Beating Cancer and Becoming A Marathoner, I Made Impossible Possible
I started running in early 2012 when one day, I hopped on the treadmill to do a mile at the gym and realized that my body could no longer do it. I have always been athletic, and played college tennis, but two years of grad school, stress, and (let's be honest) skittles, had left me in a bad place. I couldn't believe that I wasn't able to complete a mile. Running was always punishment in my other sports, but there was never a time I outright couldn't do it. So I dove in.
It started with a single mile, then two, then a 5K, a 10K and my first half-marathon in 2013. I set a PR just a year later in my third half-marathon. A few short months after, I was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 28. When I began running half-marathons, friends always asked if I would do a marathon. My reply was consistently a half-hearted "maybe". When I was diagnosed (and during the eight months of treatment that followed) a close friend said to me - "If you can get through this, you can do a marathon". It stuck with me. It was something I thought about when treatment was really tough, and it was something I thought about for years after treatment as I struggled through the mental hell of doubting if my body would ever be that strong again.
In 2018, I was coming up on being three years cancer-free. In the cancer community, it's a bit of a milestone and my appointments and follow-up became more infrequent. As I approached this milestone, the voice in the back of my head just said "you're ready". I didn't believe it, but subsequently put myself in the lottery of the Chicago and then New York city marathons. I was in the midst of exploring other marathons on the east coast when I got the news that I had been picked for NYC. You can't say no to that, right?!?!
Thus began an entirely new journey - the same uncertainties that I had in the first place resurfaced many, many times. And I never felt like my heart was fully there until I hit (and crushed) that first 15-mile training run. The training was brutal when combined with summer heat, a lumpy body, a busy schedule, and lots of tempting plans that could derail the next day's run. But somewhere in there, I made it happen.
Race day was tough as hell. I toed the line really wondering if I would ever make it to the finish. Friends and family sent me droves of inspiring and motivating messages, including a few that reminded me to think about all I had come through to be there. They got me through the shin splints that started at Mile 16 (thanks Queensboro Bridge), the negative thoughts that flooded through my mind as I approached Mile 18, and the six miles of willing my legs to walk and occasionally run at the end when everything hurt. In the end, it maybe wasn't as fast as I had hoped, but I did it. I crossed that line, put my arms in the air and became a marathoner.
I don't know if I'll do another, but I will never forget this one and every emotion that I felt out there on the pavement. It restored my faith in myself, something that cancer had robbed me years ago.
**For more from Kari, you can follow her on Instagram.