Breast Cancer Awareness: How Running The Marathon Can Uncover Cancer

Last year I ran the NYC Marathon in honor of my close friend, Lindsay’s parents, who both passed away earlier in the year from two different types of cancer.  I remember throughout my training, I would think of them.  And, as my mind would at times wander throughout my longer runs, I would start thinking, in general, about being alive, and having the ability to move my body.  

Moving my body is not something I take for granted.  True, there are times during my training where I just want to stop.  But I know, for me, having control over my body and the ability to train and see results is a huge part of my life.  

Just shy of three weeks out, aches and pains of marathon training are prevalent.  Sometimes we think they are more than they are; full disclosure, in 2010, after running 17 miles during a training run, excruciating abdominal pain led me to rushing to my ob-gyn, getting a sonogram just to prove I had indigestion.  Last year I was convinced I had a stress fracture in my hip and rushed to an orthopedic who specialized in hips.  

Fortunately in both of these instances for me, the feelings of pain were innocuous.  Yet I was taking no chances and got both checked out. And I was lucky.  

Two years ago this November, Jenn Doto, a first grade teacher and mom of three, had just completed her second NYC Marathon.  An avid runner, completing the NYC marathon was extremely meaningful to her, as her husband, father and uncle had all done it before.  So she decided to tackle the 26.2 miles for her 40th birthday and her 45th five years later.  

“About a week or two after the (2016) Marathon, I was sore.  Under both arms, in the chest area,” Jen recalls.  “I was feeling around and felt a lump at the side of my bottom breast.  At the time, it felt to me like a pulled muscle.  And I am someone who always gets my yearly mammogram and has my ob-gyn appointment, I thought it was nothing.  But I remember talking to my friend about it, who is also a runner.  I told her I was going to get it checked out.”

With the holidays coming up, Jenn made the appointment for January 6th.  

“Honestly, I didn’t think much about it until I saw my ob-gyn on December 28th,” Jenn says.  “My doctor felt it and told me that I should get it checked out.  At that point, the appointment was just a week away.”

After the mammogram, Jenn quickly learned that she had breast cancer.

“It is crazy,” Jenn reflects.  “I am someone that- since 40- gets a mammogram once a year.  I go to the ob-gyn every year.  Yet they missed it.  And it turns out that, the cancer was attached to the muscle that was inflamed from the marathon.  If I didn’t run the marathon, I don’t think I would have felt the lump.  It feels like running the marathon saved my life.”  

The Emotions Behind Running

As over 50,000 people take on the 26.2 just shy of three weeks from today, for many it is deeply personal.  When I first ran the marathon twenty years ago, it was largely a lottery system.  Today, there are countless charities to raise money for, and often people are running in honor of someone.  Or for a personal goal.

“This time of year is always strange for me, my mind starts to race,” Jenn says.  “Running the NYC Marathon in 2016 was the last time I felt normal,” Jenn said.  “It was the last time I put my hair up in a pony tail the way I wanted.  It was the last time I ran the way I wanted to.”

Whether it’s the release of endorphins or the meaning behind it, running can bring up a range of emotions. In my post “Marathon Training: Do You Want It Enough To Wait for It?” (, I mention that hitting my goals brought tears to my eyes.  And, while there may be a time to run, there may equally be times in the lives of even the most avid runner where, it just does not “feel” quite right.  I know I struggled during my training for last years marathon, often overwhelmed with this desire to stop.  Jenn echos this sentiment.

“Today when I run, I find myself stopping after a few miles,” Jenn says.  “I am not exactly sure what it is.  It could be because after running up a hill I want to be nice to myself after fighting cancer and I want to slow down or stop.  It could be because the last time I felt like myself was when I ran the marathon so running brings me to tears.  What I do know is, I want to get back into the running mindset.  I am not done.”

Up Next….

For Jenn, you heard it.  After fighting cancer, she is determined to get her running mojo back.  No doubt that, with time and when she is ready, she will.

For me, I am continuing to listen to my body.  If something feels wrong, no matter what it is, I am going to err on the side of caution and get it checked out.

I urge you all to do the same.  

Laura Kovall