4 things I learned from having cancer

4 things I learned from having cancer

Last night I had the honor of being the speaker at our High School’s Relay for Life Kick Off event. Our high school and many organizations in town have been participating in Relay for Life since 2009 and have raise over $1.5 million for the American Cancer Society.

This is what I shared… Read more

What is The Cause?

What is The Cause?

We often talk about the connection between mind and body – visualizing positive outcomes, training our minds, the importance of building “mental fortitude” – during our physical training. While it’s important to consider the connection between mind and body (being as well as doing) as we look to achieve our goals, another important consideration is the soul (or feeling).

And that’s where the “cause” comes in. A cause by definition is something that gives rise to action. A cause can be positive, negative, personal or philanthropic, but it’s ultimately what motivates us. Read more

10 Fundraising Tips for Marathoners

10 Fundraising Tips for Marathoners

I received a message recently that the went something like this: “The Cancer Society came up on my FaceBook feed looking for people to run the London Marathon and raise money for them. Do you think I should do it?” It was followed by a passionate case of why this was a great cause, how it personally touched her family, and so on. And then, the admission: “fundraising is completely out of my comfort zone.” My immediate response was “yes! do it!”

There are two reasons I encourage marathoners to run for charity. Number one is that the charity benefits from the funds raised, and also because you share their message with your family and friends. Personal testimonials of your involvement with them are powerful marketing tools. The second reason is that you benefit. While running for a charity makes you feel damn good, it also comes with perks. Read more

My Story: Part 2

My Story: Part 2

This is the story I published on LinkedIn last year, as it was shared by Kelly Anderson in her blog Red Head on the Run, on November 16, 2015:

Not Your Typical Breast Cancer Story

I was planning to run the 2014 NJ Marathon. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 weeks into the 16 week training program, so I did what any newly diagnosed woman would do, I took to the Internet to research my disease. I found a lot of stuff that scared the crap out of me, so I registered for the Chicago Marathon instead. Figured I needed a plan B.

I did get to run NJ on April 27 (missed a BQ by 2 min and 50 seconds) and had my surgery 10 days later. I had a lumpectomy. All came back good. I took 5 weeks off from running and scheduled 4 weeks of radiation over the summer. I decided to defer Chicago rather than try to train through all of that. I finally ran Chicago this year! I missed a BQ again, but raised almost $6000 for charity. Here is my complete story which explains why I didn’t raise money for breast cancer…….

I am sharing my story with you as a way of creating awareness for something not talked about enough. I hope it can save a life.

I’m a runner. I often run to reduce stress and keep my sanity. I ran a lot in 2014. This year, the Chicago Marathon completed my fifth full marathon. Like the other four, I had decided to use my participation in this event to raise money for charity. In the past, I have raised a significant amount of money for a variety of charities that meant something to me; maybe because I worked for the organization and had a really good understanding of their work, or maybe because a friend or family member was personally touched by the cause. This time, the cause is more personal.

In the Spring of 2014 I became a breast cancer survivor, but I’m not raising money for breast cancer. A lot of people raise money for breast cancer. I am thankful for that. Because of the funds raised for breast cancer I received an early diagnosis. I had access to great medical care and treatment.

My cancer was diagnosed at a time when I was experiencing a level of stress that can only be described as toxic. In recent years I had lost both of my parents and a close Aunt and Uncle. I had managed the care and personal affairs of both my mother and aunt – both diagnosed with alzheimer’s – in their final years of life. I worked stressful jobs with horrendous commutes because they provided the resources I needed to support my family. My husband had been laid off from a job in late 2003 and never went back to work. I was doing everything I could to keep it together for my family.

I believe, based on what I read, that stress played a large role in my cancer. After my surgery I began counseling, something I would never have considered in the past; but I didn’t think I would be much good to my family if I didn’t get help. I had to pay out-of-pocket. It wasn’t covered by insurance, but I didn’t care. I would make sacrifices in other areas. When I was the CEO of Gilda’s Club Northern New Jersey (a cancer support organization), I learned how important social and emotional support is when living with cancer. I also learned that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t just happen to the individual but it affects the whole family. I urged my husband to seek support as well.

I completed my last radiation treatment on August 19, 2014 and I’m now happy to report I’m cancer free (and keeping my fingers crossed that I remain so). After going through a cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatment, I never imagined that anything else could change my life the way that experience did; but I was wrong.

October 6, 2014 began like any other day. I dropped my daughter off at school (she had just started her freshman year in high school), my husband and I dealt with some house issues and financial concens in the morning and then I was off to Starbucks to do some work on my laptop and meet a business colleague. When I returned home a little after 5:00 that evening, I found a note taped to the garage door. It read: “I am in the garage. Probably dead. Don’t let (our daughter) see me. Love, Chris.” My husband of 21 years and 4 months, my daughter’s father, had committed suicide.

