You’re likely familiar with JulieAnn as a volunteer at LRC events: Dog Days of Summer 3K, Run of the Dead Elimination Run, Chicago Marathon Mile 23 Party Station. But that’s not to say she doesn’t run. In fact, she just finished her goal of competing in a race every weekend in June and she is participating in the LRC track workouts, making the drive from Glenview. Her willingness to help others is coupled with determination and spirit, and is the silver lining of losing someone to cancer and then facing her own struggle with cancer. Twice.
Long before her own cancer ever reared its ugly head, JulieAnn lost her best friend and boyfriend to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in 1997. Sad and grief stricken, she followed her roommate’s encouragement to run. Having never been very athletic – she managed to elude gym class all throughout high school – 2 physically excruciating miles somehow left her feeling better emotionally. She would soon be inspired by others to become an endurance athlete, riding a century race and running her first marathon in 2003. It was the positivity she derived from running that would get her through the even tougher times which she had no idea were ahead.
JulieAnn was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2010, and running became her way to train herself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. “Doing it anyway, despite the diagnosis” became one of her mantras. She believed in thriving after that diagnosis, and she has. As a survivor, she is determined to be a beacon for other young cancer patients and survivors. One such recent example is her involvement with True North Treks, having just returned from a week in the remote wildness in Idaho on a retreat for young adults diagnosed with cancer. Positivity and giving back to others has been her way out.
So, she survived cancer! But then work began to consume her and she was neglecting her runs. Feeling out of shape and that running was no longer fun, she ordered a red tutu for the 3M Half Marathon in Austin, TX. She had been having complications with her jaw and was awaiting biopsy results. She needed to find some joy in life again and the cheers for her outfit from the spectators helped to lift her spirits a bit. The jaw pain proved to be a second cancer diagnosis in 2015, this time for Osteosarcoma of the left mandible (bone cancer in her jaw). It was at this point that she took to calling herself a unicorn because of the rarity of getting two different cancers within four years.
To be fast really isn’t the point of why so many of us run. There are any number of reasons that we’re drawn to running, the same as we’re each drawn to so many other things. Running allows JulieAnn to feel stronger physically, but also mentally and emotionally. She began running with TEAM in Training (TNT) – an endurance training program that fundraises for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, four years after losing her boyfriend and has been involved with them ever since. JulieAnn also runs with Fellow Flowers, which is a group that has allowed her to celebrate her moments of transformation with a tribe of women who understand her. You may have seen her and others wearing flowers in their hair; each flower has a unique meaning, and for JulieAnn, sporting that flower is her way of showing her committment to doing the work.
Her relationship with TNT connected her to her coach Andy Pekarske and later to her teammate Michele Kwok, both of who you surely know from their participation in, and photography of, all things LRC. The two of them have been with JulieAnn since her first diagnosis and she credits them for saving her life. As many of you can attest, it’s the friendships you acquire through running groups that will be cherished long after the miles have been accumulated.
Right around that second diagnosis, Andy described to JulieAnn a run club that celebrated after runs with a maple bacon donut. The sparkle in Andy’s eyes when he described this donut club intrigued her. After finishing with her chemo treatments she joined her TNT friends at the LRC dance party / cheer station set up at mile 23 of the 2015 Chicago Marathon. She was impressed that long after the bulk of the runners came through, LRC and her TNT friends were still encouraging and celebrating every last runner and walker. The spirit of the LRC is something she wanted to be a part of. The energy and enthusiasm is contagious.
I can’t put into words what JulieAnn has endured and describes in her own words so eloquently and at times quite humorously. Rather than paraphrase her writings, I will include THIS LINK and THIS LINK describing the journey. Let her story inspire you to run with a purpose – to shed whatever trivial or seemingly insurmountable weight you carry. JulieAnn found strength in doing just that… One foot in front of the other. Now she’s looking forward to running the Portland Half Marathon in October with a goal of 2:15, and then the 17-mile option of our Run of the Dead Elimination Run later that month. That will be the longest run for her since her initial cancer diagnosis in 2010.
JulieAnn still has some reconstruction work to do on her jaw but she is now cancer free. She will have checkups every 3 months for the next few years and notes that she has received so much radiation throughout her bouts with cancer that she likely glows in the dark. She continues to mold and inspire young minds as a science research and chemistry high school teacher. She’s completing her Master’s Degree in Science Communication with a focus on medicine. She hopes to become a science communicator – an intermediary for patients and doctors.
Cheers to JulieAnn to being cancer free. Here’s to a lifetime of it!