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Lung Cancer Survivor Completes Ultra-Marathon


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Following is an article written about my continued running since diagnosed with lung cancer 12 and half years ago.  I hope it provides a little hope and encouragement to others.

Lung Cancer Survivor Completes Ultra-Marathon

It took 9 hours, 36 minutes and 19 seconds for Raleigh native Jerry Walton to traverse sand, water crossings and a daring climb up and down a canyon to complete the 55K (34.2 mile) 2018 Canyon de Chelly Ultra-Marathon in Chinle, Arizona.  While this annual ultra-marathon is a once in a lifetime experience for those who are able to complete it, Jerry was more than up for the challenge.  Diagnosed with lung cancer more than twelve years ago at only 52 years of age, Jerry has already faced both the physical and emotional toll of this disease.

During this year’s race, as he does for all of his races, Jerry proudly wore a running shirt that said “Never Give Up” across the back. “I’m happy I was able to complete the race, that my commitment to the training and preparation paid off and that I never gave up,” said Jerry. “When I crossed the finish line, after 9-and-a-half hours of running, I really felt like I just wanted to keep running forever.”

Jerry was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006 after he requested a chest x-ray during a routine physical. “Those are some scary words to hear from your doctor – you have lung cancer – particularly when you had no symptoms,” Jerry said. 

On March 1, 2006, he had surgery to remove the upper lobe of his left lung and then completed four rounds of chemotherapy from May through July.

 “After surgery and chemo, I knew I needed to do something to take better care of myself,” he said.  “I weighed 235 pounds, had no energy, and I needed to do something to keep my lungs as healthy as possible.”

Jerry started off by just walking to the mailbox and back.  “I did my first ¼ mile run on a treadmill in September 2006,” he said.  “I haven’t quit running since then.”

Jerry was one of only 150 runners chosen by lottery out of more than 600 entries to participate in this year’s event through the heart of the Navajo reservation. The annual event is the only time non-natives can be alone in the Canyon without a Navaho guide and consists of running 17 miles up Canyon de Chelly and a run up Bat Canyon trail, 1,200 feet high from the canyon floor to the summit and back.  

“I started training in March of this year,” said Jerry.  “I had no time goal for the race, only to finish it within the allotted time (approximately eleven hours).  The longest distance I ran in training was 26.7 miles, and my highest monthly total was 192 miles.”

In an effort to prepare for Arizona’s elevation of more than 5,500 feet, Jerry traveled to Boone, NC the week before the event and ran and hiked some of the higher mountain trails.  “I think it helped, if not physically then mentally, in my preparation,” he said.

Jerry always encourages individuals to say “hi” to him on the street whenever they see him running, and he is committed to continuing his encouragement for people to “Never Give Up.”

“When I was diagnosed twelve years ago,” Jerry said, “there were only three options to treat lung cancer, at best:  surgery, chemo and radiation.  Today they treat some lung cancers with a pill!  New treatments and therapies are being explored every day.  We have a long way to go, but we have also come a long way.”

 “Never Give Up also applies to survivorship,” he added.  “It may take a little time, but we can find and establish a ‘new normal’ with a greater appreciation for life around us.”

 “I’m proof that lung cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” Jerry said.  “With earlier detection and proper treatment, survivors can lead a new normal life – and even run an ultra-marathon!"

Jerry has been a lung cancer advocate and volunteer of the North Carolina Lung Cancer Initiative for more than five years.  He participates in health fairs and other events where he is able to share his story and raise awareness for lung cancer.

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I was reading a topic about signs of lung cancer just before I became a member a few minutes ago...I hope I’m at the right place...my doctor did some blood tests and told me my white cell blood count was a fifteen and by looking at prior records from another doctor that out had been that high for two years and that they had concerns and has previously checked for cancer... I had no knowledge of this.. I had bronchitis, so she did an exray of my lungs.. there is a nodule on one of them....and I’m not aware of the difference between a nodule and a tumor... or if there is one..so she did some blood work to check for cancer, and nothing bad came back on it, she told me if she couldn’t figure it out she was gonna send me to an oncologist,that was a month ago and i don’t see her again until next month, in the last year I had another doctor find a nodule on my brain, a few in my throat on or near my thyroid, one in my stomach, and I had my tonsils and adenoids taken out and sent off to check for cancer,there was a nodule in my adenoids... these have all came back benign... I have COPD and my chronic bronchitis that I get has now been diagnosed as acute bronchitis..I have all of the symptoms accept losing weight and there is no blood in my phlegm..Could y’all possibly give me your insight on these matters?

