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Running Away from Cancer

Running Away from Cancer

I have never loved running. In fact I’ve always dreaded it. For the longest time, a run consisted of slowly jogging a mile or, if I was feeling really ambitious, I would do a mile and a half.

Getting back on track after chemo

Let me backtrack to the beginning of this year when I was fresh out of chemo and eager to get my life back on track. A huge part of that was getting myself in better physical shape. I talked recently about how I hired a personal trainer and started going to the gym, but running also became a big part of my cancer recovery process.

One day, I decided to show up to a run club to get my fitness journey started. The planned route was a 3.5 mile loop and I was determined to do as much as I could. When the run started, I took off with a confidence level that was much higher than my physical ability. I barely made it a half mile before my legs got so weak that they actually gave out on me. Right there in the middle of the trail, I tripped over my own two feet and fell to the ground.

At one point in my life, that would’ve been enough to stop me from ever showing up again, but not this time. I had just finished chemo, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, so a little fall was no big deal in comparison. I kept showing up and I kept running. I ran my first 5k in March and I accomplished the one goal I had set for myself- running the entire thing without stopping. I ran very slowly and I was completely exhausted by the end, but I did it and I was so proud. This happened just four months after chemo and I believe it was at this moment that my love of running was established.

Finding my love of running

I started signing up for all the 5k races I could find and I kept running at least once or twice a week. Running gave me an easy way to measure my progress and I think that’s what became so appealing to me. It was so fun to beat my old run times and it helped that the running community I was surrounded by was so supportive.

Running became my therapy. There was more than one occasion that I had been having a terrible day simply due to the aftermath of chemo. There were days that I had been crying non stop and couldn’t explain why. There were days that I couldn’t even force a smile on my face no matter how hard I tried. For some reason, I kept showing up to this run club and there was never a time I regretted it. Sometimes the run itself would be such a struggle, but I always found myself in a better mood when it was over.

I owe so much of my cancer recovery to exercise. It’s amazing to me how much of an improvement I saw physically in such a short amount of time. I haven’t even made it to my one year mark since finishing chemo and now I’m about to run a half marathon!

I share a lot of my fitness journey, both the highlights and the struggles on my instagram page @CrystalHarper_

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • anette
    2 years ago

    Hi Crystal,
    Welcome to the running community! My husband was a life long runner before he was diagnosed with DLBC double hit Lymphoma.After he completed chemo, he was barely able to walk to the mailbox.

    In his honor, I decided that I would join Team in Training to run a 1/2 marathon and fund raise for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Foundation. They are a wonderful organization to train with. In any case, I slipped and fell on ice while walking the dogs and shattered my wrist. This was nothing compared to his journey, but I couldn’t drive to training. And so he drove me to training.

    Each training run is dedicated to someone. Our run that day was dedicated to my husband. Coach Jo made him come along for as far and as long as he could run.

    Four months later, we finished our first 1/2 marathon together, crossing hand in hand with our daughter over the finish line. I run for him!

  • Anthony Carrone moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi @anette – This is an incredible story! I love that your husband was able to run with your and you crossed the finish line with your daughter, too. If you ever felt comfortable sharing more about your husband and being a caregiver, we would love to hear about it in our story section. Here is the link: Thanks for sharing and being part of the community! Sending positive vibes your way, Anthony (Team Member)

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Crystal,
    I totally get it. This is like a new lease on life; you just have to remember to not overdo it.
    Unfortunately, this past journey always follows us, and though we’re doing better, things tend to shift as our bodies are still at a delicate state. I’ve started a fitness business and know very well that taking baby steps is better than no steps.
    Keep doing it 🙂

  • Ronni Gordon moderator
    2 years ago

    Congratulations! I’m like you, with the exercise. As soon as I got my strength back, a ran a little bit and then a little more. I ran before, though, and it was through running that I discovered I had leukemia. Then I wrote my way into the New York Times Lives column with the story of how it happened. Due to neuropathy and other issues, I’m not doing it as much these days, and I really miss those runners’ highs. I ran a pretty flat half-marathon and felt OK even though leukemia might have been brewing. Have fun on your half.

  • Daniel Malito moderator
    2 years ago

    @crystal_hu I get it, I really do. As soon as I was able to after chemo had becomes a bit more tolerable, I began to get back into the basement and work out again. I feel like this is a thing that happens with a good portion of cancer survivors. I have heard many times the urge to be healthier again after a diagnosis. I mean, it makes sense if you think about it, those who are given a new lease on life wanting to live it well and all. Great article, keep on keepin’ on, DPM

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