Junko Survivor

Throughout October, we will be sharing She’s a Survivor stories: five #motherrunners whose lives have been changed by breast cancer; hopefully the perspective and ideas they share will benefit others who are going through similar situations.

Next up is Junko Jazukawa from Denver, Colo., whose life changed forever after a pair of breast cancer diagnoses (one in 2005 and one in 2009). With her health hanging in the balance and her future unknown, Junko decided she didn’t want to wait around for “some day” to accomplish her bucket list goals. So she pursued them wholeheartedly, and, now cancer-free, is one of the most accomplished ultra-endurance athletes in the country, having completed 19 100-mile races and several other epic events. Here’s more of Junko’s crazy-inspiring story.

Date of Diagnosis: 2005 and 2009

On dealing with breast cancer, twice: Back in 2005, Junko found a lump in her breast which turned out to be early stage ductal carcinoma in situ, treated with a lumpectomy and radiation. Four years later, Junko felt something off on the other breast, and it wound up being a more aggressive type of cancer—although it had yet to spread. “Cancer surprised me. I have no family history and I have a healthy lifestyle,” says the 58-year-old physical trainer, who continued to meet with clients throughout her treatment. “I was just unlucky.”

A mastectomy and chemo followed, but Junko was determined to stay active. She began running easy and teaching classes soon after her surgery. “It made me feel more normal,” she says of returning to her routine.

On gaining closure on cancer: One way to proclaim you’ve officially kicked cancer? Run a marathon. That’s just what Junko did, some five weeks after her mastectomy. “I was already signed up for the New York City Marathon, so I figured, why not just go and have fun? I am not an elite; I didn’t need to go for time.”

While many friends and colleagues, concerned about the stress of travel and racing, discouraged her from going, Junko said she was determined to reach that finish line. So she enjoyed every mile, taking pictures with spectators and other runners and even eating candy along the way, and finishing in 4 hours, 33 minutes. “That was my closure,” she says.

On going even longer: Junko became increasingly interested in ultra-running after battling cancer. “I just decided life is short, I’m going to sign up for a 100-mile race,” she says. Helping to fuel her motivation for her first race, Junko raised money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which kept her accountable, as well. “Once I announced it to the world, there was no turning back,” she says.

On staying optimistic: Junko is thriving now, but admits that she had her share of fearful moments while going through cancer treatment. To stay optimistic, she dreamed up different things she wanted to do in life, like ultra races. “Choose a realistic goal to work toward,” she says of teasing light out of the darkness. “Be self-motivated and make small progressions. And when you finish one thing, you just feel that much better and hopeful.”

On enduring: For Junko, there are some parallels between ultra-running and a cancer battle: In both scenarios, she has experienced crippling pain, exhaustion, fear, and doubt. But she continues to endure with confidence, courage—plenty of support.

“Surround yourself with a great team,” Junko says of ultra-running and of life, too. “They’ll guide you, be there for you, and get you through the hardest times.”

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