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I’m a  new member and I was reading a topic about signs of lung cancer just before I became a member a few minutes ago...I hope I’m at the right place...my doctor did some blood tests and told me my white cell blood count was a fifteen and by looking at prior records from another doctor that out had been that high for two years and that they had concerns and has previously checked for cancer... I had no knowledge of this.. I had bronchitis, so she did an exray of my lungs.. there is a nodule on one of them....and I’m not aware of the difference between a nodule and a tumor... or if there is one..so she did some blood work to check for cancer, and nothing bad came back on it, she told me if she couldn’t figure it out she was gonna send me to an oncologist,that was a month ago and i don’t see her again until next month, in the last year I had another doctor find a nodule on my brain, a few in my throat on or near my thyroid, one in my stomach, and I had my tonsils and adenoids taken out and sent off to check for cancer,there was a nodule in my adenoids... these have all came back benign... I have COPD and my chronic bronchitis that I get has now been diagnosed as acute bronchitis..I have all of the symptoms accept losing weight and there is no blood in my phlegm..Could y’all possibly give me your insight on these matters?

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Hi and welcome,

A nodule is something small, a mass is  bigger. These typically would show up on an xray or CT scan, but could show up other ways. These could be malignant (cancer) or could be otheir things like infection or infalmmation. The only way to know for sure is a biopsy. PET scans are sometimes done--cancers will usually "light up" on a PET, but some don't. Mine didn't. Occasionally other things will light up on the PET. Have you asked the doctor what he/she thinks the nodules are?

I suggest you look at Lung Cancer 101 on the main Lungevity site which has good information about diagnosis and testing. This is at

https://lungevity.org/for-patients-caregivers/lung-cancer-101

Bridget O

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Thank you. No, I haven’t asked what they were, we just checked them for cancer, except the one on my lung. My new dr did say the one on my lung could be different and more dangerous. I go to see her next month and I think she gonna referr me to an Oncologist. Thank you for your imput

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  • 1 month later...
On 11/21/2018 at 4:22 AM, Cherokee Peacockg said:

I was reading a topic about signs of lung cancer just before I became a member a few minutes ago...I hope I’m at the right place...my doctor did some blood tests and told me my white cell blood count was a fifteen and by looking at prior records from another doctor that out had been that high for two years and that they had concerns and has previously checked for cancer... I had no knowledge of this.. I had bronchitis, so she did an exray of my lungs.. there is a nodule on one of them....and I’m not aware of the difference between a nodule and a tumor... or if there is one..so she did some blood work to check for cancer, and nothing bad came back on it, she told me if she couldn’t figure it out she was gonna send me to an oncologist,that was a month ago and i don’t see her again until next month, in the last year I had another doctor find a nodule on my brain, a few in my throat on or near my thyroid, one in my stomach, and I had my tonsils and adenoids taken out and sent off to check for cancer,there was a nodule in my adenoids... these have all came back benign... I have COPD and my chronic bronchitis that I get has now been diagnosed as acute bronchitis..I have all of the symptoms accept losing weight and there is no blood in my phlegm..Could y’all possibly give me your insight on these matters?

A PET scan and biopsy are needed to diagnose it as cancer. blood work does not show lung cancer.

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  • 1 month later...

Jerry, you are my hero! I was so excited to read your story-an ultra!!!! I would love to hear about your training.  Were you a runner before your diagnosis?  I am a runner too. I’ve never run an ultra, but I’ve completed 5 marathons including Boston. Since the removal of my upper right lobe one year ago,  I haven’t run more than 3 miles at a time.  I’m curious how you were able to build your mileage.  Were you able to improve your pace as well?  I know I should not focus on how far or how fast I can run, and I try!  But  I want to qualify for Boston again, just to prove I can. And maybe because at a pre-op appointment my Doctor said “You’ll be able to run again, but you’ll probably never qualify for Boston again.”

