The Toughest Race of His Life

Heal, Heal Summer 2021,

More than nine hours of surgery to remove a rare form of bone cancer in the his hip and leg forced Colin Jackson to relearn how to do simple tasks. Months later, he crossed the finish line of a marathon.

Twelve hours, 32 minutes and 32 seconds. That’s how long it took Colin Jackson to cross the finish line of a marathon in Arizona earlier this year.

Jackson, 39, walked the 26.2 miles — equivalent to the length of approximately 95 Empire State Building’s stacked on top of each other — because a prosthetic hip and surgically repaired femur prevent him from partaking in his passion of the past several years, running.

On Aug. 9, 2019, Jackson was diagnosed with stage 3 chondrosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. The disease usually occurs in the long bones of the arms or legs, shoulder, pelvis or ribs. It makes up approximately 25% to 40% of the 5,000 to 6,000 cases of bone cancers diagnosed each year.

Weeks after receiving his diagnosis, Jackson underwent a nine-and-a-half-hour surgery to remove part of his hip capsule, the top portion of his femur (the thigh bone) and most of the muscles in his buttocks to extract the fast-growing tumor.

“What hit me the toughest was being told that I wouldn’t be able to run because of where my cancer was and what was going to have to be removed,” he said in an interview with Heal®. “My endurance days were coming to an end. That hit me harder than (being) told that I had cancer.”

RUNNING SAVED HIS LIFE

In January 2014, Jackson visited his primary care doctor after having difficulty breathing while doing simple tasks such as walking from the car to his house. He was told that he was morbidly obese and unless he made drastic changes to his lifestyle, he likely would not live to see his next birthday.

After that devastating news, he committed to completing a marathon within the next year. Jackson ran his first marathon in 2015 in Arizona; during his training, he had lost 106 pounds.

“If it wasn’t for running, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “I wouldn’t even have had a cancer diagnosis because I wouldn’t have made it to that point. With running, I’ve been able to be extremely conditioned. When I say conditioned, I conditioned my mind to overcome the things that I once thought were challenging.”

PREPARING FOR HIS TOUGHEST RACE

When Jackson was training for his first marathon and trying to lose weight, he would set small goals. The plan was to have little victories each week, rather than try to achieve a huge milestone immediately.

“I credit my running and what I got from completing the nine full marathons I had prior to getting diagnosed with cancer to being able to get mentally prepared for ultimately the toughest race of my life, which has been battling chondrosarcoma,” he said. “Even though cancer has been a little bit different type of a race, (running gave) me the foundations.”

AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT GOAL

Marathons had been part of Jackson’s life for the past six years. So when he was told he would no longer be able to run, he was absolutely crushed.

However, following the surgery to remove his tumor and replace his hip and femur, Jackson wanted to set an extremely difficult, but not impossible, goal for himself: finishing another marathon.

He set his sights on returning to the same place he completed his first marathon — Arizona.

“I knew that if every day I was putting in work, I would be able to walk the marathon despite how long it might take,” he said. “It may have taken me the whole day, (and) I was prepared to go out there and walk the entire day if it meant completing another marathon.

“Before getting diagnosed, my goal was to complete another one. Cancer inconveniently got in the way. But every day when I would ... do my physical therapy, or when the world locked down and I was walking outside, I would push farther than I thought I was going to go just to prove to myself, ‘Hey, I can do it today, I can do that extra bit.’”

ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR THOUGHTS

Whether it’s positive or negative, Jackson urges others to acknowledge the thoughts that they have during their cancer journey.

In fact, he says it’s OK to be scared, want to cry and feel as though you just can’t keep going any further. However, he said that it’s also OK to be happy and laugh.

“Remind yourself that you’ve already overcome whatever you’ve overcome,” he said. “Yes, this is extremely challenging. But if you break down other things in (your) life, more than likely there’s something that’s been a challenge, too, that you thought you couldn’t overcome. Use that (experience) to overcome (this challenge).”

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