Marathon has roots in cancer fight

Sherry Mays -
Sherry Mays
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Sherry Mays will run a marathon next month because she knows there are more difficult things in life to do.

Fighting cancer is one of those more difficult things.

On Dec. 1, Mays, a Langley resident and former triathlete, will run her first 26.2-mile race ever to raise money to find a cure for cancer. A member of the fund-raising athletes group Team in Training, Mays has been running long distances and working toward raising $1,400 in pledges since July. The whole time, she has kept her aunt Florence in mind.

Now 35, Mays has to go back in her mind quite a ways to remember her aunt. She was 9 years old when Florence traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, in the middle of the summer to try an experimental cancer treatment. It was a last-ditch effort to stop a disease that could not be slowed by standard medicine.

The treatment didn't work, and Mays' aunt died shortly after that summer. What happened to her would haunt Mays' family. Growing up in Rutherford, N.J., Mays lived near the center of a cancer cluster, an area in which an unusual number of children and adults were being diagnosed with various forms of cancer. When Mays contracted mononucleosis as a teenager in 1982, the symptoms had her parents and even the family's doctor thinking that she had developed Hodgkin's Disease.

The day test results came back showing mono, not cancer, as the cause of Mays' illness, Mays was astounded to see her mother crying over the information. Neither Mays' doctor nor her parents had told her they suspected cancer. Between that and the trip to Tijuana, Mays had begun to understand what living with cancer was like for both the people with the disease and their families.

"I didn't get the gist of it until I lost my aunt," she said.

With just a few days remaining before her run, Mays is in shape to go the distance. Though she gave birth to her first child, Lily, in January, she has been running roads and trails in the Langley area with few interruptions. Occasionally one knee or another will conspire against her to make long runs difficult or impossible, but by Sunday, she will be ready to run.

The longest run she had ever done in a race prior to this year was 13.1 miles at the end of a half Ironman triathlon several years ago. Out of competition for some time, Mays trained largely by herself, except when she pushed Lily along on runs in a baby carrier or when she ran with her Dalmatian.

Up to 20 miles as her longest run, Mays said it is her cause and fund-raising goal -- along with support from husband Russell, friends and a coach provided through Team in Training -- that have kept her on track for Sunday's marathon. She is hoping to run the hilly Seattle course in less than four hours.

She will be one of two "psycho lunatics" with Team in Training running the race.

"I never would've thought of doing a 20-mile run," she said.

The money she is raising will do some good, she said. Citing statistics, Mays said the survival rate for children diagnosed with leukemia has risen to 73 percent. Patients with Hodgkin's Disease have a 76 percent survival rate. As a new mom, she said, she wants her daughter Lily and family to benefit from cancer research in the event a doctor brings them a diagnosis other than mononucleosis.

Recently, Mays has gotten news of two diaganoses she hoped not to hear. Her mother just underwent treatment for breast cancer and her mother-in-law faces treatment for her breast cancer in the near future. They, too, will be in her thoughts as she runs Sunday.

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