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Running 26 Miles Through Slush and Snow? Count Me In!
Before starting cancer treatment, Joe Boyle decided to run a personal winter marathon — and 200 runners joined him.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Joe Boyle, a social studies teacher in Bowling Green, Ohio, was training to run in his first marathon when he learned his kidney cancer had come back, this time in his lungs.
His doctor suggested an experimental treatment — immunotherapy — which is designed to rev up the body’s immune system to fight the cancer. He enrolled in a trial to begin in the spring.
“Well, you know what this means,” Boyle told his wife as they drove home from the doctor’s. “I’m going to have to run a marathon by February.” He mapped out a 26.2-mile route through his neighborhood and went on Facebook to see if any of his friends were crazy enough to join him on his personal winter marathon.
He never expected what happened next. The story blew up on Facebook, a newspaper picked it up and suddenly “we’re getting emails from people in Indianapolis, people in Detroit, people from Cleveland," he said. "Every running group in Toledo was like, 'We’re coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop us.'”
Students, former students, and friends he hadn’t seen since high school showed up on that chilly February morning. Roughly 200 runners took part in the marathon.
Boyle got into running late in life. It wasn’t the physical benefits that hooked him, but the social and emotional ones.
“Everything I am addicted to about running showed up in the marathon,” he said. “You look at so many problems in our world. It comes down to that we don’t have community like we did in the old days. But you find, when you go through something like this, is that we do have that community. We just have to look for it and nurture it.”
His doctor, Brian Rini, MD, a specialist in renal cancer at Cleveland Clinic, is a part of that running community, and he ran with Boyle in his makeshift marathon.
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Just a few weeks after that run, Boyle began his new treatment. Traditional chemotherapy attacks cancer cells directly, but also does harm to healthy cells. Immunotherapy operates instead on the immune system.
Our immune systems naturally attack cancer cells, but sometimes the cancer is stronger. Immunotherapy involves “taking off the brake,” Dr. Rini explained. “We all have a natural brake on our immune system, otherwise we’d all have rampant autoimmune diseases.“
Of course, taking off that brake comes with its own risks, but immunotherapy may give doctors a new weapon in fighting cancer.
Boyle is doing well in treatment, and has the memories of that chilly February marathon to see him through.
“I told my kids, I said make a video in your head.
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