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Three-time cancer survivor takes friendship to finish line

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cervical_cancer_survivor_beats_cancer_three_times_ME_strong.JPGBy Linda Ryan

I thought I had checked cancer off my list. Having just ran my first marathon it was hard to imagine that my cancer had returned after seven years. Cancer chose the wrong woman. I was ready to battle the disease for the third time with health, laughter and friendship.
Follow me at http://www.mestrong.net/

As I look forward to the approaching holidays, I feel excited and overwhelmed as most people do at this time of year.

My holidays will be very different this year. Last year, I was involved in the battle of my life. As a 43-year-old mother of two, I was battling recurring cervical cancer. I spent last Christmas in bed, sick from the effects of chemotherapy.    

Ten years ago I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, eight years ago with cervical cancer and last year, recurring cervical cancer.

When I was diagnosed last year I was in the best shape of my life. Four weeks before finding the suspect lymph node in my neck, I ran the San Diego Marathon.

My cancer returning came as a shock, but not totally unexpected. As with most survivors, it was in the back of my mind that one day my cancer would return. 

Fit to fight

The lump was in a strange place. After consulting Dr. Google, which everyone does and shouldn't, it was obvious that finding a lump where I had one had no good storyline potentials. The good news was that I felt stronger than ever. I knew I could handle it. 

So the logistics started. At first, it was thought that my thyroid cancer was back. The treatment was a radical neck dissection. Research told me that I needed to see Gary Clayman, M.D., at MD Anderson. 

The week before I was scheduled to fly to Houston to see him, I found some lymph nodes in my groin area that weren't consistent with thyroid cancer. At that point, things became more urgent. I needed to be seen by a gynecologist

I felt most comfortable seeing a doctor at MD Anderson and was scheduled to meet with Shannon Westin, M.D., in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. After determining that it was a recurrence of my cervical cancer, I was accepted into a clinical trial

I flew from my home in Florida to Houston every three weeks for chemotherapy. The day after chemo, I flew home to recover and get stronger so I could handle another round.

Because I felt strongly that exercising helped prepare me to fight cancer head on, I knew that I would continue to exercise as much as possible during my treatment. I continued to run as much as I could. It was good for my mental health, as much as my physical health. 

While going through chemotherapy treatments, I ran two half-marathons and several 5Ks. Surprising to even me, I ran my fastest 5K and half-marathon while going through chemo.

The times aren't important; my ability to be out there is what was important to me. I tried not to let cancer or my treatments control me. I maintained control of my life to the extent that I could. Chemo knocked me down every round, but I got up and lived my life.

I felt that cancer would gain strength as it took things away from me, so I prayed, I exercised, and I lived my life the way I did before I was diagnosed, refusing to give cancer any power over me.

Run for the dream
Fall Run 2011.jpgMy friends knew how important exercise was to me through the process, so they asked if they could host a 5K in my honor. I was truly touched and energized by the idea of a race.

On Jan. 28, 2012, ME STRONG, Linda's run for the Dream, took place in Deland, Fla., with nearly 900 participants. Our initial goal was 300. 

The love and support I felt from the community gave me strength and paved the way for my friends and me to start the ME STRONG Foundation. In its first year, the foundation has provided thousands of dollars to other people battling cancer, as well as a donation to MD Anderson for gynecological cancer research

Our foundation's mission is to support friends, family and individuals fighting cancer through the power of friendship. Our goal is to give seed grants to other groups of friends wanting to honor their friend battling cancer through an event, the way that my friends honored me.

The Second Annual ME STRONG, Linda's Run for the Dream 5K will take place on Feb. 2, 2013, in Deland. More information can be found on our website at www.mestrong.net.   

On March 15, 2012, Dr. Westin gave me the wonderful news that my cancer was gone. The holidays and New Year will have a special meaning for me this year.

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