Throughout October, we will be sharing She’s a Survivor stories: four #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.

First up is Lara Johnston, from Elora, Ontario, who achieved her goal of completing the Disney Marathon, less than a year after an intense breast cancer battle.

Date of Diagnosis: October 2018

On staying focused on forward motion: When Johnston was diagnosed with locally advanced, triple positive invasive carcinoma of the right breast on October 3, 2018, her initial focus was, of course, treatment. First, chemo. Then, a bilateral mastectomy. Then, radiation. But despite being caught in a tidal wave of doctors visits, hospital stays, and complex emotions, the mom of two was able to remain equally focused on a singular goal: Completing the Disney Marathon in January, 2020. “Having that marathon goal gave me something to strive for beyond just making it through each day of treatment,” shared Johnston, an avid runner who had yet to enter a marathon at the time. “It went hand-in-hand with my goal of having forward movement more days than not during treatment.”

On training during treatment: Johnston stuck to her plan, walking nearly every week day at first during chemo, and eventually bumping up to easy 30-minute runs on her “off-treatment” weeks. She took a week off after her mastectomy, but within a week resumed her walks and added modified strength circuits from the Many Happy Miles program. One month post-surgery, she went for a run. “I approached that as if I was starting all over,” says Johnston. “I always used the run/walk method, so I started with 30 seconds run, 2 minutes walk, and adjust from there.” She built from there, even while going through radiation, ultimately adjusting the ratio to 4 minute, 30 second run/30 second walk, which is what she stuck to during the Disney Marathon.

On race day emotions: Race day brought all the emotions—and extreme heat. Running in an outfit adorned with Scottish elements as a nod to Merida from Brave, Johnston tried to soak up everything along the way, from the photo ops with characters to the crowd support. She did cross the finish line smiling, in 5 hours, 42 minutes, making it in before race directors began to pull runners off the course because of the heat. “It was overwhelming,” she says of the marathon. “Not just the physical part, which was hard. But every step was a reminder that I still had control of my own body and I was able to determine my own outcome.”

On being in control: Johnston, now cancer-free for three-and-a-half years, said her marathon goal allowed her to “stay in control of something” as she became enveloped in so many unknowns related to her health. She advises other women going through similar battles to do the same. “Try to find something you can be in control of. It can just be movement every day. Whatever makes sense to you.,” she says. “Have a goal that cancer can’t take away from you.”

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