Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
I call it cancer motivation. Whenever I get annoyed about doing something that's not my favorite, like a long 10K race, I think about surviving cancer and those that did not. It becomes my motivation to take a breath and enjoy each second.
Let me start off by saying that I am not a runner, I just pretend to be one in real life. I like to get exercise and do my best to stay in some sort of shape. Running is the easiest because you can basically do it anywhere. I am a walk/run kinda girl in that I walk some, I run some. I don't have a lot of endurance, so I figure that is the easiest. Anyway, enough about my running technique and lack of skills.
The one thing I love about running is there are tons of "fun" runs to get you motivated. Every city has themed runs these days. There are nationwide events like the Hot Chocolate run in which the whole run is based on a chocolate theme. There are cancer run/walks for all different types of cancer. And, there are sports-themed runs. All of these usually get me going. At least they motivate me to get out and practice. Then the run itself is fun with a big crowd to run with.
Today I did the annual Big 10 conference 10K in Chicago. It might be my favorite. It kicks off the conference football season and it is a way for everyone to get together and celebrate their schools, rivalries and just have fun. I've done it for years. It was my first big accomplishment in the running field after I finished my cancer treatment and started feeling like me again. I guess every year it is nice reminder that I am still alive and feeling well enough to run.
I mention all of the above about my running skills because I find this 10K awesome and horrible all the same. For starters, it's a 10K which means six miles. Yikes for me. And second, it's always in the heart of summer in Chicago so yes, it is hot. Anyway, as I was miles deep in the run, I started having all these negative thoughts about how hot I was, how tired I was and how I would never finish. I was getting so crabby and defeated. That's not the way to complete a race, let alone anything. I needed a way to get out of my negative thoughts. Then I started the cancer motivation. What's that you ask? Well, it's my way of telling myself that I have been through so much worse than a silly 10K run. I made it through a bilateral mastectomy. I made it through four rounds of cancer. I can run today.
Then I started thinking about all those cancer patients that are currently knee-deep in surgeries and treatments that can't run right now. Wouldn't they rather be doing this 10K by my side then sitting in the chemo chair? That's an easy yes. I know I felt that way when I was too exhausted from chemo. I wished I could have run a marathon at that point. I was thinking of my friends and acquaintances that I met during my cancer journey who's journey didn't go as far as mine and are not here today to run with me. That stopped the complaint thoughts right in their tracks. They would want to run this 10K today. I would want them to be running with me today. I can run today.
By the last mile of the run, when I was exhausted, hot and sweaty, my negative thoughts were long gone. My joy of surviving cancer was the thought that was in my head at that point. Each step was a reminder that I am still here. Each breath was a reminder that, at least for today, I am surviving. I was out and about with 10,000 other runners, celebrating a gorgeous day in a beautiful city. We were running, representing our alma maters and just enjoying today. I had a huge smile on my face as I huffed and I puffed my way through that last mile and crossed the finish line with my arms raised. I did it for them. I did it for me. I did it for the future survivors. It's a little thing but it's a big deal. I am a cancer survivor today, so I need to remember that as I cross these race finish lines and remind myself of the life in each breath instead of the annoyance of a few miles of a 10K run.