Woman going through chemotherapy completes Encinitas Half Marathon

Three minutes of running. One minute of walking. Repeat.

More than three hours later, there’s the finish line. Not Dana Sobotka’s usual pace. Tears stream down her cheeks.

“Are you OK?” an Encinitas Half Marathon race official asks.

Sobotka’s cheeks move upward, and she uses her hand to wipe away the tears and sweat.

“I’m more than OK,” she responds, still smiling. “I’m better than chemo.”

For the 41-year-old San Diego woman, running had been a regular part of her life since childhood. She often participated in races with friends, and they would usually schedule half marathons months ahead of time.

Last October, life threw Sobotka a curve ball when she discovered a lump in her breast while showering. In mid-November, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

How could this have happened? Sobotka was a runner. She was the person who ate organically and drank water from glass bottles. Cancer doesn’t discriminate, she learned.

“It was really hard when I got my diagnosis,” she said. “But I ran a half-marathon three days after I found my lump because that’s just how I dealt with it.”

Sobotka persisted.

After waking up from her double mastectomy surgery in January, the doctors told her the disease had spread to her lymph nodes, which meant chemotherapy.

“I’m putting poison in my body when I don’t even put anything with high-fructose corn syrup in my body,” Sobotka said, angered.

By the time she found out about the chemo, she was already signed up for the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in June, which would be right around her peak doses of the treatment. She was unsure she could still take part in the race.

Then, she found out about the inaugural Encinitas Half Marathon, which her friends were also participating in.

She signed up for the event, which was held March 26, two weeks after her first round of chemotherapy.

Knowing she couldn’t run in the same manner she used to, she set a timer with intervals.

Three minutes of running. One minute of walking. Repeat.

It wasn’t the usual pace she was used to, but Sobotka — dressed in pink gear adorned with breast cancer ribbons — was proud of herself for participating, even if it meant finishing toward the end of the race.

Her time clocked in at three hours and three minutes, nearly an hour past her personal record, which she earned just after her 40th birthday.

“Last year was about getting my personal record, and this time was about honoring my body,” Sobotka said.

It wasn’t that long before when Sobotka learned that staying active was still allowed and encouraged during her therapy and battle with cancer.

After participating in LIVESTRONG fitness classes — held twice a week for cancer patients and survivors at the YMCA — Sobotka was relieved to learn from her instructor, Jen Foley, that exercise was, in fact, supported and “evidence-based” for those battling the disease.

“There are so many benefits to exercising during cancer treatment and even through chemotherapy,” Sobotka said. “It is different than years ago where it was all about rest. And, for sure, there are days where you need rest but getting out there and doing some exercise actually helps to combat the fatigue.”

Most days — between taking care of her health and her two young daughters — Sobotka said she will try to go out for a walk.

Though she can’t run or exercise with the same ability she’s used to, Sobotka said she is still happy to be able to be active.

“To think about something that’s been a part of your identity and getting that taken away from you when there are so many other things you can’t control... that’s the one thing I can control,” she said. “I can control whether or not I can get myself out there. One foot in front of the other still gets you to the finish line.”

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