In life we all know there is one thing you should not do, run away. Not from your problems, your challenges, nor any adversity.
You should run… but in the other direction. Toward all of it. Directly into the storm, embracing all and then finding a way to overcome, to fight back, to forgive and use all that you face and all that you learn to teach and encourage others that they too can do the same.
Run… and let the tailwind of your experience be the tale which becomes your story.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (131): Grateful for the Big “C”
Just hold onto the light post, just for a moment. That’s all BethAnn Telford could think after she felt the pop.
Only seven more miles to go to finish the Marine Corps Marathon in DC. BethAnn had come this far, she just needed to rest for a moment, stretch her neck, breathe deep, take a swallow and then get back in-step with the rest of the runners. BethAnn had run this course before, she had made it through and she would again, she knew it.
Though after what BethAnn describes as the “pop in her head” she felt a bit different – her stride was off, her sight not quite right, but just like before, she finished the race and the next day, Monday, she went back to work.
Work was a high-profile government position. Having been born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, BethAnn decided she wanted to give back to her country, and headed south to Washington DC. She worked in different positions for Homeland Security, at the Capitol, the White House and then at the Government Funding Publishing Office for the President. These important government jobs meant you needed to be on your toes, but after that last race in October of 2004, it was more like BethAnn was resting on her heels… walking into furniture, forgetting important appointments for her boss, riding the wrong way on the Metro. Something wasn’t quite right.
Since falling in love with running a few years before, BethAnn had built up endurance, stamina, and was in great shape. So when she paid a visit to GW Hospital to see what might be up, the doctors told her it was nothing more than an inner ear issue affecting her balance and maybe some cognitive activity. But her longtime physician, Thomas Weida, at Hershey Medical Center in PA wasn’t so sure. The doctors converged and recommended an MRI. That’s when BethAnn got the call.
“The doctor at GW told me he got the results and needed me to come in”, BethAnn says. “But I told him there’s no way, I’m too busy, so he eventually gave me the diagnosis on the phone, he said, ‘you have a brain tumor’. I had never heard of anyone that I knew having anything like this. I asked him what I am supposed to do? He told me you have to get it out. I immediately went outside, sat down and cried. Then I went on AOL and started looking around, what does having a brain tumor mean? Everything I saw was death, death, death. The prognosis was terrible.”
Fortunately for BethAnn the wife of her current employer embraced modern medicine and cutting-edge science and so the two went on a nationwide search to find someone who could help. The large tumor was in the frontal lobe, wrapped around a major blood vessel in her brain, no one wanted to take the chance to remove it, nor thought they could, until Dr. Henry Brem at Johns Hopkins stepped up to say it was worth taking a shot, he would go in and remove as much of it as possible.Finally a spark of hope, and much like life, what seems impossible, someone, somewhere believes is possible. BethAnn had found that someone, but first she had to reveal the truth to those she loved the most, her family. “I hadn’t told my parents about any of this, I couldn’t”, says BethAnn. “I’m very close with to them. My mother is a recovering alcoholic of 40 years, and I thought if it told her her baby daughter might die of cancer it would take her over the edge. My father is my inspiration, he’s not a celebrity or war hero, he has struggled his whole life with jobs and with money, but he always fought on with whatever life presented him. I couldn’t tell him. I’m the youngest of three girls. My family already has my older sister who was born with macular degeneration and is legally blind. It was so hard for me to break their hearts.”
Just one week prior to surgery BethAnn sat her family down. “My father was the last person I said goodbye to before they took me into the operating room. I learned after I was in recovery he had a breakdown, got sick and had to be hospitalized – he kept saying to the doctor, ‘take me, take me, don’t do this to her.’ If I had to do it all over again I would have told my family the truth from day one.”Run to the truth and the truth will set you free – for BethAnn revealing her truth and having the courage to put her life in the hands of Dr. Brem, proved to be the right moves. The doctor was able to remove a large part of the tumor, and BethAnn survived the operation, though not without complications. She lost sight in her left eye, had trouble speaking and walking and the doctor had to remove her pituitary gland, which meant BethAnn could never give birth to a child. She says learning to walk and talk again she could handle, the news about never being able to bear a child was what led to a change in attitude. Suddenly there was a desire from BethAnn to turn away from positivity and run in the other direction, developing a mindset more focused on disillusion and anger.
“The first year after the surgery I was not a very nice person, I was angry, it was very much about why me?” says BethAnn.
