The Toughest Marathon of My Life

Have you ever been in one of the circumstances in your life and faced with a reality that made you think…. Why Me?

I am a marathon runner. That\’s 26.2 miles ,on foot, on purpose and not because somebody is chasing me. I have run 35 marathons, in addition, 4 Ironman Triathlons that all end in a marathon.

Applefest Half Marathon September 2010 – 1/2 way through chemo

It was 2010, I had just signed up for the Chicago Marathon with my friend Judy. We were going to run in October. In July I went to the doctor after running and I had noticed a lump in my stomach, it was off center, I was in my 40s and I knew I wasn\’t pregnant. My husband and I went to the doctor, he urged me to go. We sat in the doctor\’s office, and she went into the other room and did these tests. When she came back in the room she said \”We think you may have lymphoma\”. I had this feeling of shock and my husband had this questioned look.. I had worked for the American Cancer Society for 16 years at that time – I worked for the American Cancer Society for 24 years total. I knew what lymphoma was, lymphoma is a cancer that attacks your immune system, your spleen, your lymph nodes and presents itself in lumps. So I said to my husband \”Honey, She thinks I have cancer\” . We stood there in shock and tears welled up in his eyes and in my eyes. But I knew because I worked for the American Cancer Society that people do survive cancer. Get that doctor out of the room, let\’s get some tests, let\’s figure out what\’s next and let\’s get going, let\’s get on the road to this marathon.

Mass General in Chemotherapy

I trained for the marathon in Chicago, I trained with my friends, I did my speedwork, I did my long runs and I went through my chemotherapy. I got more and more tired. My fingers were getting numb, my toes were numb and I would be nauseous. I would have a really bad week the week of chemo, I would feel a little bit better the next week and then even stronger the third week, so I would get my long runs in on the third week. I was going to get through this, I was going to be strong, but I was also listening to my body. I kept training, I kept going through chemo and I lost my eyebrows, and I lost all my hair. I remember the day we shaved my hair off because it was coming out in clumps in the shower. We shaved my hair off and we did this little video showing me with all the wigs, so my friends could help choose what color and style hair I should \”wear\”. I shared that video with my son who was 5 years old at the time, trying to help him understand what was going on with Mom and he just burst out in tears.

The bills kept coming, I had piles of bills, I would ignore them, but tried to jump through the hoops of the insurance companies. I was trying to figure out what to do. All my friends were giving me advice …. \”Get a second opinion\” , \”Get the best doctors\”! I wanted to do all of that, but i had to do what the insurance company wanted me to do in going that first doctor to get that consult and she said \”You have Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma Stage 4 and we are going to aim for a cure\”. I was devastated, STAGE 4? I work for the American Cancer Society I know stage 4? That\’s almost dead! So I left there was just a little bit of hope, because I knew like I said people survive this disease. I went home, talked to my friends, and got a referral to the next doctor, he was the top lymphoma doctors in the country at Mass General, Dr Jeffrey Barnes. Dr Barnes comes in the room and he starts talking about lymphoma, with so much positive energy. He had so much to share that he gave me so much hope! He took out this huge needle and gave me a bone marrow biopsy right there in his office that day. But he gave me HOPE. He said \”Keep doing what you have been doing, keep doing what is going to make you happy, what is going to make you stronger. Keep listening to your body, keep being strong.

So I did. I kept training and I knew if could work the training I could complete this marathon. I had hope, I was going to cross that finish line. 2/3 of the way through chemo I get dressed up in a Wonder Woman costume. All my friends were calling me Wonder Woman. I didn\’t feel like a Wonder Woman but I was inspiring others just by being strong, just by being me. I towed the line at the Chicago Marathon dressed up like Wonder Woman with my friend Cara by my side the was wearing a Bat Girl outfit (my sister made our outfits) and we ran the Chicago Marathon together. My legs were cramping, my hands were numb – I didn\’t know if I could stand up after sitting in the porta-pottie, but I did! I got up and I finished. Three hours and fifty seven minutes!

When I think about this marathon and I think about life as a marathon, I think about these things:

  1. Listen to your body
  2. Always get a second opinion
  3. Do what makes you happy, Do what is going to make you stronger
  4. Have Hope – Share Hope

Because I now know why me…. so I can share my heart full of hope with all of you.


This is the script for my speech for the International Toastmaster competition in 2020. I won 3rd in the club, 1st in the Area and 1st in the Division and competed at the District level for District 53. Here is a link to the speech on Soundcloud.

This year I celebrate 10 years cancer free. Since this was written I continue to race ultra distances and marathons and mountains! My hope is share my story with everyone in hopes that it will inspire them to be strong throughout their struggles and any health issues.

\”No one can hold you back from doing all the things you want to do.  Just keep your goals in sight, listen to your body and take one day at a time.  Some days will be better than others, but every day is a blessing. – so make each day the best it can be. \” Nancy Cook on cancer survivorship and life

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Nancy Cook 2021

About Nancy

Nancy Peck Cook is a trainer and speaker who has presented in front of large and small audiences for the past 25 years.  Her work as an executive and volunteer trainer for the American Cancer Society during the growth of the signature activity Relay For Life trained professionals to be more confident and successful in their roles. 

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