You should probably know that I was always the one picked last in gym class. I was the bookish kid, the one who never played sports, never joined teams. For most of my adult life, I’d have scoffed at the idea of even running for a bus. So what was I doing, on a chilly November morning, getting up while it was still dark outside and getting ready to run 26.2 miles? The answer was easy — I was doing it for Gilda’s.

I began running a decade ago, when I moved to an apartment building advantageously close to a park. Inspired by the early morning joggers I could see from my front door, I bought a pair of sneakers and one day decided to just go out and give it a try. Running soon became part of my regular routine, a special time for me — a working mom of two young children — to connect with myself and my thoughts. Then a few years ago, when I got Stage 4 melanoma, running became something else. It became a way for me to feel like myself in the midst of a profoundly scary and stressful time. The other thing that helped me feel that way was Gilda’s Club.

My daughters, my spouse, and I all started coming to Gilda’s Club shortly after my diagnosis. Our nights there quickly became an important highlight of every week, a time to connect with a whole new group of friends. Even on the hardest days, knowing we had Gilda’s to turn to — with our support groups or at parties or family fun nights — made the entire experience easier for all of us. It was fitting then that I was at Gilda’s when my doctor called to tell me that my latest scans showed no evidence of disease. Gilda’s had given us so much. It didn’t take long for me to figure out I wanted to give something back.

opt4But while my prognosis was better than I could have hoped, I still had to continue my often grueling clinical trial. So maybe when I asked my doctor if he thought it would be wise to fundraise and train with Gilda’s marathon team, I had hoped a little he’d say no. I’d never run any race longer than a 5K. I was on experimental drugs. He told me, “Go for it.”

I went for it. I trained for six months with a fantastic group of people and a trainer who offered advice and encouragement every step of the way. I raised money for an organization that offers so much to so many other New Yorkers just like me, just like my family.

I won’t lie — it was hard. I racked up hours and hours and hours of training, of early mornings and blisters. I discovered a strong distaste for sports gels. On the day of my marathon, I spent a fair amount of time in my own head, wondering what on earth I had talked myself into and why. But I kept in my mind the mantra our trainer had shared: I want it more than I fear it. I wanted it. And when I crossed the finish line, I felt invincible.

In the end, I achieved something while undergoing cancer treatment that I had never achieved before — certainly not when I was an awkward kid cowering in gym class. I became something, while undergoing cancer treatment, that I had never been before. Not just a patient. An athlete. A marathoner. I couldn’t become one if not for Gilda’s. And I couldn’t be prouder to have run for Gilda’s Club.

[list type=”stars”]
  • Mary Beth Williams – 2012 Gilda’s Club NYC Marathon Team
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