Surviving a bout with cancer is usually enough for most people and they are thankful just to be able to go on living. Kate Smith, however, is not your typical cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease on April 2, 1995 when she was 19 years and 5 days old. It took 12 chemotherapy treatments and 17 radiation treatments to successfully fight her cancer, and this year Smith is celebrating ten cancer-free years. To honor this very significant milestone in her life she spent the last year in training and ran the Big Lake "half marathon" on May 7th as a member of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training. She did this to prove to herself that she has beaten her cancer, to honor people who are battling blood cancers and to raise funds for the Society.
Smith is a familiar sight as she jogs along the roads near her Kimball Corner Road home in Sebago training for the "Big Lake". She is a Physical Therapist at Cedars Nursing Care Center in Portland and, for one day a week, at the Bridgton Hospital. I met Smith after work at the Cedars one day, as she and a fellow Team in Training colleague were about to start on their evening jog in Portland.
"Just what is a 'half marathon" anyway?" I asked, feeling very dumb.
"Well, a marathon is 26.2 miles long, so a 'half marathon' is 13.1 miles," she said. "The Big Lake half marathon is at Alton Bay, New Hampshire on Lake Winnipesauke. I've been in training all spring, and I extend the length of my run a little bit each time." Smith said that she ran 10 miles in 1 hour and 46 minutes on March 19th, and is now pushing 13 miles in her runs.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Ten years ago a man named Mike Jordan completed a Team in Training event for me when I was fighting my cancer, and now it is my turn to help the next generation with their personal fight with blood cancers. All of us on the Team in Training are raising funds to help stop leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma from taking more lives. The people battling these cancers need a cure, and this is my small way to help."
Smith directed me to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's website for more information (http://www.Leukemia-Lymphoma.org). The Society claims to be the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services. Their Team in Training program is the world's largest endurance sports training program and provides training to run or walk either a whole- or half-marathon. The program also helps participants who want to compete in a triathlon or century (100-mile bike ride). Since 1988, over 220,000 Team participants have helped raise over $500 million to fight blood cancer. The Society states that they spend more than 77% of funds raised directly on research, patient services, and education.
I learned that lymphoma is the general term for a group of cancers that attack the lymphatic system, and include Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma was named for Thomas Hodgkin, an English physician who first described several cases of the disease in 1832. Each year nearly 65,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lymphoma, including nearly 8,000 new cases of Hodgkin lymphoma. The cause of Hodgkin lymphoma is unknown, but is apparently acquired and not inherited. The number of new cases of all lymphoma has nearly doubled in 35 years. There is only speculation as to the cause for this increase. Another blood cancer that the Society is helping fight is leukemia. This is a malignancy of the blood forming immune systems (i.e. - bone marrow, lymph nodes and spleen), and is the number one killing disease of children. Smith told me that 25 years ago only about 5% of children with leukemia survived, but due to research and improved medical treatment the survival rate is currently better than 70%.
As I was talking with Smith, her running partner Ellen Hurd arrived. Hurd ran in the Big Lake half marathon two years ago, and is training this year for the San Diego marathon. Both are enthusiastic supporters of the Team in Training concept, and are serious competitors. Several afternoons a week after work they meet to run on the trails around the Portland waterfront and Back Bay.
Smith showed me the purple plastic bracelet that she wears. "It is inscribed 'TEAM', which stands for Train, Endure, Achieve, and Matter. That is our motto and we believe strongly in it," she said. With that the two of them went through their stretching routine and headed off down the trail for their run. With their dedication and conditioning, they should do well at their respective marathons.
Ten years ago when Smith was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma the prognosis wasn't very rosy. Considering her personal odds of survival at the time, she is a very lucky person. Now she wants to give encouragement to others who are battling with the disease. By helping raise funds for further research she hopes that a cure will be found and the disease can be eradicated.
Saturday, May 7 was cold with a hard rain, but there were still 1,200 runners competing in the Big Lake half marathon, including 58 from the Maine-Massachusetts Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Smith was successful in finishing the race with a personal time of 2 hours, 32 minutes and 4 seconds. More than $150,000 was raised, and of this Smith raised a good part of her personal goal of $5,000.
She reminded readers that they can go to her website and still make a donation even though the race is run. Donations can also be mailed to: Katie Smith, 50 Kimball Corner Road, Sebago, ME 04029.
Last updated June 21, 2005
Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree
This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on May 12, 2005 under the title "Cancer survivor runs to help others".