Fellow cancer survivor Melisa Etheridge's song "I Run for Life" has gained a permanent spot on my running playlist because it reminds me why I run.
As a PhD student in tumor biology, Jamie Holloway survived long hours researching breast cancer in the labs of Georgetown University. Ten years later, after being diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, she survived that too. Now with no evidence of disease, she shares a patient's perspective with scientists and clinicians as a breast cancer research advocate. A wife, mother, runner, and lipstick addict, she shares her story from the perspective of both a patient and a scientist.
The songs of Melissa Etheridge don’t show up often on top hits tween stations that seem to get the most play time in my car as I haul kids around from one activity to the next. So when I first discovered Spotify and was listening to a playlist from the ladies at Run Like a Mother
, the throaty voice of Etheridge sounded only vaguely familiar. I recalled a song of hers that had been popular when I was in high school, and I was shocked as the opening words of the song "I Run for Life" rang true like few could.
“It's been years since they told her about it
The darkness her body possessed
And the scars are still there in the mirror
Everyday that she gets herself dressed”
I still remember exactly where I was when I heard it the first time. I was running through the park as I headed to the rose garden. And as I breathed in every word, I remembered that she, too, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course. That’s why the words of a song I’d never heard before sounded so familiar. They are the words of a breast cancer survivor and of a runner. They are my words. “I run for hope, I run to feel … I run for life.”
Running was always sort of a control issue for me when it came to my cancer, I wanted to prove that I was strong enough to run even with cancer and even when my body was being poisoned to kill the cancer. Now, staying active is just about the only thing that I can do to reduce my risk of recurrence. Quite literally, I am running for my life.
It’s been about two years since I added the song to my running playlist, and at different times, it has spoken to me in different ways. The first time I heard in that park, I had just gotten the all clear from my oncologist after a scan because a minor pain was causing some major anxiety. I was running that day to recapture my health and to prove to myself that I was healthy after all. It was sort of triumphant — I run for life!
More recently though, the song filled my earbuds as I was about to leave the trail and head into the neighborhood to come home. That day I got stuck on the “I run for your daughter …” bit. I run for my daughter. Instead of hearing the song with a triumphant attitude, I began to feel big sobs catch in my throat. I have known from the day I was diagnosed that my daughter would have to start breast cancer screenings when she is only 25. That is ridiculously young to have to get a mammogram, but screenings should start ten years before the age at which I was diagnosed. As I ran and heard Melissa Etheridge’s song again, I imagined my daughter as a 25-year-old young woman wearing the ubiquitous pink gown, heading into her first mammogram. I wondered if she’d be scared. And before I realized that I’d even thought it, I wondered who would go with her. Would I go with her? Would I be alive to go with her? And then I really did cry. I gave myself that last little bit of quiet trail to let it out and get it together, and then I took a deep breath and headed into the neighborhood where I was bound to see someone on their way to work or walking their dog.
That was a scary, devastating image that flashed into my head, yet letting it take up residence wouldn’t do me any good. As the song ended, something decidedly more upbeat started to play, and I ran the last few blocks home with purpose. I ran for my daughter. I ran for life.