Miles for mom

Mom was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in 2006 and died at home in August of 2012. I remember wanting to scream, to scream so loud and for so long that the emptiness inside me would burn up. But instead of screaming, I ran.

“What does that mean?”

My father started reciting the litany of medical details explaining my mother’s condition: an echocardiogram revealed cancerous fluid in the pericardium and in the cavity between the lungs and chest wall. The results disqualified her as an eligible clinical trial candidate. Hospice care would begin.

“No, but. What does that mean?” I pleaded with him to admit what I already knew, to take ownership of this burden, but none of us–not me, not my father, not even my mother–wanted to say it out loud.

It meant the beginning of the end of my mother’s life.

Mom was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in 2006. The cancer metastasized to her ovaries in 2008 and embedded in her abdominal muscle the year after. By 2010, it was in her lungs, then the lymph nodes, until the cancer stopped responding to chemotherapy altogether. Watching hospice assemble the hospital bed in which my mother would die was the most horrifying experience of my life. She died at home in August of 2012. She was 52.

I couldn’t bring myself to help make her deathbed. I watched from the kitchen as my aunt took over the methodical chore, tucking and folding the extra-long twin sheet set I’d used in college.

I remember wanting to scream. I had to do something to get back some sense of control. I needed to rebel against the polite, hushed tones of visitors and caregivers, to scream so loud and for so long that the emptiness inside me would burn up. But instead of screaming, I ran.

I share this with you because this is what triggered the creation of Still Easier Than Chemo. After watching cancer take so much for so long I decided to take the power back. The movement began with a vision of carrying my mother’s memory through 12 half marathons in 12 months to raise money for cancer research–to prove we are all capable of achieving extraordinary things even in desperate times.

Or, you know, that was the theory.

The launch of this year-long endeavor wasn’t the feel-good, triumphant experience I expected. The Patrick Henry Half Marathon (my first ever) was a spectacular failure. Instead of a finisher’s medal, I received the black mark of any running career: my first DNF. In bigger races, half marathoners are given a generous four-hour window to finish. Patrick Henry is a small, elites-only race that a n00b like me had no business signing up for if I wasn’t prepared to keep up.

The race began, and I plodded along without too much trouble for a bit. I knew I was slow, but I wasn’t the slowest, and that was good enough.

Then it started pouring.

The pack began to peel away, and I dropped farther and farther behind until I was all alone on some country road, with just some particularly judgy cattle watching me labor past.

It was here, somewhere around mile five, I realized how naïve I had been to think I could actually pull this off. Drenched and panic-stricken, I pleaded with my body to just keep going. I thought of Mom. Pent-up grief bubbled over as I gulped for air. Distraught, I dropped my arms and slowed to a walk. Choking on dry sobs, I said, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”

A couple miles later, the sweep vehicle, the one that shuttles runners who can’t meet the race’s timing requirements to the finish line, finally caught up to me.

Exhausted and humiliated, I gave up.

In the days that followed, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to dwell on the disappointment. Hospice removed all evidence of my mother’s demise. A string of visitors helped us resume some sense of normalcy.

I finally ran those damn 13.1 miles, this time at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon, hand-in-hand with my husband. In a lot of ways, I’m kind of glad my first attempt was a flop. Throughout this very personal, very serious mission, I’ve been able to look back and see just how far I’ve come.

Now, I’ve crossed a total of 10 finish lines and have raised more than $21,000 in support of research at VCU Massey Cancer Center. My year of running concludes at the end of summer, near the anniversary of Mom’s death, but first I have just two more races to tackle: The Foot Traffic Flat Half Marathon in Portland, Oregon and the Patrick Henry Half Marathon.

That’s right, I’m coming for you Patrick Henry. Again.

For redemption.

For Mom.

To learn more about Briana and how you can support her cause, visit

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Briana Kirby

Briana Kirby is the founder of Still Easier Than Chemo, a campaign raising money for cancer research, and runner of 12 half marathons in 12 months. She runs every mile in memory of her mother.

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