But five months into recovery she decided to enter a 5-K event in her hometown of Harrisburg. Her family told her to just walk it, so she did, until she hit the halfway-mark – and suddenly saw her inspiration to do more – her father. “My father had gone ahead to the half-way point and I could hear him yelling to me, it took me back to my days during field hockey and softball with him encouraging me, and I started crying. I also picked up my feet and I started running, I could hear him shouting, ‘run, run, you got this.”
BethAnn started running again, albeit slowly, but in her mind she was still running sideways, upset about what had happened to her life – that is until Dr. Brem showed her a reason to face forward. “Doctor Brem took me to a ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital where they treat children with terminal cancer. He explained to me how my adult cancer research got 47% funding from the federal government, for the kids it was 4%. Meeting the parents of these children and knowing that they will never see their kids do all I had done – from teenage troubles, to their first kiss, to falling in love, or maybe even not make it to their next birthday – that was a turning point, my whole life changed. The experience gave me hope and I started advocating for cancer research, especially for children.”For the past decade now, that’s where BethAnn has devoted her life and her purpose. Even with a second brain surgery and a complete bladder augmentation, (rebuilding of her bladder), which kept her hospitalized for six months, she has continued to fight, to advocate and to run… toward a better future for all who suffer with cancer. She has now run 14 consecutive Marine Corps Marathons, six Boston Marathons and with her advocacy work has raised $865,000 for brain cancer research (to find a cure) and she’s pushing to get to $1 million before she lands in Antarctica.
That’s right, Antarctica. BethAnn is one of 15 athletes from around the globe who are taking part in the 2017 World Marathon Challenge. 7 Marathons. 7 Continents. 7 Days. It all begins on January 23rd.
Let that one sink in for a bit. You think you’ve handled challenges in your life, think you’ve pushed yourself to the limit? 7 marathons, 7 continents, 7 days. For BethAnn, it’s about running all out to find a cure for brain cancer and to fund the research to help kids with cancer as well. 100% of the money raised will go to ABC2, Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure, (http://www.abc2.org/), an organization created by Steve and Jean Case who started AOL. In 2002, Steve’s brother Dan, a world-renowned investment banker, died of brain cancer. BethAnn is only the 2nd American woman to take part in the World Marathon Challenge and the first to ever run the event as a cancer survivor.
It’s a fair question to ask is she up to the task, 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days, at age 47? BethAnn’s response is simple and true: “I’m up for it. I’m running 2-to-4 hours-a-day, doing a lot of strength training, sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber, doing yoga. My training is not easy, it’s all about endurance. But it’s in my heart. Since my heart is so heavy for all the kids I get attached to and then watch them go on to “the other part of life”. Unfortunately I see this happen and it shakes me up and gives me the power to fight on. In my heart are all the kids I meet, the Caroline’s, (a young friend of BethAnn’s who recently took a turn for the worse), the Morgan’s, the Landon’s, the list goes on and on and then all the adults with brain cancer. When something is in your heart you are going to do it. I just want to show people I am not giving up and that there is hope and inspiration for people to keep going on.”The shoe company, New Balance, one of BethAnn’s sponsors, has created 14 templates for running shoe designs for BethAnn which 14 children are personally designing and will have their name on it. BethAnn will change her shoes to a different design at the halfway point of every marathon run, so in essence along each leg of her race she will have a child running with her. You can help too, help BethAnn get to $1 million in funds raised: (https://pledgeit.org/selfeet). Anyone who donates a flat $45.00 or any child who can donate even 25-cents a mile gets shoelaces they can lace up and then take a picture, a selfeet and post on social media to promote more pledges and promote the event. #selfeet BethAnn says she is grateful for the opportunity to take on this challenge and she is grateful for more as well, something not everyone who lives this experience might share, but give your mind a chance to open for a moment. When asked this Thanksgiving to describe what she was grateful for… her answer was Cancer. “I don’t know what I would do without it”, she says. “It changed my world to be a better person. It’s the best thing to happen to me. I have met so many wonderful people, done so many wonderful things. I am leaving a legacy. I don’t think who I am today happens without it. Today I listen more and provide more comfort to others, it wasn’t like that before. I know it’s hard, and you have to grieve and fall to your knees before you can lift one leg up again.”
It all began that day in October 2004, resting on that light post. The rest is history, the new history BethAnn is creating day-by-day.
One leg at a time, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. Before you know it you are running again, this time directly into the storm of your discontent to weather that challenge and provide hope and improve the situation and this world for other people. For BethAnn the secret lies in the plaque which hangs above the doorway of her home in DC and in her family home in Harrisburg. It’s the words of the legendary Winston Churchill:
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP.
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
(Donate if you can to https://pledgeit.org/selfeet and send out your selfeet – #selfeet, across social media)
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