In January 2010, I was diagnosed with melanoma and found myself scared and uncertain about the future. After several surgeries, I was referred to Dr. Patel-Donnelly at Virginia Cancer Specialists. It was the beginning of a journey that would inspire and change my life.
The moment I met Dr. Patel-Donnelly, I was immediately comforted. She was calm and supportive, and I really felt that she would lead me in the right direction. Soon after, I was referred to NIH to take part in a clinical trial focusing on immunotherapy.
Throughout treatment, I knew keeping my immune system healthy would be an important part of the healing process – I just wasn’t sure where to start. But I was confident that I was in good hands with Dr. Patel-Donnelly.
In 2018, I was waiting to see Dr. Patel-Donnelly for a visit when I noticed a poster on the wall. Turns out, Dr. Patel-Donnelly was the co-chair of a walk-run for a cancer conference. I took a picture of the poster (in fact, I still have the picture saved on my phone for inspiration), and it gave me an idea. I thought the world of Dr. Patel-Donnelly, so if she’s supporting this walk-run, it must be something good.
Truth be told, I’d never been a runner. I was athletic when I was younger, but it had been years since I’d tried anything new. Sometimes, I’d see runners on the road or in races and I just didn’t quite get it. But then, when I was looking through a local paper, I noticed a Running for Fitness class at the recreation center. The class is designed to get participants ready for a 5K race.
One problem, I’d never tried running before. At 49 years old, I signed up for the class.
Turns out, I could run – barely. Luckily, other people in the class encouraged me to stick with it. The class taught me new running concepts and stretching exercises. I was able to start at a beginner level and slowly work my way up. I could run for 30 seconds. The next week, I could run for one minute, then a minute and a half. The class was taught as a walk-run, the best way for someone to get started. I began to feel good. I looked forward to getting up on Saturdays to run and enjoyed the people in the class.
“Anything you can do to help your body during cancer treatment is important, but it doesn’t stop there. You can change your life.”
My favorite run was through a gorgeous local park. While there, I discovered they would soon be holding a 5K race. I decided to give it a go. It was my first race, and my only goal was to finish. I DID! The next month, I signed up for another race. And then another. I’ve been hooked ever since.
One of the greatest benefits of running is how healthy it has made me feel. I feel healthier now than I did 10, or even 15 years ago. It’s also lowered my blood pressure, upped my endurance levels, and helped me socialize. I’ve been able to develop friendships with other women my age.
Especially during the pandemic, running has been a great activity. It’s outside in the fresh air and it’s socially distant. You get to experience the benefits of nature and socialization in a safe environment.
Running has helped me focus on what matters. Although it was hard going through my initial cancer diagnosis, I think it motivated me to take better care of my health. Anything you can do to help your body during cancer treatment is important, but it doesn’t stop there. You can change your life.
When it comes to taking control of your health, here is some of my advice:
- Take the first step. If you feel discouraged, don’t give up.
- Get outside and go for a walk. Stop watching TV or looking at social media.
- Join with friends. If you can, walk or run with a friend and take the time to talk together.
- Listen to your medical professionals. They know what’s best.
- Try to be as healthy as you can. Eat right, take the stairs, and exercise when able.
- Do the best you can for yourself TODAY.
At one point during this journey, I was back at Dr. Patel-Donnelly ’s office for a visit. I told her how the poster in her office had inspired me to become a runner, and I even brought a few of my 5K medals to show her. She was thrilled for me.
Dr. Patel-Donnelly not only helped me through cancer, she helped inspire this new activity that I love. I’m so grateful to her and Virginia Cancer Specialists for always making me feel welcomed, comforted, and inspired when I needed them most.
When going through cancer treatment, it’s important to look for hope wherever you can find it. For me, that was running. What will be yours?