Running for Her Life

Reeling from a breast cancer diagnosis, Gail Konop Baker signed up for her first road race—and learned to trust her body again.


gail-konop-baker
"On those days when the long runs felt like too much and I wanted to stop, I'd chant to myself: I am strong. I am healthy. I am healed."
Soon after I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in February 2006, my best friend, a triathlete, asked me if I wanted to run the NYC Half-Marathon with her at the end of August. I was confused. Couldn't she see how hazy and frightening the concept of the future was for me? Or that I wondered why she'd still want to hang out with me in my damaged state? I didn't answer her—I couldnt.

But I let her drag me out of the house and I plodded behind her. It was better than obsessively googling breast cancer health sites and calculating my rate of recurrence. And I knew that running was good for me. But racing? I wasn't a racer.

"My mother is an athlete"
In fact, I didn't commit to the half marathon until the day my then 9-year-old son burst into the kitchen, fighting tears because one of his friends said I was like another friend's mother who'd died of breast cancer a few years before. "But I told him that isn't true," he said. "My mother is an athlete. She can run up all the hills in the neighborhood."

I realized I had no choice. I had to run the race. I had to be the mother who could run up all the hills in the neighborhood, to prove that I was still strong, that I would survive.

The month before the race, we were running nearly every day, up to 30 miles a week with long runs every Saturday. There were days I didn't want to run—days I would have rather curled up in a chair and wept for my life before the diagnosis. But putting on my shoes and stepping one foot in front of the other forced me out of my ruminating head and planted me in my body. And as I ran, I felt stronger and lighter and freer. Slowly, I started to trust the body that had betrayed me. And on those days when the long runs felt like too much and I wanted to stop, I'd chant to myself: I am strong. I am healthy. I am healed.


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Last Updated: September 24, 2008

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