Tag Archives: breast cancer

run in peace bridget

Below is an article I wrote for the Marathon Maniacs newsletter.  It’s a tribute to my friend Bridget Waldron Steele, taken from us on 3 October by breast cancer.  Some quick notes on Marathon Maniac lingo used here :

  • the asylum is the list of all people who have qualified for and joined the Marathon Maniacs club.
  • the main maniacs are the three founding members of the club – Steven “Prez” Yee, Chris “Hollywood” Warren, and tony “tp” phillippi.

bridget - myrtle beach

Early in 2012, the Marathon Maniacs awarded MM #5000 to Bridget Waldron Steele. Her path to the asylum was incredibly challenging. By all accounts Bridget was an amazing woman.

When the Main Maniacs announced Bridget’s “Maniacism” to the group, she told us that “the MMs have inspired me to use running as part of therapy in my war on stage IV cancer. In a strange way I feel like I’m running from it”. Her story really drew me in.

In her article Healing is More than Science, Trish Kinney tells us “Even Hippocrates hinted at this powerful connection when he said that he would rather know what sort of person has a disease than what sort of disease a person has. He also said that natural forces within us are the true healers of disease”. Bridget said that “fighting (cancer) on my own emotional terms (was) instrumental in helping me heal … and to resolve a conflict that runs very very deep”.

In 2011, Bridget put this to work in a big way, running four marathons to qualify for the Maniac Asylum – running in the Richmond, White Rock (Dallas), Louisiana (Baton Rouge), and Myrtle Beach Marathons.

I had the good fortune to meet Bridget and her husband Chuck in August over dinner in Colorado Springs. She had invited me to get together so I could learn a bit about the Pike’s Peak Marathon course, which is what brought me to town. Their friend Amy shared some stories about the course, including just how tough those last miles of the ascent can be. You’re above the trees, and you can see runners ahead of you on the switchback heading up an unrelenting climb. I brought along a copy of the Marathon Maniacs book, signed by the Main Maniacs, and included a note about how our stories are the things that get us to keep running, and how much I admired her story.

But by then, running had become difficult for Bridget. She was in lots of pain, but talked about how determined she was to get back to it. Running was vital to her sense of well-being. Chuck reflects that “It is amazing she ran Richmond, Dallas, Myrtle Beach, Baton Rouge, and half of Pittsburgh in the last months of her life”, and that this was “her best defense” against the cancer that would take her life at age 42.

When I learned of her passing on 3 October, it made me very sad – this amazing woman had left us all too soon. I learned some important things from Bridget about running, and about life. She did things with fierce determination, a wickedly irreverent sense of humor, and to push her limits.

Earning her maniac stars was something that fed her soul. When we run, for the most part we do so on our own terms. We choose the events and the level of challenge. Running marathons helps us to do things beyond a single race.

Run in peace Bridget … we miss you. 

Paul David – MM #989

Dr. Chuck Steele is working with folks at West Virginia University to establish a scholarship in Bridget Waldron Steele’s name.


I qualified for the Marathon Maniacs myself when running the 2008 Green River Marathon, which turned out to be my last one before I had a near-fatal run-in with a pickup truck while commuting to work on my bike.

While recovering, I ran to heal. This was my own way of putting physical and emotional distance between myself and what had happened to me on that day in July of 2008. When I read Bridget’s story about running marathons to put distance between herself and cancer, it spoke to me, and to some friends of mine also living with cancer.

In 2013 I am will run an event as a fundraiser to fight cancer, or (better yet) to stop it before it starts.  – pcd


more perspective on survival–living at stage four

Here, through the looking glass, in the back of the beyond, there is no normal. There is no certainty, but that’s true in the old world as well.

Katherine Russell Rich, from “Turning a Death Sentence into a Passport for Life”

Several weeks back, while preparing for a talk on survival, I had the good fortune to read Laurence Gonzales’ fine book Deep Survival.  His distillation of what helps people survive was fascinating.  Each time I revisit my recovery, I learn something new about it.

A week later while down in San Francisco, I was visiting with a good friend of mine from our days at Cal Poly.  We’d fallen out of touch for a while, and have enjoyed reconnecting.  I’ve really enjoyed swapping stories about our adventures and our kids.

Last summer, she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.  The cancer is into her bones.  She’s into her second course of treatment now, and is facing some daunting odds.  The American Cancer Society gives five-year survival rates of about 20% for stage four breast cancer patients.  At stage four, the focus seems to be more about extending life rather than curing the cancer.

