Today, I want you to meet Mary. Mary found me via social media and decided to send in her story for me to share on the blog. One of the first things she said to me was that this wasn’t your typical breast cancer story. I was intrigued to say the least, but as I read her story, my heart broke. But then, hope. Mary’s is a story of struggle and hurt and determination and hope. I hope you’ll take some time today to read, be challenged and encouraged to get out there, chase your goals and to stand back up when you get knocked down by life. Because Mary has done just that.
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.
If you want to help here is the link to my fundraising page: https://www.crowdrise.com/2015afspchicago/fundraiser/connolly4acause.
But more importantly, learn everything you can about preventing suicide and advocate for better mental health. Thank you!
Update from Mary: Two days ago, I registered for the 2016 NJ Marathon. With some more of the emotional baggage behind me, I want to give the BQ one more shot.
I’m so moved by Mary’s courage. Courage to take her tragedy and use it for good. Courage to chase down her goals and dreams in spite of what she’s been through in her life. And the courage to share her story. Thank you Mary!!
You can also read and share her story directly on LinkedIn by clicking here