It was only then that I realized that he too had a disease. Mental illness is a disease; but, like in his case, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated until it’s too late. There were times over the years that I knew something was wrong. In the months leading up to his death I urged him to seek help, but he didn’t want to go to a therapist because, unlike my breast cancer treatments, it wasn’t covered by insurance. He felt we didn’t have any more money to spend on something like that and I really had no idea how bad he was.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States; more people die of suicide than in car accidents. In 2010, the total number of suicide deaths in the United States was 38,364. Historically, suicide rates rise during times of financial stress and economic setbacks. In 2009 it was the 7th leading cause of death for males, and the 16th leading cause of death for females. Suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans, aged 35 to 64 increased nearly 30 percent. The largest increases were among men in their 50s, and women 60 to 64, at rates of 50 and 60 percent, respectively. Older adults are disproportionately likely to die by suicide.

So much needs to be done to advocate for better care and treatment of mental illness, to educate the public about the warning signs of suicide, and to provide support to families in crisis. I think it can be argued that mental health issues are at the root of so many of society’s problems; contributing to other diseases like cancer and heart disease to being the issue behind substance abuse, and gun violence.

Breast cancer was a lot less treatable – and survivable – when people decided to raise money to change that. It’s time to put that kind of power behind mental health. We can make a difference. Running the Chicago Marathon this year was an effort to raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It is their goal to reduce the annual suicide rate in the United States 20% by 2025. They fund suicide prevention research, provide education to create a culture that is smart about mental health and they provide evidence-based programs for schools, colleges and hospitals. They advocate for policies that will improve mental health services and reduce suicide. And they provide support to those who struggle with thoughts of suicide and they also help loss survivors heal.

I am running the NJ Marathon on Sunday.  With some more of the emotional baggage behind me, I want to give the BQ one more shot. I am also still raising money for AFSP and hoping to reach that goal too. The link to my fundraising page: http://afsp.donordrive.com/campaign/Connolly.

Most importantly, learn everything you can about preventing suicide and advocate for better mental health. Thank you!

356534_208268929_XLarge2015 Chicago Marathon Finisher

Cause-Running Review: Run for Our Sons

Cause-Running Review: Run for Our Sons

I have run marathons and half marathons for nine non-profit organizations collectively raising over $85,000. One of those organizations was Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD). While working with them a few years ago, I became familiar with and joined their Run for Our Sons program that raises money to support their mission to end Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is the most common fatal genetic disorder diagnosed in childhood, affecting approximately 1 in every 3,500 live male births (about 20,000 new cases each year worldwide). Because the Duchenne gene is found on the X-chromosome, it primarily affects boys; however, it occurs across all races and cultures.

I sat down recently with Nicole Herring, PPMD’s Endurance Program Manager, to catch up with Run for Our Sons. It’s now in it’s 12th year! Like other “cause-running” programs, it began when a couple of parents with affected children, who happened to be runners, organized a group to run the Disney World Marathon. 86 people ran and raised over $186,000. The program has since grown to about 600 participants,15 events, and raises just shy of $1 million annually. This covers about 15% of the organization’s annual operating budget.

Run for Our Sons participants receive guaranteed entry, paid entry fee, technical team shirt, a fundraising web page, fundraising support and access to staff. There are also monthly training tips offered through a parent blog and a team pasta dinner the night before the event for the participant and a guest.

Nicole said that 95% of their runners have a connection to Duchenne – family members and friends. “Diagnosis brings ‘hopelessness’ and this is a way to do something – sign up and run – it becomes a way to feel good and do something positive,” explained Nicole. There is a very moving video on their web site where participants offer reasons for “Why I run.” 

Houston Marathon Weekend (5k, Half, Marathon), January 2013

Run for Our Sons is currently recruiting for The Shamrock Shuffle 5K in Rockford, IL (Mar. 20), The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K in Chicago (Apr. 3), and the Inaugural Walt Disney World Star Wars Races (5K, 10K, Half; April 15-17). Registration for the Star Wars races is now only available through travel providers and charity partners like PPMD. Fundraising commitments vary by races. For more details, please visit the Run for Our Sons web site.

In addition to half marathons and marathons, PPMD encourages supporters all over the country to host their own fun runs, 5Ks and 10Ks to raise money for Run for Ours Sons and in doing so, awareness for PPMD. Their website, RunForOurSons.org, makes it easy for not only runners, but non-runners (which they call “spirit” runners), to get involved at whatever level they feel comfortable.

The take-away for non-profits is that this is a great way to raise funds and awareness for your organization. Programs like Run for Our Sons have relatively low overhead. That being said, they do take an investment and require staff time. While Nicole coordinates all the details for each race, a number of additional staff and volunteers provide support leading up to each event and help organize the groups on race day.

Run for Our Sons is a real grass-roots effort with a lot of heart. The families I met in the short time I was involved touched my soul. This is a small organization achieving a magnitude of success toward finding a cure for Duchenne. To my running friends: if you are looking for a way into the Disney Star Wars Races, please consider fundraising for Run for Our Sons. The Half Marathon requires only a $1200 fundraising commitment and you will find yourself part of a very special team.