What Running and Fighting Cancer have Taught Me

Running and cancer seem like very different events in life. But as a cancer survivor and a runner, both have taught me similar things about myself and about life.

My name is Patricia Prince and I am many things, including a runner and a cancer survivor. When I started to teach cancer survivors to run, I started to recognize that learning to run and fighting cancer both teach us similar things. Let me tell you about what I learned from both.

Starting is Scary and the Hardest Part

My first day in the chemotherapy chair at the hospital, before that red bag of medication was connected to the IV in my arm’s vein, was the scariest day of my life. My doctors tried to prepare me. I read everything I could about the treatments I was about to receive. I was still scared as doubt filled my mind.

My first day in run class was also scary. Could I do it? Could I actually run? Would I make a fool of myself? Would I be last? But I did it.

I let the red sludge enter my body and I ran my first minute. Both were a struggle, but I overcame my fear and continued on.

Neither chemotherapy nor running killed me. I lived to do it again. And today, I am stronger, better, and healthier for having started both.

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

– Friedrich Nietzsche –

You Learn to Recognize Your Own Strength

During and after my cancer treatments, I was always surprised to hear my family and friends tell me how strong I was. I didn’t recognize that I had this inner strength everyone was talking about. What other choice did I have? I had to fight my cancer with everything I had because I wanted to live.

When everything I had started to include running, I learned to recognize how truly strong I really was.

I never thought I could run 5 km, let alone a marathon. That seemed so out of reach at the time. But I chipped away at it, building little by little, running a little further and a little faster as I was able. I have now run a marathon. The fact that I ran 42.2 km still amazes me to this day.

Now I recognize that I did the same thing with my cancer treatments. I took them step by step, each drug, each surgery, each radiation treatment, each day as it came. One day at a time. I learned that I am strong.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this. I can take the next thing that comes along. “

– Eleanor Roosevelt –

Winning is Subjective

When I teach a running class, I love to hear the stories of why people start running. I started running to strengthen my body after cancer treatments. Other runners I met are running to battle anxiety, to stop smoking, to lose weight, to spend more time with a runner spouse. Everyone has their own reasons for running.

The one thing I never hear from most runners is that they want to run to win a race. It’s not about being the first to cross the finish line, it is about just finishing and achieving your personal goals. Winning is subjective. It depends on your “why” and personal reasons for participating.

Fighting cancer is also very personal. During the fight to live, you endure so much. You draw strength from the reasons you want to live; to spend more time with those you love and continue to do the things you love. You focus on your “why” and you continue to move forward.

Surviving cancer and finishing a race are both WINs. They are two very subjective and personal experiences.

What winning is to me is not giving up, is no matter what’s thrown at me, I can take it. And I can keep going.

– Patrick Swayze –

Pain is Temporary

Cancer treatments hurt, they make you sick. But then they can make you better. The hurt and the nausea wear off with time, gradually fading away.

Running can hurt as you push yourself further. You may experience aches and pains you haven’t had before. Certainly running a marathon hurts. But then you heal, the pain fading and you become stronger. The pain is only temporary.

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, an hour, a day, a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. Quitting lasts forever.

– Lance Armstrong –

Set Backs are Not Failures

For both cancer patients and runners, failure is not an option. True, cancer patients have more at stake, as treatment failures can end a life. But failure for a runner can also be deflating.

However, not achieving your goals should not cause you to quit. Take a step back, analyze why you didn’t achieve what you had set out for yourself, refocus and try again. And again and again, if need be.

There are many cancer survivor stories that tell of people surviving recurring bouts of cancer. They don’t give up.

Set backs are not failures. Do not give up. You may surprise yourself and succeed on your next try. And, trust me, that victory is even sweeter.

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

– Hebrews 12:1 –

Everyone has Different Abilities and Different Experiences

We are like snowflakes, no two alike. This is so true of both runners and cancer survivors.

Cancer therapies are dependent on the type and stage of cancer you have. Even if your treatments are the same, you will likely experience different outcomes and side-effects.

The same is true for running. We all have different abilities, different points of where we start and how we progress. Some are faster than others, some progress quicker than others.

None of this matters if you focus on yourself. Progress at your own rate. Run your own race.

“When you run your own race do not worry about the next person’s pace, mind yours, after all this is your own race not theirs.

– Gugu Mona –

Other Related Articles:

Inspirational Quotes from Celebrity Cancer Survivors

How Sticky Notes Saved My Sanity During Cancer Treatments

Heartfelt Advice To New Cancer Patients


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  1. I started running because I always found it hard even though i was active I still found running the hardest in my younger years!
    As an adult and still active I had decided that damn it I need to do this!

    Can I do 5km without dying?


    Your body invites the challenge! If done right it is extremely rewarding!

    Thank you for the enlightening article.

    1. Thank you for your comment. You are completely right. YES you can run 5 km. With a little dedication and perseverance, it is achievable. And the reward is so great, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Keep on keeping on!

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