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Overcoming cancer to run the Aramco Half Marathon: an interview with Brandy Vargas

"Running a marathon starts with your mind, not your feet."
"Running a marathon starts with your mind, not your feet."
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.

This article is second in a series of two.

Houstonian, Brandy Vargas, ran her first half marathon on Sunday, only training for the EP5K. That feat alone is amazing, but she’s not new to challenges. Here’s her story:

Q. What obstacles have you overcome in order to get where you are today?

A. I am a two-time cancer survivor and ironically, I was initially diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma on 1/17/06 - 4 years to the day I ran the Armaco Half Marathon. It came back just 6 months out of remission, the first time around. The second time around, the tumor came back right in the middle of my chest where I had previously received radiation. The tumor caused my lung to collapse and I started high dose chemo, along with a clinical trial drug, to get back into remission a second time. I then underwent a stem cell transplant at MD Anderson in October 2007.

For 35 years of my life, I had never been a runner. Ever. But after going through cancer and being so close to death and surviving, I realized there was nothing I couldn't get through. After getting back into remission, my doctors wanted to start me on Lipitor to counteract the effects the chemo had on my liver. I said no. No more meds, if I could help it.

To date, I've lost 50 pounds, my liver and cholesterol levels are all normal and I started running to kick up my weight loss. I still need to lose another 50 pounds, but what has kept me running is that it has become therapeutic for me. I love pushing my body to its limits now and it's empowering, not to mention a great stress reliever.

Q. After realizing you were on the wrong route, what mile marker was the hardest to pass?

A. I think around 6 or 7.  That's when I realized there was no going back and I didn't know if I was capable of going forward. I didn't know where I was at, I didn't know where we were going and the downtown skyline looked so far away; which only confirmed that I was a long way from finishing. I signed up for a 5K, at this point I had completed two of them and I didn't know if mentally I could finish the race (13.1 miles).

Q. What kept you motivated?

A. There were so many things that kept me motivated. The crowds were helpful; the cute signs people made, and the clapping. Most of all, the other runners out there kept me motivated. There were so many people touched by cancer, running in honor of other people, and survivors running themselves. I remember wondering if I could really do this mid-way through and I read the back of a shirt that said, “Running a marathon doesn't start with your feet, it starts with your mind”. That's when I decided I could and would finish it.

Q. How did you feel when you crossed the finish line?

A. Overwhelmed with joy, exhaustion and emotion! I cried, just like I cried when I read the 1.5mile marker banner on Allen Parkway!

Q. How did you recover?

A. Right after the race I went into the runner's area in the George R. Brown Convention Center to get some food. I hadn't eaten anything prior to the race, because I thought I would grab it after my 5K. So I happily downed some cookies and ice cream! Once I got home, I rubbed Ben-gay on my knees, took 3 Tylenol and lay on my sofa for most of the afternoon. I did "hire" three of my four kids to rub me down. I had two rubbing my feet and one rubbing my calves! That was the best $5 spent!

Q. How long did you wear your medal?

A. All afternoon and night!

Q. What are your future plans? 

A. Well, I am signed up for a 10K in March, at the time thinking it would be the next logical step after my 5K. So that should be a breeze now! I am counting down the days to sign up for the half marathon again. I want a bib with my name on it and a finisher's t-shirt this time!

“You are capable of doing anything you set your mind to. Don't let fear inhibit living life to the fullest!” – Brandy Vargas

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