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…
Cec Strine, teacher at Cranbrook Schools Brookside of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, can speak to the impact of community support on an individual. As a salivary cancer survivor, she shared with me the importance of the Cranbrook family, as she took the disease head on:
“The extended Cranbrook family supported us so much. People that you didn’t even know about… who quietly had cancer.”
Joining together with Sarah Jacobs, an alum, parent and breast cancer survivor, the two created an idea: a victory lap against cancer around Kingswood Lake.
Tomorrow, September 27th, will be the first annual “Cranbrook Envisions a Cure Walk” sponsored by the school’s Cross Country Team. Like many things, this event has been a community effort. From the event logo (designed by a 6th grader within the school system) to the preparation for the big day, this has been yet another project where Cranbrook students, faculty, parents, grandparents, alumni and friends were able to join forces.
Cec is close to the Imerman Community for several reasons. Not only was she a teacher of Jonny, who attended Cranbrook as a student, but she also participated in a 1-on-1 pair-up relationship through IA. Tomorrow, she will be walking in memory of her mother to: pay tribute to those battling cancer, support research for a cure, and celebrate life. JI is excited to be amongst those attending, as well as a featured speaker.
“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.”- Maya Angelou.
Cec shared that this (above) has touched her through her cancer journey. Though cancer is an ugly disease, she had found that it was also a blessing in disguise and an opportunity for her to give back to those who had shown her love and support. The cancer walk is the perfect opportunity to come out for Cranbrook, Cec, and those fighting cancer all around the country. Stop in and cheer on the walkers!
Optional donations will be made to Imerman Angels.
Read on as Jessica shares her experience in meeting Laura Alexander, a Cancer survivor with Imerman Angels…
I sat and listened to this extremely brave woman tell her story. The tears came even harder as I empathized with her every word. We were the same age, we had the same type of cancer, and we lived in the same city. She looked healthy and strong and determined to live. Without even having ever met her, I wanted to be like her. She had her life back, her health back, and all of her hair.
When I called the Imerman Angels office, Jonny Imerman answered. I told him about my story. I told him that some of my closest friends, but not all of them, had deserted me. No one knew what to do or what to say. I was hurt, lonely and lost. He took detailed notes and he asked to meet me at a restaurant overlooking the Chicago River, one gorgeous September day in 2007. I dressed up and did my hair for one of the last times and went not knowing what to expect. All I knew was that, I could not possibly go on crying six hours a day and that someone needed to help me!
We talked for three hours and he quickly started making mental notes about my personality, my cancer diagnosis, and my needs. By the end of the lunch, which I couldn’t eat, he told me that he had the perfect girl! When he mentioned that this woman, Laura Alexander, who also had Stage 2 breast cancer, I smiled. Not only did she come to my rescue, but the entire group of “Angels”, as they call themselves, showed up too! I was surrounded with support.
Needless to say, many things happened over the next nine months. I had to go through losing my hair, four months of chemo, two months of radiation and a break up. Throughout it all, Laura was right there next to me. She was on the phone, whenever I needed her, and she met me for lunch regularly. Of course, we volunteered and spoke at many Imerman Angels events together. She kept me smiling, and every time that I saw her, I knew that I could do this. I would heal and I would survive! Imerman Angels gave me so much hope that I became an outspoken advocate for IA ever since.
I met the love of my life one week before I started chemo. Everyone always wants to know, “where did you meet him?” I always think it ironic, that we met at a bar/restaurant in Wicker Park called Moonshine. He is a doctor and he seemed very interested in securing my wellness. We laughed and cried and just connected in every way, shape and form. He encouraged me to continue with my everyday life and keep fronting my band, Fly Over State. He said that keeping my creative flow going throughout the next year would be imperative to maintaining balance and, of course, help keep my mind off of things. He introduced me to meditation and breathing. He encouraged me to eat foods with a better nutritive value, and he gave me great advice on how to maintain my health during treatments, and he was right. I never got sick. My energy level was great and somehow I stayed rather positive and radiant during treatments. I practiced yoga and went for long walks on the same day as chemo treatments. I made myself triple and quadruple my vegetable and fruit intake, organic of course and I made every effort to consume organic meats at least once a day. For every blood test, I had a normal white blood cell count. I felt great and even with my lopsided wig, which was donated by coutureforcancer.org, I looked great. Every day felt like a gift.
Finally, the ordeal ended. The treatments stopped. My little hairs started to grow like a new baby and we waited six months for my follow up mammogram. I began dating the doctor, Anupam Ted Kedia, and we fell madly, into a deep love. He wanted to marry me as soon as possible, but first things first.
We entered Northwestern wearing matching Imerman Angels t-shirts and matching smiles when I found out that YES! INDEED! I WAS CANCER FREE!!!! The picture tells it all!
We made our way over to a restaurant to celebrate and it was there that a young, beautiful girl approached us. She said, “I’ve heard really great things about Imerman Angels and Jonny.” I launched into the whole story and how I just found out that I am CANCER FREE! She congratulated me and then shared her story. She was just 28 and newly diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She was in chemotherapy, in the same nightmare I had just experienced. She felt very alone and isolated. Her hair was still in tact and she looked as healthy and gorgeous as any other beautiful blonde. She wondered if the chemo was even working. She had no signs of cancer, but she was in the midst of the fight of her life…
Check in for the final installment of Jessica’s story!