By Carolyn Mather
The title of this article comes from the concluding statement of Gabriele Grunewald at today's third annual AKTIV against cancer awards luncheon where Gabe was presented the Special Inspiration Award. AKTIV against cancer is an organization founded by nine time NYC Marathon Champion and Norwegian superstar Grete Waitz and current Executive Director Helle Aanesen in Norway in 2007. The organization has helped to create fifteen physical activity centers in cancer treatment hospitals throughout Norway and established an official presence in the United States in 2014.
Gabriele Grunewald, professional runner and amazing woman was diagnosed at age 22 with one of the rarest types of cancer-adenoid cystic carcinoma. Despite the diagnosis and now in her fourth battle with this disease, Gabe has continued as a top professional athlete and a woman of incredible strength and courage.
I have had the privilege of knowing Gabe as she ran for Brooks and Team USA Minnesota for many years. Gabe is the epitome of moving forward no matter what life throws your way as she has learned that life is not so simple. Although Gabe is not known for her distance running and contends at shorter distances than the marathon, she has found this battle is "my marathon" in life. She was not prepared for this journey but she has fought it with a tenacity found in committed runners. In fact the day after her initial diagnosis she donned her racing singlet and set a personal best on the track. This lady has the focus to do whatever needs to be done.
Although Gabe makes her living at running, she quickly learned that running is not life or death as life is full of uncertainty and we truly have to live in the present moment. It is all about perspective as my dear husband Steve told me many times.You have to continue to do what makes you feel alive. And despite the return of tumors after three surgeries and chemotherapy, Gabe has found that running is worth doing even if it is not perfect. "Running is my medicine" she stated as she is excited that she plans to race indoors in 2018.Her statement of "plans are when dreams are realized" gives her hope for the future.
Gabe has discovered with only 600 cases of this type of cancer in the United States, that there has been no research on this. So she has become "a lab rat" willing to try whatever the doctors entrusted with her care recommend. She has been making frequent trips to Sloan Kettering in New York City for her immunotherapy treatment and although that is now done and she moves on to a type of radiation therapy at the Mayo Clinic which is closer to her home in Minneapolis, there has been some necrosis in the tumors in her liver.
Gabe feels like she has truly been a pioneer in exercise as treatment for cancer. In fact the term exercise oncology is now at the forefront in treating cancer patients. Gabe has always continued her running and competing throughout this journey.She sees it as her first and continued defiant act against cancer. She utilizes her running to maintain focus and motivation. She is most assuredly staying in the race.
Gabe's brave words and even braver actions have endured her to so many who are taking on her battle as their own. The support she has received from her running family is what truly makes our running family so precious. As she told me after the luncheon, only runners can understand how running makes you feel whether it is a good run or not. Just being able to do it makes every run a special gift. Gabe is currently doing 60 miles a week and putting in workouts of mile repeats at 5:30 pace with a minute rest interval. As I previously stated Gabe is one strong woman!!
Three components regarding her running have been expressed by Gabe in her fight. First is the mental health benefit as she goes through the darkness of cancer. Doing what you love always helps the mind cope. Secondly running keeps her in the moment and aids in lowering her anxiety. Finally her performance status as a patient relates to the fact that her higher performance status demonstrates the effectiveness of her treatment.
If she had to choose a treatment modality, she definitely prefers immunotherapy over chemotherapy as she felt much better during the immunotherapy. But she finds that she now lives in three month intervals and takes nothing for granted. Her husband Justin has been with her during this process and helps interpret the medical data as he is a practicing physician working as a hospitalist in the Twin Cities. It always helps to have many warriors with you in these battles and Justin is most assuredly the best of her warriors.
At thirty-one years of age, Gabe is fighting with grace and poise and a strength few of us could ever imagine. She faces each hurdle and challenge with a will of steel refusing to succumb to her cancer. She has drawn inspiration from the life of Grete Waitz and although she never met Grete, Gabe has always looked to her as a role model and a source of inner strength. In her nine year trek Gabe has been positive and determined to conquer this war. I have rarely seen Gabe with anything but a beautiful smile and a radiance that glows from within her. Gabe is a true warrior, a competitor and a true inspiration who will stay in the race always.