As we walked, my friend talked about the paradox of feeling fine now.  She’s taking care of herself, and is active.  She talked about spending time with her kids, and taking on some projects for work.  But at the same time, she doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring.  It’s difficult to tell how she will respond to treatment, difficult to anticipate whether or not she’ll be physically able to fulfill professional commitments, or to do volunteer work at the kids’ school.  It’s difficult to live beyond the present.

As we spoke, I found myself offering clumsy optimism.  Despite my good intentions, it’s difficult to be optimistic sometimes.  My frame of reference on survival is limited to my own experience – which is different from my friend’s situation.  Dealing with the basic conflicts of currently feeling pretty good, the probability that things will get worse, the desire to be positive, and the frustration of feeling in limbo has got to be incredibly hard.

A couple of weeks back, there was a segment on NPR’s This American Life with Katherine Russell Rich, who has lived with cancer for twenty-three years, eighteen of these at Stage Four.  She has written an excellent memoir of her life with cancer – The Red Devil : To Hell with Cancer and Back.  I’m most of the way though this now, and hearing her perspectives on life is very powerful.  Her experiences with doctors, treatment, work, and everyday life have been an education. 

Beyond the the fact she’s defied the odds so much, the thing that caught my ears and eyes about Russell’s story is that she tells us that it took her fourteen years to come to terms with the fact that she’s still here.  In her words – she finally feels “like there’s not plexiglass between her and the world”.  I would highly recommend listening to the This American Life segment on Kathy.  It begins 44:30 into the program and is definitely a worthwhile twelve minutes.

January 15th is anniversary of her stage four diagnosis.  On that day this year, she posted the note below to a discussion board on breastcancer.org, saying “I’m still here”.  Despite the daunting odds that people living at stage four face, she wants them to know that it’s possible to live.  Each year, she debates whether or not doing this will have the intended positive impact, or whether it simply draws attention to Rich being a statistical anomaly.  In reading some of the threads on Kathy’s posts, I have to believe that hope makes a difference.



I’m writing from India to say that as of today, I’ve been alive 18 years with Stage 4. If someone had told me then that I’d be in India–or anywhere–18 years down the road, I’d have thought they were deluded or being cruel. As I’ve mentioned before, there was no hope when I was rediagnosed, and then somehow there was. Just as cancer can take some unexpected  bad turns, it can take some unexpectedly good ones too.

This computer’s going to go down any minute, so I’ll end here, but not before saying I wish everyone the most unexpected year, in the best way.

Much love,


a post from kathy36 on the discussion board of breastcancer.org

ready to run on saturday

I’m writing this entry while enroute to run in the Valley of Fire Marathon.  This one’s been on my list for several years.  It will also be the first new state I’ll have run it since running the Free State Marathon in Kansas about two and a half years ago.

This trip means a bunch to me for a number of reasons.  I love visiting new places, and running is a great way to experience this.  Second – one of my life’s goals is to someday be a Fifty State Marathoner (only thirty-eight more to go).  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’m running this race to honor some people I care about – and to advance a cause that matters a great deal to me – eliminating breast cancer.



In recent years, I’ve used running as an avenue for healing, as well as a means of developing both physical and emotional resilience.  It is also a powerful source of metaphor.  When I run on Saturday, I will face a challenging course – rolling hills in the Mojave Desert – beautiful but difficult.  The challenge for me will be to keep to a steady level of effort, so I’ve got enough in reserve to weather a five or six mile climb between mile 14 and 20.  And clearly holding myself to this will be important for the final 10k too.  Although that’s mostly downhill, it wouldn’t matter if I’m toast by then (as happened to me in some past events).  So it’s important to focus on my goals, and to keep to my plan.

My friends living with breast cancer have a much more challenging set of goals to focus on day to day.  They have to take care of themselves, both body and soul – through a steeper set of hills than I’ve ever run.  A couple of them are parents to younger children – so they’re trying to keep enough of an even keel so the kids don’t become overwhelmed.  And then there’s a daunting set of medical choices to navigate at the same time. 

Thinking about keeping myself moving through some high desert terrain for several hours seems small in comparison to what they’re doing each day.  It sort of puts our everyday challenges in perspective, doesn’t it?

Each time I line up at the start of a long-distance run, there’s a feeling of uncertainty – “am I up to this?”.  Feelings like this are totally normal, even when you’ve completed lots of events previously.  Little in life is totally certain.  But what we try to do is to prepare ourselves to weather challenges – through training, and with a positive attitude.  And that’s the best we can do, right?

So – I’ll be thinking about people I know who have survived, or are living with breast cancer when I run on Saturday.  I’ll draw strength from the example they’ve set for me.