Running is 'healing place' for breast cancer survivor
Posted October 27, 2014 4:49 p.m. EDT
Updated October 27, 2014 6:01 p.m. EDT
It’s what Gene Lee Wright does.
It started out of desperation, as a way to battle cancer. Now, it has become her passion. For the last six years, without fail, she runs.
“Running gives me a sense of power,” Wright said. “I’m in control. I get out there, it’s my legs, it’s my heart, and I’m in control. Once your feet start hitting the pavement, all the stress and all the worries go away.”
It took time for Wright to gain control. Her battle with breast cancer began in 2008. She was in her bathroom when she first noticed something was wrong.
“I lifted my arm, and it was literally a touch from God: ‘Right there, Gena. Right there.’ I called my OBGYN, but she said that I had no history of breast cancer and that it was probably nothing,” Wright said.
Next, she visited a radiologist and heard the same thing – probably nothing. However, Wright was persistent and took action to have the small lump removed. The surgeon who performed the procedure thought the lump was just a fluid-filled cyst or fatty tissue. Three days later, Wright got the call. It was breast cancer.
Her struggle was difficult. Wright began chemotherapy on her 40th birthday. Then, after the surgeries, the chemo, the bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, her body had an adverse reaction to her medications. She developed hives and suffered from depression.
“I was very sad,” Wright said. “Very sad.”
During her struggles, she connected with a co-worker who had battled the same type of estrogen-positive breast cancer. Laura Brannock was that co-worker, and she, too, suffered from depression.
“The medications made Gena feel depressed,” Brannock said. “I had been in her shoes. I tried several different medications that didn’t’ work. I told her to get out and run. That worked for me, and I thought it would help her, too.”
Wright took the words of encouragement to heart.
“I went home that day, laced up, and I’ve been running ever since,” Wright said. “And running has been my healing place. I was able to stop taking all the medications that I needed. It has been a total replacement. Running takes me to a place where I’m comforted, a place where I can relax.”
Wright started jogging on a treadmill, then quickly moved outside and began road running. Three months later, she joined a running group called Black Girls Run.
“In our group, we have at least eight women who are survivors,” Wright said. “Several in our group are going through chemo and cancer treatments now. And those are the real heroes.”
Black Girls Run became Wright’s motivation to start racing. First came 5Ks, then 10Ks, and eventually half-marathons. This year she has run five half-marathons. Next year, she plans to run a full marathon and complete a triathalon.
Although she has run many races during the last six years, Wright's first race was her most memorable.
“After my diagnosis, I ran my first race with Komen,” she said. “It’s hard to describe the feeling that I got when I first stepped on the bus with all those survivors. It was amazing to see so many women go through the same thing that I had gone through, some still actively in treatment, everybody bonding together. I was completely overwhelmed just to be part of such a group.”
Through her battle with cancer, her running and her incredible attitude, Wright has become an inspiration to many. She currently serves as a Komen Face for the Cure and speaks at breast cancer awareness events.
“Komen has inspired me to promote breast cancer awareness. They emphasize camaraderie, and they have created this amazing support system for those diagnosed, as well as their families. I feel that it is my obligation to help someone else by sharing my story, the bad and the good, to encourage healthy living and positive well-being,” she said.
One message that Wright always delivers is the need to patrol your own health. She highly encourages everybody to be proactive and use a simple, three-step approach: self-exams, regular doctor’s visits and yearly mammograms.
“When I speak to people on behalf of Komen, I want to arm them with information that could save their life,” Wright said. “My message is survival. If I can survive, you can survive.”