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Melanie’s Marathon: You’ve Got This

breast cancer marathon

Let's play put yourself in somebody else's shoes for a second. Put yourself in Melanie's shoes.

You ran the New York City Marathon, your first, last year in 4:03. You can't wait to get back there—you're from New Jersey—to see your family and friends and see if you can go sub-4 hours. You don't get in via the lottery, so you decide to start raising funds for Sharsheret, Jewish non-profit focused on young women who have breast cancer or are at risk of contracting it, to get an entry. You've had enough friends and family be touched by the disease, so this is a perfect opportunity.

You're training and you're training—and occasionally, you whiz by recovering-from-injury Dimity on a run. She asks how it's going, and it's all going so well. You're feeling strong, raising money and thinking about the Big Apple.

Until August 22, when you find a lump in your breast. About 10 days later, it's confirmed as breast cancer.

You go look into all the options, have tough discussions with your family of five, ask your team of doctors so many questions, your head is spinning. And while you're focused on this relatively tiny lump that has taken a huge bite out of your life and spirit, you can't stop running. And a small part of you can't stop thinking about New York City. Maybe you'll run 26.2, then deal with the lump.

New BRFs thanks to the NYC Marathon: Laurel (left) and Melanie.
New BRFs thanks to the NYC Marathon: Laurel (left) and Melanie.


So you keep training. Training with your new mother runner friend Laurel, who you randomly friended one day, pre-diagnosis, while running in Denver. Laurel was shut out of the 2012 New York City Marathon becuase of Hurricane Sandy, but she happened to be wearing her 2012 NYC shirt one morning while you were both out for a run. At a stoplight, you stepped out of your comfort zone, introduced yourself, found out she was also training for 2015 NYC and ta-da: an awesome BRF relationship was born.

You run together on Wednesdays for a bit, then switch gears and run long every Sunday. The way those runs are going, you're bound to definitely go under 4 hours when you trade the thin air of Colorado for the sea level of First Avenue.

One of many fans—and signs—along the route.
One of many fans—and signs—along the route.


It's all good, except that breast cancer. The small lump is barking in your brain.

You decide on a double mastectomy, and get a date. October 20. Less than two weeks before the New York City Marathon, which you definitely won't run.

You look for other local marathons, but they don't feel right. You've been training since June, though, and you feel primed. You need to get this 26.2 out of your system before you undergo surgery and all the recovery it demands. You want to spend time with friends and your community, doing what you love. And you want to be distracted by all the details of what lies ahead: no driving, reconstruction, more screening, to name a few.

So you decided to create your own marathon. Melanie's Marathon. And run it two days before you undergo your double mastectomy.

Melanie's husband kept everybody posted on her times and where-abouts; she nailed her times, not surprisingly.
Melanie's husband kept everybody posted on her times and where-abouts; she nailed her spreadsheet times, not surprisingly.


You pull out Map My Run and combine some of your favorite training routes to total 26.2 miles, with a not-insignificant 800 feet of climbing. You rally your village: girlfriends, previous and present coworkers, acquaintances from your Temple, mom friends with similarly aged kids, and random mother runners you picked up on the street. You send out an email, asking them to cheer, manage an aid station, or run."I'm planning to keep a 9-10 minute pace," you advise people so they make the right choice on how to support you, "This is not a walk, stroll, or a bike ride." As the pieces fall into place, you create a mighty Google doc that would make spreadsheet nerds beam.

You have Sharsheret overnight your race shirt. You get profiled on the 10 p.m. news.

Josh, traning for the Dublin marathon this weekend, ran his last longish taper run with Melanie's Marathon.
Josh, traning for the Dublin marathon this weekend, ran his last longish taper run with Melanie's Marathon.


And then it's 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, and a small posse of people are there to send you off and to run with you. It's dark and a little chilly, but within a few miles, the sunrise hits deep orange, rich pink, beyond blue and you're warming up, like the day. Mile 5, Mile 8, Mile 14. They tick by, almost like you're floating. It almost feels too soon to hit the aid station at mile 18, where it's a serious party, rivaling most aid stations at organized races. Nuun, GU, water, orange slices. Plus, good signs and high fives and hugs.

So much positive energy, you want to cry, overwhelmed by the physical effort and the outpouring of love. But you don't. You tell your co-runners what you've often tell yourself on solo runs. I can cry or I can breathe, you tell them, and I think, I choose to live.

The crew around mile 15.5.
The crew around mile 15.5.


Between 20 and 21, you're running with two mother runners who are huffing and puffing to keep up with your low 9-minute miles. You guys are rockstars, you tell them, Thanks for doing this. One mother runner—not naming names, but she's kinda tall—keeps thinking, you are the rockstar. In fact, a few miles before, she said, before considering her language, "I hope you know what a fuc***g awesome force you are, Melanie." (She apologizes if it was a bit abrupt, but she was in her uncensored running state and, quite frankly, in total awe.)

