From Bedside to the Starting Line, a Patient Bonds With Her Oncologist Through Running


A marathon runner who was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma learned that what she enjoyed doing before cancer could help her regain her energy and identity during and after treatment.

Rose Maxfield was a runner for years, but when she received a cancer diagnosis at the end of 2020, she learned that running could not only provide her with the motivation to get out of bed, but it also guided her to a lifelong friend: her oncologist.

Maxfield, a realtor who splits her time between Connecticut and Florida, credits running and her oncologist’s motivation to do so to her success with immunotherapy and the ability to keep positive through it all.

“I really think (exercise) only complements — it doesn’t deter — any kind of treatment,” she said in an interview with CURE®. “It also gives you something to focus on versus just being sick.”

Maxfield’s thoughts may be true. In fact, a 2018 review of research on exercise and cancer found that exercise may lower the risk of developing seven different kinds of cancer, and is associated with improved outcomes for certain cancer types.

Although Maxfield has since been considered no evidence of disease, or cancer free, she urged other patients with cancer to do an activity — even if it doesn’t involve running a marathon — that they physically enjoy.

“If it’s just walking, yoga, karate, hiking, anything that they can do, you get away from focusing all on yourself,” she said. “You can just breathe and enjoy, and your body will love you more. … I do think movement helps your endorphins and your mood, and that’s half the battle.”

The Shock of Receiving a Cancer Diagnosis

The week before Christmas in 2020, Maxfield woke up with intestinal pain that grew sharper throughout the day. She originally thought it was either constipation or appendicitis. Once nighttime arrived, she went to the emergency department in Stamford, Connecticut, which led to her being immediately admitted to the hospital and administered pain medications.

Several hours’ worth of tests including CAT scans and MRIs led to the discovery of a mass in her liver, which kept Maxfield at the hospital for five days to figure out what it was. The medical team’s initial diagnosis was liver cancer.

“I left in shock,” Maxfield said. “Then I just went home, and I really didn’t tell my (three) kids. We made it through. I was in a complete fog through Christmas.”

Maxfield found it strange that she was diagnosed with liver cancer, as she was “super healthy,” she said. She ate well and ran marathons and other races for many years. She had an appointment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City one or two days after Christmas and was seen by Dr. Ghassan K. Abou-Alfa, a medical oncologist that specializes in gastrointestinal cancers including liver cancer. Ten days later, after going back and forth from Connecticut to New York City to undergo tests, Maxfield received her diagnosis.

“(Dr. Abou-Alfa) found out through multiple tests and scans that I, in fact, did not have liver cancer; I had metastatic stage 4 melanoma that found its way into the liver and was also in the peritoneum, which is the sac that holds your lower organs,” she said. “It was melanoma, a spot somewhere on my body that no one could find.”

She immediately started treatment with a very aggressive immunotherapy regimen, which included two drugs four times every month, which would allow her immune system to target the cancer and to potentially eliminate it. Maxfield underwent treatment with the help of Dr. Allison Betof Warner, who was then the director of the melanoma program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Betof Warner is currently the oncology director of solid tumor cell therapy at Stanford Cancer Institute in California.

Maxfield started with two drugs for a month and then received one drug every month, and after 15 treatments, she was considered cancer free, or no evidence of disease.

Keeping Positive Through Treatment

While undergoing treatment, Maxfield continued running, which she credits to her success with immunotherapy. In addition, Betof Warner and she became friends through their mutual passion for running marathons.

“Through that journey, there’s so much about exercise that I think improved my ability to heal and (power) my immune system,” Maxfield said. “I also ran two marathons (during treatment).”

That’s not to say that Maxfield was running her usual paces during cancer treatment.

“I couldn’t even get out of bed and walk down the drive after at least a month (of treatment),” she said. “I was just lucky to get out of bed and walk around.”

Betof Warner asked Maxfield what she does for positivity and support, to which she replied that she runs for stress release. Her doctor recommended that she continue running even though she was having difficulty walking.

“She basically really believed in me from the get-go,” Maxfield said. Her doctor suggested going for walks every day, then alternating jogging and walking once she felt up for it. And that’s precisely what she did.

“When I moved and exercised, I felt like my body got energized, and I was supposed to be so tired from treatments,” Maxfield said. “I really believe that (it was) mind over matter. If you force yourself to do something that you really like, it just helped me through.”

Running not only energized her but it also helped her return to herself.

“It completely took the label off, of people saying, ‘Rose has cancer. She’s a cancer patient,’ to just ‘Rose, she’s running. That’s Rose.’ I became myself,” Maxfield said. “I didn’t identify with a disease that was ravaging my body. … It helped me stay positive and hopeful. I was so thrilled after I was able to run a couple miles, … and your adrenaline kicks in. It gets you through the day. Your outlook on life is not doom and gloom. It really truly saved my life.”

‘It’s Your Time to Shine’

Dr. Allison Betof Warner and Rose Maxfield wearing orange shirts and running gear at the 2021 NYC Marathon

Melanoma survivor, Rose Maxfield, ran with her oncologist, Dr. Allison Betof Warner, in the 2021 NYC Marathon.

One of the marathons Maxfield ran during treatment was the New York City Marathon in November 2021 with Betof Warner. Maxfield’s friends and family from across the country flew into New York to watch her run, and they had planned an afterparty that night for after she finished the race.

The emotions were palpable when Maxfield and Betof Warner started running the marathon together.

“Dr. Betof (Warner) and I almost teared up. The crowds were cheering, and we ran the first mile and a half together,” Maxfield recalled. “Then she said, “OK, now it’s your time to shine. Take off.’ … It seemed like every third or fifth mile, there was a friend screaming and cheering me on. It was just so happy, such a celebratory thing.”

Maxfield completed the marathon at a time of 4 hours, 12 minutes and 25 seconds, according to the New York City Marathon results website. She crossed the finish line with her hands up, a photo of which sits in Betof Warner’s office.

“She’s so proud, and I’m so proud of her,” Maxfield said. “We just shared such a great experience through dark times and then through great times. I can’t tell you how lucky I am.”

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