I was a normal healthy 19 year old. I spent the early months of 2006 playing hockey and skiing, just like every other winter since I was a kid. I noticed a bump in my left thigh, and asked a doctor about it. At that time it was barely noticeable, and the doctor told me it was a muscle contusion or a torqued muscle from skiing. I didn’t think twice about it for the rest of winter, but by June 2006, the lump had gotten significantly larger, and a muscle contusion would have gone away. I went to the doctor again, and this time the doctor decided that I should get an MRI to see if there was a mass. As it turns out, there was a pretty big mass, about the size of a clenched fist, sitting between the muscles in my thigh.
In July 2006, I was diagnosed with a liposarcoma. The tumor was between muscles but had grown onto my sartorius muscle. This muscle stretches from the outside of the hip to the inside of the knee. The doctors told me they needed to take the muscle out to ensure that all the cancer was removed. Within a couple weeks the tumor and sartorius muscle were removed, and I spent 4 days in the hospital and then 3 weeks in bed at home. I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed until my leg healed itself shut again. The doctor warned me that the surgery might have long-term consequences on my physical activity, and I might not be able to play hockey again. As soon as my leg healed from the surgery, I began physical therapy to learn how to walk again. It took me a couple weeks before I was comfortable walking, and then radiation started. 35 rounds of radiation hurt the progress I was making in physical therapy, and gave me entirely new reasons to need more physical therapy. I used a cane for almost 2 months after my surgery, a very strange sight for a college student on campus. In October 2006, I was told I was in remission. I had completed my treatments and cancer was nowhere to be found.
While still undergoing radiation I started to play hockey again (very poorly, but I got on the ice…). The following summer I began cycling to get into shape, and signed up the LiveStrong Challenge in Philadelphia. I completed the 100 mile ride one year after my cancer-free prognosis. The next summer, I met Jonny Imerman and signed up to run the Chicago Marathon with Imerman Angels. I had never been a runner, but the idea of challenging my leg and body to do something I had never done before cancer had me fired up. In October 2008, almost two years to the day after my cancer-free prognosis, I completed the Chicago Marathon with IA. This past summer, I trained for and completed the Chicago Triathlon and I ran the Chicago Marathon for Imerman Angels with my girlfriend. The cancer fighters I met through Imerman Angels this year were my motivation. I have met a few liposarcoma fighters worried about how their body might respond and if they will be able to continue and active life, and I ran to prove that we really can dominate cancer.
- Brian Pienta
Here is my journey to the marathon…
It was October 12th 2008 and we were downtown cheering on my brother who was running the Chicago Marathon. Feeling the excitement of the day and watching as thousands of athletes accomplish their goal of finishing, I decided then (not knowing what lies ahead for me) to run the 2009 Chicago Marathon.
…I went to the Doctor a few days prior to the marathon for some uncontrollable itchiness which I thought was an allergy to my laundry detergent and a small lump in my neck. The doctor disregarded my itching, but wanted to check out the lump in my neck so he ordered a CT scan for October 13th. The day after the ’08 marathon I thought I was going to go in for the scan and, be told everything, is fine, it is just a swollen gland, but to my surprise, I received a phone call few hours after the scan and was told that I need to come in the following day to get my results. That couldn’t be good! I went in the next day to get my results… my physician had set up an appointment for a biopsy. He said they think its Lymphoma and that they have to biopsy it to determine what kind. The biopsy results came back and I was told that I have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The thought of running a marathon was now the furthest thing from my mind. Now I had to deal with the fact that I have cancer.
I underwent more tests and scans and was now going to be starting chemo therapy. While I was sitting in a room getting my “wonderful” treatment, I saw a pamphlet on the wall for Imerman Angels. Now, I was doing pretty well with my chemo. Physically, I was doing pretty good, recovering rather quickly from each treatment, only felt “HORIBLE” for about 6 days every other week… but I wanted to talk to someone who knew what I was dealing with. So I called Imerman Angels and left a message describing my diagnosis. To my surprise, I received a call from Jonny about an hour later. We talked for about a half hour about everything. It was like I had known him forever. He came to my next treatment and that’s where my IA experience began.
