The Run Down - The RunVermont Blog

Why I Run: Kelly Sullivan

by jen on December 11, 2012 · 6 comments

in Why I Run

Meet the amazing 34 year old Kelly Sullivan from Schenectady, NY …..

Vermont City holds a very big part in my recovery and I am so happy to know what I will be able to accomplish with the help of the marathon and all those who help out on that day!  Here is my story…

After being an asthmatic all of my life, I started running long distances in 2001 in order to lose the 20 lbs I gained in college, gain control over my asthma, and deal with the pain associated with ankylosing spondylitis – a form of arthritis that causes joint pain and a fusion of the spinal column – which I was diagnosed with in 2001.  I became a triathlete in 2004 after watching the Lake Placid Ironman for a few years and being enamored with the community of triathlons.  I completed my first marathon in 2007, two months before the happiest day of my life, my wedding day.  Since then I have completed 5 marathons, countless half marathons, and multiple other road races.  In 2009, I completed my first Ironman Lake Placid which was the second best day of my life.  I completed my second Ironman Lake Placid in 2008.  I love Ironman and marathons.  I get such satisfaction out of doing these races.  I had a choice when I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, I could be put on medication, sit on the couch and feel sorry for myself OR I could get up and DO something to make myself feel better.  I chose to get up and do something. 

This brings me to February 1, 2012.  I had just come off of a year of running a lot of personal best races.  I was training for my third Ironman Lake Placid.  I went to my annual exam and was told that I had a lump in my breast.  I had a mammogram on February 8 which lead to an ultrasound, which resulted in me having a biopsy of two tumors.  On February 13, I received the call that has changed my life.  I had breast cancer.  On February 15 and 16th, I endured multiple doctors appointments where we decided the best course of action for me was to have a bilateral mastectomy 6 rounds of chemotherapy and 52 weeks of a targeted therapy that combats the type of cancer I have.  On March 15th, I underwent surgery without reconstruction.  I made the choice not to have reconstruction because I am a runner and I was excited to know that I would never have to run with a sports bra in my life, I didn’t want to have multiple surgeries to take me away from my running career – who wants to take 6 weeks off from running at least twice, and I had heard that if you lose 1 lb you can increase your pace per mile by 20 secs!!!  I was not willing to give up my running and triathlon career with this diagnosis.  I ran 4 miles and biked 40 min on my bike trainer the day before I had surgery – I was in great shape going into surgery.

Lila's Graduation

I had complications from surgery so my chemotherapy and run start dates were pushed off due to these complications.  I was allowed to ride my bike trainer inside about 9 weeks after surgery.  I started 6 rounds of chemotherapy on May 15th.  Shortly after starting chemo I was allowed to run again!  Running was my stress relief.  Biking was amazing when I needed to get away from cancer.  I found wonderful trails which helped me deal with the stress on my joints from the road.  I was happier when I was running.  I had the expectation that I would fly through chemo and I would be able to run a half marathon while going through chemo.  I realized very quickly that this was not my course through chemo.  I was having allergic reactions to the anti-nausea drugs so I did not have these drugs to curb the nausea.  My husband cared for me the entire time.  If I could get myself out of the door, I would feel better for at least a little while.  I was sick but I again had the option of sitting on the couch and feeling sorry for myself or get up and do something to make myself feel better. I chose to get up and do something.  Because I was slow on the bike, I would ride with my 11 year old niece Lila – she would sing to me on the bike!  There was a point where my platelet count and my red blood cell count (the cells that carry oxygen) went WAY down.  I was convinced to stop running and limit my biking.  This was a difficult time in my treatment but I put a date after my last chemo treatment that I could start running and I had a goal.  I had ultimately gained 20 lbs from the steroids used to decrease reactions to the chemotherapy and eating to keep my nausea at bay. 

Chemo ended August 28 but weekly Herceptin infusions continued. Herceptin has very few side effects and I was able to return to a semi-normal existence again.   I started running again September 10!  It was 1 mile but it was beautiful.  Two days later, I tried to run again and felt horrible.  But I kept trying to do short distances every other day.  I was finally making progress.  My hair started growing back.  I was back to work.  I did my first 5K September 23rd.  I had this feeling that I could progress to a 10K by mid-October so I signed up for two 10K’s one on October 20 and the other on Thanksgiving day.  I did the 10K and thought, “Well, maybe I can do a 15k on Nov 11!”  I went out the next weekend and was able to run an 8 miler with friends!  So, I went home and signed up for the 15K.  I just felt better.  I was still up 15 lbs but I was getting stronger.  I was so excited to have my fall racing season back – even if it was slower than it was last year.  I recognize that I was making progress that most people take years to accomplish but I was in such great shape before chemo that my body was used to this stress and welcomed it.  I started thinking that I could do a marathon in the spring!  My husband started looking for late spring races and KeyBank Vermont City Marathon came up.  It was always a race I wanted to do and it is at the perfect time.  So, on November 1st I signed up.

I am getting stronger every day.  I love running more everyday.  I know there is nothing I can’t do.  I am training for a half marathon now while going through cancer treatments!!!  I end cancer treatments on May 6, 2013, and will have 20 days of no cancer treatments in a row before doing the marathon!  I am really excited.  I have lofty goals for the next two years: Jan 1st half marathon, May 26th – Vermont City Marathon, August 25th – half iron distance race (70.3), and July 2014 – IRONMAN (140.6)!!!!  Vermont City will be the race that really allows me to know that cancer can’t take anything from me!  Vermont City is the race that shows my return to my endurance athletic career.  I am only starting to know who I will become through this but knowing that the marathon is on my race schedule makes me extremely happy!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shawn December 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Wow! Yours is an amazing story, an inspiration, a stark reminder of the power of the human spirit and the value of keeping the body moving. I am a better person having read it, and I thank you for sharing it.

2 Amy December 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Great story! I laughed about no sports bra! Ha!

3 lisa fine December 11, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Wow, incredible story. It’s amazing how some people stay still and wait and hope, while others, like you, fight.

Good luck with your upcoming races!

4 Jessica December 11, 2012 at 9:05 pm

You are incredibly strong both physically and mentally. I am truly blessed to know you.

5 Cheryl December 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

Kelly, I am so in awe of your spirit and determination. Every time I see you at events, you are always smiling. Nothing, not even cancer gets you down. You are an inspiration, and I am privileged to know you. God Bless.

6 Joanne December 12, 2012 at 4:38 pm

I’m proud to be part of your family, Kelly! You inspire me. Love.

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