Everyone has their own story about why they run. My story begins with fear. When I was in eighth grade, both of my grandmothers died of cancer within two months of each other. Last year, my wonderful cousin died of melanoma, at the age of twenty-two. The thought of losing anyone else I love to this horrific disease is not only difficult to talk about but it keeps me awake at night. The worst is knowing that some kinds of cancer are not only difficult to detect but difficult to cure.
For most of my life, I was afraid of running. It started in elementary school when I’d hide in the air-conditioned library rather than play tag on the playground (I’ve always hated sweating), and it only got worse during middle school soccer tryouts when I could barely complete two laps around the field. I played goalie in every sport to avoid running drills, and occasionally would fake a knee injury to elude the timed mile. My mom tried repeatedly to have me tested for asthma and succeeded when I eventually was prescribed an inhaler to mitigate the issue. I realize now that I wasn’t actually afraid of running, but afraid of leaving my comfort zone and challenging myself in a new way.
This year, I decided to attack these two fears by conquering one, and contributing everything I could to eradicate the other.
My maternal grandmother (whom we called “Achoo” for her particularly resounding sneeze) was a longtime patient at Beth Israel Hospital, whose Boston Marathon team I’m now proudly running with. One afternoon when I was visiting Achoo during her treatment, she lamented how drab the hospital ceilings were, and remarked how much better it would be for frightened patients to have something to look at during their visits. After she passed away, my sister and I raised $10,000 to fund a “Paint the Ceilings” project in Achoo’s memory. Over the past year, I’ve worked with the development team at BIDMC to install mural ceiling tiles above the patient’s beds in the Oncology. Additionally, while training for the marathon, my family helped me raise over $16,000 for the Cancer Center at Beth Israel, which will work to improve the treatment experience and continue researching for a cure. (We haven’t reached our fundraising goal yet, so if you are interested in donating to an incredible cause, please visit our page!)
Initially, I was afraid to run my first marathon alone, so I asked my mom (who is a much stronger athlete than I will ever be) to join me. We signed up as a pair to run with Beth Israel, but early on in our training, she suffered from a running injury and I realized that it was likely that I’d be running the Boston Marathon alone. Running solo felt intimidating, but it made my training all the more meaningful, because now I’m representing my mom in addition to my grandmothers come race day.
Preparing to run a marathon hasn’t exactly been easy, but nothing has helped me dig deep during my long training runs like imagining the pain that a cancer patient endures every single day. Often times during these runs, I think back to a children’s book that my grandmothers used to read to me called, “We’re going on a Bear Hunt.” Although the details of the plot are hazy to me now, the premise is that the characters embark on a treacherous path to find a bear, and encounter many roadblocks along the way (like a river, mud, a blizzard, etc.). Whenever they hit a roadblock they recite: “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we have to go through it.” This is how my family members’ battles with cancer have taught me to approach challenges in my own life. There’s nowhere to hide in a 26.2-mile run. You just have to go through it.
I feel lucky to have conquered my fear of running. The strangest part about running – considering many people view running as a form of bodily torture – is that it makes you happy. It actually gives you space to breathe, even when you’re out of breath. Running fundamentally changed who I am as a person: it has made me more resilient, more ambitious, and more regimented. I started running to get away from my problems, but now I run to solve them. And I think about Achoo every time I run: about her famous giggle, mostly, and how proud she would be if she could see me training for my first marathon in her honor.
Training for a marathon is hard, but it’s nothing compared to a cancer patient’s fight. With the Boston Marathon as the backdrop, I’m hoping that the Ceilings Project and our Cancer Center fundraising will create a better treatment experience for cancer patients at the hospital – but what we really need is to help scientists find a cure. I cannot wait to run the Boston Marathon this year to honor the memory of my grandmothers and cousin, to promote health and wellbeing, and to do my part to move closer to a world without cancer. (And with more grandmas.)