4 months after starting chemo, I had more scans to stage my progress and everything came back clear. I was now cancer free and only had 4 more treatments to finish. I now had more to look forward to, a new life, a life as a survivor. What was I going to do after cancer? I remember the doctors telling me that working out and exercising helps the body recover from chemo, so at that point I decided I was going to run. The thought of running the ’09 Chicago Marathon started to look like it may be possible… so I registered. Timing couldn’t have been any better. I had my last treatment scheduled for April 23rd, 24 weeks before the race. That would give me 4 weeks to recover from chemo and 20 weeks to train.
Well, I gave myself about 2 weeks to recover. I knew I would need the extra time to train, considering I was never an avid runner. I didn’t know what to expect, would I be able to do it? Would I be able to run the grueling 26.2 miles? I had to do it. I wanted to prove to myself that I was healthy. That I had a new lease on life. That I was a survivor. That I could accomplish what I set out to do.
Training for the marathon was HARD. As the weeks passed and the mileage increased, I had doubts that I was going to be able to finish. The longest I made it through the entire 20 week training process was 16 miles. And after those 16 miles, I didn’t think I was going to be able to walk again… The big day came and I was ready, or at least as ready as I was going to be. I just wanted to finish, I knew I wasn’t going to going break any records. I just wanted to cross the finish line and know that having cancer wasn’t going to stop me.
Well…I did it! 4:59:08 after starting, I crossed the finish. 26.2 MILES. 20 weeks of training. 24 weeks after my last treatment.
I am now a cancer survivor and am looking forward to what lies ahead…
JI was just like any other healthy, active guy in his 20′s when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Though he could relate to the public story of fighter Lance Armstrong, he found that he craved a connection with someone who he could interact with closely. Someone who had been there as well.
With the support of his family and friends, he fought cancer through a relapse and, in the process, realized the need for increased awareness of the disease and personalized support through 1-on-1 relationships. His mission with Imerman Angels soon followed.
Curious about testicular cancer, self-screening, or Jonny’s journey? This quick webcast covers these topics and more.
To kick off Chicago Marathon Week, we caught up with Imerman Active teammate, Michael Wall, who not only runs for Imerman, but raises money as well. He was kind enough to answer some of our questions!
Q: Michael, how are you involved with Imerman Angels?
I am a member of the Imerman Active team, which is a group dedicated to individuals who participate in athletic events in support of Imerman Angels. Imerman Active participants work to raise money and increase awareness to benefit 1-on-1 cancer support through Imerman Angels.
Q: We feel very fortunate to have you on our Active Team. What inspired you to run and fundraise for us?
My family and loved ones have been hit pretty hard by cancer, some of whom were able to beat it and others, unfortunately, who were not. Those experiences and losses have stuck with me. They are why I chose to get involved with Imerman and what have been the driving force behind my training. The special characteristic of Imerman that has really made an impact on me is their focus on the person. All charities and organizations focused on treating and curing cancer are amazing in their own special ways, but the tangibility of the Imerman Angels is what makes it so special to me.
Q: How did you get involved in running? How long have you been a runner?
I started running early in life (The 7th Grade) but I was never a “runner” so to speak. For most of my life, running was a part of offseason preparation for upcoming sport seasons. As I got older, and as my days as an athlete disappeared, I discovered that I had developed a real enjoyment for running and today it is just as much a part of my physical health as it is my mental health. I often joke that it’s my “drug” in that no matter what may be going on in my life I can always put on my headphones and just go. Running often helps me to put life situations into perspective and I often see things more clearly. There just always seems to be something that I experience, or see, or a thought that comes to mind while running that helps me to gain perspective. It’s something I truly value.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about Sunday?
What I’m looking forward to most on Sunday is the experience. I’ve set a pretty lofty goal in that I’m trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which at this stage of my life will be a tough task. I’ve been really working hard to achieve that goal, but even if I come up short it will be the experience that I am looking forward to the most. Arguably the greatest distance runner of our nation’s history, Steve Prefontaine, once said that “the real purpose of running isn’t to win a race. It’s to test to the limits of the human heart.” I could not agree more! It is why I run, it’s why I’ll be running on Sunday, and it’s why I’m running for the Imerman Angels.
Special thanks to Michael for his contribution and all that he does for IA! We wish you the best of luck and will be at the marathon cheering you on!