 14,400 women die from it. There is a 93% 5 year survival rate if it is caught in the early stages but only 15% of the women are caught this early. I am one of the 15%. My cancer was Stage 1C. I was very lucky.

I haven’t always felt lucky. I have had the “why me?” thoughts. I’ve been resigned and numb. I’ve been scared and sad. And I’ve been angry. So very angry. Angry because my life changed in one instant. Angry because I’d been doing everything right – eating right, exercising, taking care of myself – and I was still caught in cancer’s vicious web.

One reason I was angry at cancer was that it took running away from me. Everyone said that my health was the most important part and that I could/would run again. But here’s the thing. Running is the way I deal with emotions and stress. At the one time in my life when I needed it most, I couldn’t run. First because my doctor was afraid the cyst would burst and then because of the surgery to remove it. For 10 long weeks I couldn’t run. I had no outlet for all the things I was feeling. I couldn’t do anything but go for short walks and sit on my backside.

I felt trapped.

And of course, running not only helps me wash away the sucky parts of life but it is just plain fun! There’s nothing I love more than running trails and exploring new places and meeting new people. Running is how I celebrate life! I had to give up 3 marathons and a half marathon I’d signed up for. Because of cancer I missed out on the opportunity to explore Utah and Tennesse and to have fun on Halloween. I missed seeing my friends from around the country at those races. It took so much from me. Did it have to take the fun too?

No, running isn’t everything but at a time in my life when I was scared and angry, it would have been nice to have the joy running and breathing in fresh air. I especially missed being out on the trails. Oh, how I missed the trails.

My surgeon released me to run on November 26th and I may or may not have done a happy dance. His advice to me was to do what I was comfortable with. I had already talked to my oncologist about running and she encouraged me to run through chemotherapy. I decided I would start running again on Thanksgiving. It seemed like the proper day to restart running. I had a lot to be thankful for but I was most thankful I could finally lace up my running shoes again.

I didn’t do much that first run. I’d told myself I would take it easy and run walk for a mile or two depending on how it went. Well…I might have been a LITTLE bit excited and ended up running the whole first mile. Oops! But I did smarten up and run/walk the mile home. The pic above is from that run. Was it easy? No. Did things hurt? Yes. Mostly I was surprised at how tired I was. And maybe a little sad at how slow I was. But I was happy too.

I felt free again!

Just one run and already I felt lighter. And I felt relief. I felt like I was me again. It felt so good to be outside and moving and breathing fresh air. It was wonderful.

But oh, I had so much work to do. I was basically starting over. I’d only been out from running for 10 weeks but most of August and September was just 1 day streak savers (because I’m stubborn and hoped I could finish the year!). I had a long way to go to get back to where I was when I set my PRs. In some ways starting over is easier than starting from scratch because you know what to do. You’ve done it before. You can do it again.

In some ways, it’s harder though. Because I remember what it was like to run 20 milers. I remember what it was like to run sub 8 minute miles (fast for me). I remember how much fun marathons and half marathons and a so hard you want to puke 5K are. I’m impatient to be that runner again. I want to feel that strong and fast right now.

But I am ready to do the work. Bring it on!

The big problem is…what does that work look like? How do athletes with cancers train? Should they train while battling cancer? That is the 24 bazillion dollar question…

Running With Cancer Part 2: The Moderate Runner



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This post was written by:

- who has written 717 posts on Run It Fast®.

Lisa (RIF Club Member #5) has completed 27 half marathons, 13 marathons, 5 50Ks, 2 12 Hour races, and 1 100K. Her favorite races to date are the Disneyland Half Marathon, the Leading Ladies Marathon, the Bataan Memorial Death March, and the Jackson Jackass 50K. You can follow her on Twitter @runlikeacoyote

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2 Responses to “Running With Cancer – Part 1”

  1. Wendy says:

    Wow…. I can relate. I had surgery to remove a rather large melanoma and lymph node biopsies in December. The no running sucked for the same reasons, and the return to running, bittersweet! So glad yours was caught early. The sister of one of my best friends passed from Ovarian cancer at a very young age…. So sad. Fight on! Run on!!!

  2. Congratulations on keeping your head up and moving forward! Running will always be there for us. Sometimes, we have to take a break, but running gave you the strength and courage to keep on truckin!


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