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Running Proves to be Theraputic for Cancer Survivor
An ambitious goal in the best of circumstances, for Massachusetts resident Dari W., finishing the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) would prove to be even more of a challenge than usual. Dari registered for the 2011 MCM while undergoing her fourth round of cancer treatment.
In November of 2009, Dari, 48, found out her cancer had returned for the third time since her initial diagnosis in 1988. This time chemotherapy, radiation and surgery failed to eradicate the disease, and she learned she would have to undergo a fourth round of cancer treatments.
Despite her illness, Dari signed up for the MCM. An avid runner and experienced marathoner prior to her diagnosis, she felt that a return to training would aid in both her physical and mental well-being.
“Running has always been a stress-buster for me,” says Dari. “Much of my best problem-solving is done on a long run. The mental health benefits almost exceed the obvious physical benefits for me.”
Doctors cautioned against expending too much energy on running during her treatments, but she calculated the risk and decided the benefits of running outweighed the dangers. She took her training slowly, dealing with the fatigue and weariness brought on by radiation.
“Many days it was more of a walk/shuffle/jog than anything else,” Dari says.
Having served in the United States Navy in the early 1980s, Dari was stationed in Washington, D.C. for her final duty station during her enlistment. Choosing the 2011 MCM for her comeback run gave her not only the opportunity to work toward a goal during her treatments but gave her the chance to return to D.C. for the first time in 25 years.
As the months passed, she became consumed with her training and MCM finish goal. Despite her treatments the veteran runner hoped for a sub-four hour marathon. The odds of a complete recovery were not always in her favor, but training for this MCM finish time gave her something to look forward to through her health struggles.
“I began to equate running another marathon with proof that I was healthy again,” explains Dari. “Running truly saved me. I believe that completely.”
She has a difficult time describing the enormity of the experience of training for and running the MCM in her less-than-ideal circumstances. With a good prognosis at race time, running the marathon became a celebration of her health and fitness successes. She admits to crying often out of gratitude while on the course.
“Ultimately, this race was the culmination of two extremely challenging years full of ups and downs concluding with the final hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial,” says Dari. “The feeling of elation for me as I crossed the finish line was unparalleled.”
With a finish time of 3:54:48 Dari achieved her sub-four hour marathon goal, netted a personal record and succeeded in qualifying for the Boston Marathon. She calls these victories the “icing on the cake” of her MCM experience.
“You never really know until you’ve toed the starting line how things will go,” she says. “The mental aspect of the marathon can be a huge hurdle. I think I almost had an advantage because I had so much riding on this race.”
With the 2011 MCM under her belt, she plans to continue her running regime. Future planned races include a 50K as well as two additional marathons. She hopes to run another MCM, as well. As a result of her successful training throughout treatments, she recognizes the importance of maintaining a physically fit lifestyle and setting personal goals.
“If I’ve learned anything over the last two years or so it’s that I’m much stronger than I thought I was and limitations are usually self-imposed and are really great opportunities for growth,” she says. “My life today is about choices and I’ve made the choice to live and love and pursue an active, healthy life that includes being better to myself and others. We simply don’t know how much time we are going to get, so be kind, listen better, talk less and run more… lots more.”