Running the Cascade Half Marathon is a winter tradition for me and some of my running group. This year, just days before my friend Karen planned to register, she learned that she had breast cancer. This was a shock, as she felt healthy and has always been active – running, hiking, racing cars, and more. However, this feeling of being healthy and the busyness of daily life had distracted her from getting her annual mammogram in the previous year.
Karen wanted so badly to be able to join us for Cascade, but with major surgery (a double mastectomy) in early January, she knew that wasn’t an option. She asked if we could get her a Cascade Half shirt so she could at least be there in spirit. I contacted race director Dan Peterson, and he quickly agreed to have one available for her on race day.
Just days after Karen’s surgery, she began dreaming about being a part of the race with us, and so the preparations began. A wheelchair was secured and once again I contacted Dan and told him about Karen’s desire. She wanted to be pushed in a wheelchair the last few yards of the race and finish the run with us. Dan, again, was readily on board and even graciously offered to have a medal ready for Karen at the finish line.
Race day arrived and a large group of us piled into a friend’s RV and made the annual trek to Turner. Karen and her boyfriend, Doug, would be meeting us later near the finish line. We all made sure to be wearing some pink to show our support for Karen and her fight against breast cancer. Those of us running the half marathon had chosen the early start option, so we joined the small crowd at the start and headed off on the cold, foggy morning – running this one for Karen.
I started out running with some of my running group, but quickly decided I needed to take it at my own (slower) pace. I dropped back, broke out my headphones, and prepared for a solo run. Enjoying the long stretch of fog encased poplars along the roadside, I turned my mind to Karen’s journey and spent some time praying for her and her boyfriend – whose role had suddenly changed from being her partner in adventure-seeking to caregiver.
Around miles 3-5 the run became a struggle for me both mentally and physically. And as the small group of early start runners had spread out, I felt like I was running alone in the fog. I became concerned about how I was going to manage the 13.1 miles. To take my mind off of how I was feeling, I once again I tried to focus on Karen and others who were facing huge challenges everyday. I reminded myself that their journey wasn’t a choice. They had to deal with making it through each day not knowing how long it would last and where the finish line would be. This helped me keep pushing until I found my comfort zone and was able to just run.
As I neared the turn-around on this out and back course, I began to see other runners on their way back. Cheering for my friends and even strangers as they passed by made the time go by quickly. As I headed back, I began to cross paths with the half-marathoners who started an hour later, the first groups of them looked like they were paced to win a 5K. It was truly impressive. Passing by the many runners seemed to make the miles fly by.
About 2 miles from the finish line I was surprised by the sight of Doug pushing Karen in the wheelchair. We high-fived and Karen cheerfully shouted, “We’re going to the 10K turn-around!” Apparently meeting us just a few yards from the finish line turned into going farther and farther as Karen got caught up in the adrenaline of race day. I could tell she was thoroughly enjoying herself, but I couldn’t believe they were going the full 10K distance, with Doug in just jeans and a sweatshirt and Karen still recovering from major surgery. As I thought about the two of them, my usual somewhat stoic nature was overcome with emotion. Suddenly a huge lump welled up in my throat and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. That definitely caught me off-guard. After some ragged breathing and a few moments of thinking I was going to have to stop and walk, I managed to pull myself together and focus on slow deep breaths so that I could continue my journey to the finish line.
After finishing, I took advantage of Cascade Jr. High’s locker rooms and changed into warm, dry clothes before heading back out to wait for Karen’s triumphant finish. Karen came in to the finish line all smiles and we ran alongside her for the last few yards. Her spirit had truly been lifted by the energy of being at a race among other runners. Friends and strangers alike had been immensely supportive of her along the course and at the finish. She received her finisher’s medal and was truly glowing – she was with her people doing what she loved.
Now back home and resting after her big day out, Karen would like to give a huge thank you to race director, Dan Peterson for allowing her this experience despite her inability to run this year’s race. She wants other women to learn from her situation and make their yearly mammograms a priority. In her words, “Getting smashed once a year is nothing compared to what I’m going through.”