Mile 22, there's another aid station party, but you have a few blisters forming and you're feeling the miles. (You ran 20 miles last week with Laurel, her last long run before NYC, so your taper has been minimal.) You've spent all week making the spreadsheet, driving the route, organizing the troops. You're ready to be done. You cast back to that day you were diagnosed, then forward to all the miles still to come as you recover, heal, return to running, worry about breast cancer through months, years, your daughter.

Then you think, 4.2 miles? I've so got this. And you, surrounded by loved ones, continue to run.

Yep, you've got this, Melanie. Many more happy healthy, strong miles. xo
Yep, you've got this, Melanie. Many more happy healthy, strong miles. xo


If you want to donate to Melanie's fund, you can do so here. (At first she wanted to raise $10,000, but then she saw that others had passed that mark. She wants to lead the pack and get to $18,000. "I'm a little bit competitive," she says.)

37 responses to “Melanie’s Marathon: You’ve Got This

  1. What a fighter and what an awesome marathon! I fought tears reading this. You will overcome this bump in the road. Please keep us updated on your journey. My prayers are with you.

  2. Sending this to my niece, just turned 40 and diagnosed with breast cancer. I hope she draws courage for her “race” for life. My best wishes for a glorious unfolding of your story. This is an inspiring beginning. May you triumph in treatment as you did in your marathon.

  3. So inspirational! This post should come with a trigger warning – may induce tears of happiness, pride, and worry when you read it at work over your lunch break. Take care and recover well, Melanie!!

  4. Melanie – I will be running NYC, my first marathon, with Team Every Mother Counts. I hope i can carry with me even a small part of your bad-ass-ness! Prayers and blessings your way.

  5. So incredibly inspiring! This article really hit home as we just finished cancer treatments for my mom. Each time I run I think of her and her strength to get through her cancer treatments and I think who am I to complain about getting through these miles, if she can get through all of that I can certainly run these training miles to get me across that finish line of my first marathon. 47 days to go! Melanie you are a true inspiration and have such a fighter spirit. You are setting such a great example to those around you. Well done!

  6. Melanie, you are quite the BAMR. I know of Sharsheret from when a friend had breast cancer. Great organization. Fight on!

  7. Melanie, you are an inspiration! I so would have run with you if I were in Denver at the time. Best wishes for a speedy healing. Other than the cancer part (yes, I know, like “other than that Mrs Lincoln did you enjoy the play) I know what you went through for training…I’m running the Outer Banks Marathon in a few weeks. Best wishes for a speedy healing.

  8. Omg. I am on week 2 of recovery from having foot surgery and was having a minor pity party for myself, when I read this story. It really puts things in perspective. Melanie, you are such a BAMR. You are such an inspiration. Best of luck to you on your road to recovery. 🙂

  9. Thanks for sharing this incredible, inspiring story with us. Melanie – all the best to you as you recover from your surgery, and for many marathons ahead.

  10. Well, this is some unexpected crying at my desk in the middle of the day. I am hoping for you that your strength and grace get you through this medical adventure with ease. Your bravery is inspiring.

  11. Hi Melanie, Not to sure if you remember me but we went to high school together. Wow how strong you are. I will be thinking of you today. Six years ago right before I got pregnant with my son I found out that I had the BRCA gene.

  12. I am sitting at my desk crying! Melanie, you are awesome and you are going to kick cancer’s butt just like you did that marathon!! Today, is the day and I’ll be praying for you!

  13. I love this… inspiring….. Most people would probably just drown in worry and not be able to do what you did…. that strength and perseverance will get you through your breast cancer treatment.

  14. Melanie, I am just getting dressed for my mamma this morning and now wiping tears from my eyes. To Life, To Life, L’Chaim is what just came to mind! Wishing you a speedy, complete recovery from California

  15. May your strength and determination make your treatment and recovery go as smoothly as possible. You are an inspiration.

  16. What amazing spirit!! When most would give up, you pushed back. Thanks for reminding me that nothing can hold you back except yourself.

  17. I’m a breast cancer survivor – 3 years past chemo now – and this post made me cry. Stay fierce, Melanie. You’ll rock through treatment, come out the other side, and be stronger for it.

  18. Amazing. I wish you all the best. “…the lump that has taken a bite out of my life…” is exactly what one of my best friend’s is currently experiencing and for the same reason. My heart goes out to you and I pray all goes well in your future. Thank you for sharing your story…we all know what it feels like to train for a race and need to get it done.

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