March 22 2018
One month after her last race as a collegiate athlete, Hannah Hartzell is curious to see where her passion for running will take her next.
Five years ago my cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a young mother of two children under the age of 10, Jennifer fought back determined to not allow cancer to take her away from her growing family. Initially, she was successful. The cancer subsided and Jennifer lived in remission as her children continued to grow.
Three and a half short years after cancer reared its ugly head, it returned in full force. This time Jennifer elected to undergo a double mastectomy and once again rid her body of cancer while removing the tissue it may decide to inhabit in the future. Though the doctors were hopeful, lab results deemed chemotherapy a necessary step in fighting off the vicious disease. As Jennifer lost her hair (for the second time), she mustered the courage and strength to face each day with a positive outlook for the sake of her children.
Within a year the cancer spread and began attacking other organs in her weakened body. Earlier this year, at the young age of 43 Jennifer succumbed to cancer, leaving behind a grief stricken family. As we continue to search for answers to many questions that begin with “Why?”, Jennifer’s family and friends carry on hope that her legacy will forever live on.
One month after attending Jennifer’s funeral, I stood at the start line of a marathon still stricken with grief. In that moment, I decided to take each step in honor of my cousin and her fight against breast cancer. I looked down at the pink rubber bracelet around my wrist and wished in some way it meant she would accompany me through each mile. Brutal weather conditions challenged my desire to continue towards the finish line throughout each of the 26.2 miles. Every time doubt crept in my mind, I touched the bracelet to remind myself that I wasn’t alone in my journey. How could I give up, when Jennifer never did? I crossed the finish line of that marathon and knew my running was forever changed. Instantly, I had a purpose beyond achieving a faster time.
By wearing a reminder of my cousin each time I run, I can share my experience in her honor. Jennifer may not be physically with me as I run races, but I can continue to show her the world by taking a small piece of her with me each time.
Have you or someone you know fought back against breast cancer through running? Email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org for an opportunity to inspire women from all over and celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month.