NEW YORK, April 26, 2012 — Whenever I have a small problem that I can’t solve or I’m angry or frustrated, I go for a run. Running helps me clear my head, blow off steam, and find a few moments of Zen in an otherwise hectic day.
But what about big problems, the real problems in life like hunger, disaster, and disease? Runners have been fighting to solve those too. In 2011, the top 30 exercise fundraising programs in the U.S. raised $1.69 billion for charity, according to the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council. That doesn’t include smaller programs and charities that place runners in races like the ING New York City Marathon, which raised $34 million for 210 charities in 2011. According to Runner’s World, $650 million of runner fundraising annually goes to fight cancer alone.
Back in 2007, I ran my first marathon for Team Continuum, a charity that provides financial, educational and moral support for cancer patients. Now, I’m doing it again. But this time the cause is much closer to home.
My cousin Laura Bruning Densmore is fighting for her life, and I’m helping her the only way I know—by running.
One year ago on April 26, 2011, Laura found a lump on her inner thigh. Her diagnosis was stage IV terminal clear cell sarcoma, a rare and bleakly lethal form of cancer that attacks the body’s soft tissue including fat, muscle, tendons and ligaments. It is so rare that little more than 300 cases have been diagnosed in the last 40 years, and 10-year survival rates hover below 25 percent.
Most doctors and cancer centers have no experience treating it, and conventional cancer therapies often don’t work. One year, 5 surgeries and 5 rounds of chemotherapy and radiation later, the cancer is still raging throughout Laura’s body.
Every year, my family visited Laura’s family in Florida. We’d spend weeks on end together in the summer, swimming, playing tennis, playing Barbies, going to Disney World, and riding horses on my uncle’s ranch. Like her parents, Laura is an expert horsewoman who has won many rodeo belt buckles and trophies. Barrel racing was her specialty and up until 2010, she kept a horse of her own. As a child, I took English equestrian lessons and Laura would laugh and tease me when I’d show up to ride in breeches instead of Wranglers. She’s always been a jokester with a big sense of humor. But she took me riding with her whenever I wanted, crossing the Florida countryside on horseback. Many times, it was just the two of us. It’s one of my fondest childhood memories. Even though I was 10 and she was 16, she never complained about palling around with my sister and me.
Now 40, Laura is married and has two kids of her own—Ava, a tenderhearted 5-year-old girl who loves to play Barbies just like her mama did, and Colton, a 2-and-a-half-year-old linebacker in training. Laura, like all of us, has so much to live for. But she’s also already given so much. Laura has spent her adult life helping save other people’s lives. Before her battle with cancer began, Laura spent 15 years working in a cardiac catheterization lab helping to mend arteries in the hearts of strangers. Now she’s fighting for her own life.
In November of 2011, her doctor gave her just 12 months to live. It’s a sentence that she, nor any of us in her family, is willing to accept. So I’m taking it to the streets quite literally. Between now and November of 2012, I’m going to swim, bike and run 1,000 miles as Laura’s warrior in an effort to help raise money to cover her growing medical expenses. Laura’s family has already relocated from Alabama to Florida for her treatments—with her husband Eric commuting 5 hours each way every week from his job in Alabama to be with his wife and children on the weekends—and now they are facing another move to California so Laura can attend a center that has had success treating advanced clear cell sarcoma—a rarity given how uncommon the cancer is.
When I cross the finish line of the Philadelphia Marathon on November 18, the second of two key races I am targeting as one of Laura’s Warriors, my hope is that my cousin will be in remission, one year after doctors gave her just 12 months to live. Leading up to Philly I’m competing in the Long Island Gold Coast Triathlon in June—only my second triathlon—and a few other races along the way. With every mile I run, pedal and swim, I’ll be doing it for Laura until I reach 1,000 miles—10 miles for every $100 we initially hope to raise.
In order to make my goal, I’m looking at an average of 35 miles a week. It takes me 10 hours to swim 10 miles. I can knock out about 1 mile in an hour in the pool in training and 35 minutes in a race. It takes me 1 hour 50 minutes to run 10 miles in training and 1 hour 30 minutes in a race. While cycling is much faster, it’s also the hardest discipline for me and my most loathed. Biking 10 miles takes me about 50 minutes in training and 40 minutes in a race. So my plan is to run 20-25 miles a week, bike 10-15 and swim 1 through the triathlon. Come July, it will all be running. In order for me to reach 35 miles a week, I’ll have to operate at peak marathon levels. It won’t be easy—I’ve never tackled this much mileage for so many months on end. But that’s the point. Fighting cancer is infinitely harder.
Laura recently spoke at a Relay For Life event in Florida organized by the American Cancer Society.
“You have a choice,” she told the crowd. “Accept the doom and gloom knocking at your door and let it in. Or load your shot gun and tell that cancer I am not dying—you are!”
That’s my Laura, always spirited.
“I will never stop fighting for my family, my precious kids and husband. I have already fought harder than I ever thought I could,” she said. “You are not just fighting for yourself; you are fighting for everyone around you and some who are not even here today. We are all making a difference and showing the world that we can beat this thing. United we can move mountains and accomplish great things.”
As runners, we’ve given our miles for so many causes—many of which continue to fight the good fight, researching for better treatments and cures for a multitude of diseases like cancer. Most often, though, we run to save lives in the future. Rarely do we have the chance to directly help someone right here and right now. You have that chance. I have that chance with Laura.
Please join me as one of Laura’s Warriors by donating or spreading the word. Even if you can’t donate, please tweet, like, pin, or share this story in any way you can. So many people around the world have lost a loved one to cancer or are fighting for their loved ones too. Together, we really can make a difference in one person’s life and the lives of all the people they’ve touched.
Please visit www.giveforward.com/lauraswarriors to donate or learn more.
Karla Bruning is a veteran journalist and running nerd. She has completed four marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.
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