Published: July 8, 2008
Updated: June 3, 2013
Q and A with Sarah Greene, a breast cancer survivor at Duke Cancer Center:
Q: I know you will be in the Komen Triangle Race for the Cure and you’d like to complete half or full marathons in all 50 states. What makes you run?
A: I like the camaraderie of it all. As much as I don’t like running, I like setting a goal and getting to it. When you do finish it, you feel really good about it.
Q: So the plan is still to finish races in all 50 states.
A: Yes, that’s my plan, to do that with my friends. We’ve done 7 or 8 so far. I haven’t run a full marathon, yet, but my Dad and I talked about having cancer, and how that is a marathon, too. So my marathon now is: warm-ups with testing and diagnostics, then being in the race through the chemo treatments and surgery, with people cheering you on. And then you get to the finish line, when you’ve gotten to the finish line of your treatment plan. I have finished the chemo portion, but there is a long way to go. There are many steps of treatment plan. You do have to look at it as a marathon, because at times it can be draining.
Q: What are your plans for the summer?
A: Hopefully in August I will be able to be go to Dublin, Ireland, to run a half-marathon. If I can’t run, I plan to walk. That’s what happened in Washington, D.C.: I ran as much as I could, and walked the rest. That was a fun race because I wore a shirt that said I had finished my last chemo treatment, and so many people came up to talk to me. As we lined up, a guy running behind me said, “And all I have done is eat a pizza – you make me feel lazy.” I met a lot of survivors, too, who said I am 5, 8, or 10 years free of cancer. That was so helpful.
Q: What goes through your mind when you run?
A: The thing about running longer races is that you have time to ask yourself, what did I do, why am I doing this? You may have these doubts after you are five miles into the race. But out there, you see 80-year olds, younger kids, and children and older people being pushed in wheelchairs by parents or spouses. Or people racing alone in their wheelchairs. And you feel then, if they have overcome whatever it is they needed to overcome to be in that race, then I can finish this race, too. I know I have cancer in the bag and overall I am not worried about it. I know now that I can get over chemo, so I know I can get over the hard stretches of a race. I honestly feel that I can do whatever I want.
Q: That is such a positive outlook.
A: Sometimes I am terrified, but what are you going to do about it? It’s here. My nurse practitioner said, “You are dealt the cancer card you are dealt.” In anything, you are dealt what you are dealt and you need to figure out a way to deal with it that is best for you. You have to find the thing that will get you through it.
Q: What gets you through difficult times?
A: My friends. Knowing some other young women who have also had the chemo side effects. And knowing people who have been all the way through it. I have a colleague who is about to hit the five-year survival mark. She understands that chemo sucks. So she brought me a survival pack: straws, different types of mouthwash, plastic spoons because everything tasted like metal, anti-nausea drops, and a book, Finding the Can in Cancer. Gifts and gift baskets all have lifted me and brightened my days. I certainly feel loved now! The support of people coming out of the woodwork has been amazing. For example, my national sorority office donated money to Komen, and the members send me encouraging letters. It overwhelms me.
Q: Do you have any pet peeves about how people react to your condition?
A: Cancer is scary and people who don’t have cancer sometimes don’t know how to react. I didn’t know how to react with others before I had this cancer. I had no idea. And what I have learned is that in my circle, I am not the only one going through this. My family and friends and colleagues are going through this, too. I try always to have patience and to be sensitive to that.
Q: What has been hardest for you?
A: For me, it’s being faced immediately with decisions that most people don’t have to make until later in life. And in terms of day to day living, it’s frustrating to have to take two steps back. In my last round of chemo, I have had to stop running. I’ve been relying more on friends and family to keep me upbeat: with Facetime, group messaging, iChat. There are crappy days, no doubt about it. Nothing beats getting a card in the mail. A card makes a big difference when you get your mail and see something personal.
Q: Tell us about the cute puppy in the picture with you.
A: The night I found out and told my parents and a friend, he stayed by my side. That was very unusual. But I was on the bed, talking with people, and he stayed by my side curled up next to me, and he’s a very independent dog. He got me through that first night.