The Canyon de Chelly Ultra-Marathon sounds like an incredible event to be a part of! Congratulations to you for completing it and for changing your life in such a positive way!  You have inspired me. Thank you.

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Susan- I was thinking about you this morning while I was out tooling around on my recumbent trike on the trails.  At one point one of those power walkers passed me.  Oh well.  I sort of chuckled & thought about hanging a sign on the back- “Having more fun than you are!!!”   Relish those three miles!   😀

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On 3/27/2019 at 2:46 PM, Susan4 said:

Jerry, you are my hero! I was so excited to read your story-an ultra!!!! I would love to hear about your training.  Were you a runner before your diagnosis?  I am a runner too. I’ve never run an ultra, but I’ve completed 5 marathons including Boston. Since the removal of my upper right lobe one year ago,  I haven’t run more than 3 miles at a time.  I’m curious how you were able to build your mileage.  Were you able to improve your pace as well?  I know I should not focus on how far or how fast I can run, and I try!  But  I want to qualify for Boston again, just to prove I can. And maybe because at a pre-op appointment my Doctor said “You’ll be able to run again, but you’ll probably never qualify for Boston again.”

The Canyon de Chelly Ultra-Marathon sounds like an incredible event to be a part of! Congratulations to you for completing it and for changing your life in such a positive way!  You have inspired me. Thank you.

Another runner!  I think it is great that there are more and more survivor's who run.  I find it helps me with lung function and the mental side of life.  I was not a runner before my diagnosis.  After surgery, I started walking and gradually built up to start running 6 months later.  Been running ever since.  I sometimes wonder what kind of runner I would have been had I run earlier in life.  But things happen for a reason and I am grateful I can run and enjoy it now.  I would imagine it would be somewhat frustrating to have to compare your current running with your running prior to your diagnosis.  Life really does develop into a "new normal" after lung cancer but that doesn't mean you don't chase your dreams - just the opposite.  It gives me the motivation to go out and accomplish things like the Canyon de Chelly Ultra (as a side note, after this race I didn't want to "waste" all the training it took so I signed up for an endurance race to see how many miles I could cover in 12 hours. I managed to complete 45 miles in that time period).  

I suspect you are asking how I built up my mileage/speed after cancer surgery and not related specifically to the race.  They actually, in thinking about it, were nearly the same.  I focused on the distance to be covered and not so much the time (but like you, time is always in the back of your mind).  Do you have a training plan specific to a short term goal?  I know you want to do Boston again (congrats on your previous one!) but it is important to set smaller goals on the way.  Most people run a 5k and more before they do a marathon.  You are basically starting a new running career.  While I focused on running the entire distance scheduled in the training plan, I also did what I needed to do to finish it (slow down, walk, break).  I'm not sure what issues you are dealing with in your training but I used to be scared to push myself.  I was afraid that I would run too fast, get out of breadth and pass out :)   So when I wasn't running, I practiced holding my breath as long as I could to reinforce that I wouldn't pass out and die if I ran out of breath.  It also helped with overall breathing.  Once I accepted that I could push myself past my comfort zone and realized that I would survive, I started making better progress.  Sometimes thinking outside the box comes in handy.  I did get faster through the early years but remember "faster" is relative - what's fast for me may not be fast for you. I wear a shirt like the one in this article on every run I do. It helps promote the cause and nobody asks me why I am so slow :).  I won't tell you how slow I am but will tell you that I shaved off approximately 4 minutes a mile over the years.  The last 5 years it has gotten harder to get faster so I have focused more on the utras where I can enjoy covering the distance without as much worry on the time.  One thing I did in regards to the race was go the gym and I wish I had done some of this when I first started running.  The increased leg strength really helped out as did the light upper body work outs. When you have a compromised respiratory system, it helps to strengthen other areas to compensate.

Good luck on your quest for Boston - it is a worthy goal to strive for.  Keep us up on your progress!  

Jerry

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