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Carlene Kennelly
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Cancer is an awful disease. It has affected my grandparents, my mother, my husband, my aunt, my uncle and several other extended family members. It also took the life of my dear friend Lisa Barry Kerouac. Lisa was only 35 years old when she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I watched her fight this horrible disease with the utmost courage for six years. Lisa was at what was probably one of the happiest periods of her life when that darn cancer reared its ugly head again. She had just returned from her honeymoon and then got word that the cancer had returned--it had metastasized in her lung and it was likely that she only had a few months to live. I remember the exact moment when she told me the awful news. I had just had my first child and was rocking her when I got the call. The irony of the situation was so hard for me to grapple with--here I had just welcomed a new baby girl into the world, while Lisa's mom had just learned that she was going to lose hers. It just didn't seem fair.

But, in true Lisa fashion, she was determined to make lemonade out of lemons. She was going to squeeze every ounce of life out of whatever time she had left. Lisa made a life list (some would call it a bucket list)--a list of things that she wanted to experience or accomplish during her time on this earth. She had all sorts of exciting things on there: travel, para-sailing, volunteering, jet-skiing, eating at Charlie Trotter’s, swimming with dolphins, taking ballroom dance lessons and even things like finding something to be thankful for each day (which typifies Lisa in so many ways). But there was one item in particular on that list that Lisa and I had a bit of a disagreement over--she wanted to see me complete an Ironman triathlon. You see, Lisa and I had a history with triathlon. We had completed a couple of them together. I was there when she successfully completed her first one. And, at that triathlon, we sat and watched the first wave come out of the water from the swim--it was a group of breast cancer survivors. We talked about how we were in awe of these brave women, making such a comeback and being strong enough to compete in an event requiring such endurance. It was later that week that Lisa found a lump. However, even when Lisa no longer had the strength to train for a triathlon on her own, she continued to support me, encourage me and spectate when she felt well enough to do so, oxygen tank and all. But, to put an Ironman on her bucket list was too much. I had just had a baby, I had a full-time job and, let's face it, committing to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and then run a marathon back to back is borderline crazy! And, a life list is supposed to be for that individual, not for other people, right? What if I couldn't do it? What about the pressure of knowing that this was listed among her top 15-20 things she wanted to do or experience? It was overwhelming.

Even though Lisa died four years ago, the fact that this was on her life list at one point in time is still very present in my mind. So I have committed this summer to figuring out if I could indeed complete an Ironman. I completed a 1/2 Ironman in August (for those who don't know, you swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and then run 13.1 miles). I hope to complete a 100 mile bike ride in the next few weeks. And, I am training for the Chicago marathon on October 13th.

I am running the marathon to benefit the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). It only seems fitting as AICR combines two issues that are important to me--cancer research and diet/exercise. AICR-funded research has shown that 30% to 40% of all cancers are directly linked to the foods we eat, the exercise we get and how well we watch our weight. What this means is that we have the potential through our daily food and lifestyle choices to make a major impact on the cancer risk we each face in our lives.

With more than 1.2 million new cancer cases in the U.S. each year, and more than 500,000 cancer deaths annually, programs that can produce even a small reduction in cancer rates offer enormous savings in lives, suffering and medical expense. AICR has been at the forefront of providing education programs and materials to help people learn how to make changes for lower cancer risk.

Please consider supporting me in my journey to see if I can cross this item off of Lisa's life list and simultaneously work towards reducing the number of people that have to suffer from this awful disease. I hope you will consider making a donation to Team AICR.  If that is not possible, then consider spectating somewhere along the marathon route on October 13th. I can use all of the cheering I can get over the course of 26.2 miles!

I am a lot older than when I first started doing triathlons over ten years ago. And, life is certainly more complicated than it was back then with balancing work, two small children and 20+ hours a week of training. But, I am blessed to still be here to have this option. Ironically, if I do an Ironman in 2014, I will be the same age that Lisa was when she died. While her life ended far too soon, it only seems fitting that I make the most of mine with each day that I'm given. While Lisa may not be here on earth to witness me cross off an item on her life list, I know she will be cheering me on from above.

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