Three times, Patty McMillan has fought cancer. On May 28, less than a month ago, she finished 18 weeks of chemotherapy in her latest battle. Among the initial plans for Patty, who completed the full marathon in Saint John a year ago, was training for the 5km Into the Night race at Marathon by the Sea this August.
What follows is her inspirational account of her challenging journey, the courage she displayed, the friends and family who supported her and the determination she showed to set and achieve weight-loss and running goals.
by Patty MacMillan
I was never athletic growing up….
I never ran a race in my life….
Cancer changed everything….
What changed for me in the beginning was in my early 20’s I was told I was “Pre Diabetic.” I weighed in at 300 pounds at only 5ft 6″. This shock was only the beginning of a 11 year struggle with weight, health and finding the love of running.
Just beginning to exercise at 300lbs is a major step to overcome for anyone but I started and that’s all that mattered in the beginning. I started in 2004 and over the course of more than two years, I worked out at a gym only, enlisting the help of a trainer in 2005 – Cory Keith and lost 120 pounds.
No small feat, a lot of work, a lot of behaviour changes and I still had no clue about running since I was a gym fanatic at that point in my life.
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All things that go well for anyone at my new fitness level do eventually have health challenges to overcome. It can be as simple as fatigue, strains or as complex as surgery but never could I have imagined it would be cancer.
In April 2007, I had a major abdominal surgery done and was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. I did not have Chemo at that time and had an eight-week recovery period. Not having gym time for eight weeks after two years of steady progress was not easy to take. Finding my way back to the gym would have a very pleasant twist that I am very thankful for every day!
In 2007 – eight weeks after my first surgery one of my co-workers – Heather Urquhart – told me of a running group that met weekly at UNB Saint John track on Tuesdays. It was free and you got to learn how to train for running races or for fun. I was very nervous and skeptical of my ability to run after major surgery. With her support, we both headed out to the group to start my first run. I was very happy to meet so many nice people and there were no judgements on ability! It was so hot that first day and the track seem to never end! I was exhausted when I was done but happy with my first try.
Everyone gave me encouragement to come back and each week I did. I found I could not stop going because of all the fun! Many encouraged me to do my first race in Hampton.
The Hampton 5-miler I trained for was in September 2007 and from there, I was hooked on running! It became the most alive thing I have ever done! I learned how to overcome physical and mental challenges and how to push my limits during that race. I also found a lot of encouragement from complete strangers on the route and from other runners as well!
I love that feeling!
I continued to run a lot and in 2008 I did my first MBTS. I was thrilled with long-distance running so I joined the KV Full Marathon Team race with co-workers in 2009. I continued running every week with co-workers picking various routes each week to mix it up and we continued to run races in Saint John, Hampton and KV. I had some great races and some with challenges.
Once, I was taken by ambulance to the hospital after only running 1 km with muscle burnout. I learned after that to pace myself!
Our co-worker group started to dismantle late in 2010 and even though we don’t run together anymore I have made so many running friends! Over a few years I ran a few more MBTS events – another half, 10km, and in 2011 I did my first Dual-a-Thon race at Rockwood Park. Finally in 2012, I did the Saint John to Grand-Bay 15km race.
I joined a running group on the West Side called the Fundy Fog Chasers in 2013! This running group has been my rock ever since!
Just when I got settled in on life’s routines, more change came. After six years of being cancer free, I got the surprise of my life on a routine check up. My cancer was back – so off I went for more abdominal surgery in June of 2013. This surgery was just as long and just as invasive as my first surgery. There were eight more weeks of recovery and no chemo.
I counted myself lucky but I had a lot to overcome this time, physically, mentally and emotionally. After my recovery I got back to the running group but I was a walker at that point and continued to rebuild. The hardest thing to do is to start at the beginning and keep motivated but I had this wonderful group for support! It pumps me up every time I think about them!
I set my MBTS goal for 2014 …. to do the Full Marathon!
The day came to run that race (August-2014) and I still have the same feeling as the first race I ever ran! The race had its challenges but when you get to the point of exhaustion and maybe quitting, there seemed to be a friendly face in the crowd to cheer me on to keep going – maybe a family member, a friend, a stranger. Regardless, it gets you through to the finish line – in six hours and 15 minutes. I finished that full race with the help of many!
After the MBTS race in August, I thought ‘what next?’
I have been running just as long as I have been fighting Cancer? I continued to run after a three-week break but I then found myself back in the hospital in October 2014 with complications from my prior surgeries. With that came another major surgery in November where I found out my Cancer progressed. Not what you ever want to hear but nothing can change that outcome, you can only move forward.
In January of 2015, I started 18 weeks of Chemo, which I completed on May 28th, 2015. I now find myself back at the beginning again. I attended my first night out walking with the Fog Chasers one week after Chemo was done! It never felt better to be out among friends and to be starting to plan again for a race!
Never losing sight that I will run again of course, so my 2015 goal is to run and maybe a little walking in the MBTS – the 5km into the Night.
My “Running Whys” are many.
My story maybe long but running makes me feel alive and free!