February 13 2018
Colleen Kelly Alexander discusses the accident that changed her life and how she has rebounded in spite of the trauma to her mind and body.
On Feb. 21, 2003, I woke up from a biopsy to learn that I had breast cancer. Through the following year, I underwent four rounds of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation. The loss of my hair, weight and appetite contributed to a loss of self esteem. My husband and I had been having issues in our marriage, and with the stress of the disease, our relationship unraveled, and we separated.
I was distraught over the breakdown of my marriage, but I was able to beat the cancer. I spent the next couple of years working on getting my life back in order and soon I met someone who encouraged me. My new friend continued to tell me that I was strong and could beat anything. I had never had the gumption to believe in myself like that before.
I had always wanted to run a marathon, so I connected with a charity group, Team In Training, as a step toward that goal. In the spring of 2007, I walked my first marathon in San Diego. I felt terrible during the race, but when I stepped over the finish line, I crossed over a barrier in my life. Remembering that experience still overwhelms me with emotion and brings me to tears. For the first time, I realized I could do anything.
Although I was walking long distances, it was still hard for me to run. After working with a new team, a non profit called Northern Sierra Endurance Training, I was able to move slowly from walking to run-walking to running a full marathon. It is amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. At the 2010 California International Marathon, I got to a point in the race where I felt like I had hit a wall. I thought, Oh no, I have trained too hard and come too far. I’m not giving up now. I pushed myself to keep going, and I finished with a time that qualified me for Boston.
At 56, l feel healthier and stronger, both mentally and physically, than l did in my 20s. As my coach often says, “Think positively and keep smiling. Always look forward to the next start line.” I appreciate every day and continue to be thankful for what lies ahead.