Jessica Denney is one of the Eugene Marathon’s most inspirational participants. Jessica had been a recreational runner for years when she and her sister agreed to run the Eugene Marathon together with a goal of breaking four hours. As her training began little did show know she was about to face one of the biggest challenges of her life.
After one of her training runs Jessica noticed a sharp pain in her neck. Slightly worried, she went to the doctor to make sure nothing was seriously wrong with her health. The doctor reassured her not to worry and recommended she take some Ibuprofen to help with the pain. She continued training but the pain didn’t go away so she scheduled an MRI and ultrasound.
Waiting for the results, Jessica became distracted and annoyed. Every time she went for a run she was worried she’d miss a phone call from her doctor. She found herself stopping frequently in the middle of her runs to check her phone.
Weeks after her tests, Jessica returned home from her Tuesday run and saw that she’d missed the call that she was so anxiously waiting for. “I was hardly mad after getting such a good run under my belt,” she recalls. “I think this is something that runners understand”.
When she called her doctor back she heard awful news. She had thyroid cancer. “The only thing I could think about was if my diagnosis would keep me from running the Eugene Marathon,” says Jessica.
Her doctors wanted to start scheduling surgeries and a series of treatments immediately, but without hesitation Jessica said she wanted to wait until after that spring’s Eugene Marathon.
As everything she considered to be normal was no longer normal, Jessica clung to the one piece of normalcy she had left: her running schedule. “I was committed to my running. Running is what I put first,” she says confidently.
As a college graduate student, she continued to train with long runs on weekends and short runs on weekdays, increasing her mileage to an average of 30 miles a week. “Every day was a day moving forward in a seemingly small accomplishment, which was actually a big deal to me,” says Jessica. With the marathon and graduation on the horizon, Denney had goals that helped her keep negative thoughts on hold.
She compares her philosophy on her cancer diagnosis to her philosophy on training. “The world around me didn’t change because I was diagnosed. Life continues to go by if you have cancer or not, just as life continues to go by when your legs are sore from a long run.”
That spring Jessica and her sister finished the Eugene Marathonwith a time of 3:56 “I was beyond elated to run onto Hayward field and see the three-hour mark still on the clock” she remembers.
After completing the marathon, Jessica had surgery and began treatment. And as of today she is cancer free.
Now that Jessica has successfully beat cancer and completed her first marathon, she sees them being oddly similar. “Cancer is a type of marathon” she says, “It’s grueling no matter which kind, and at the end you’ve learned more than you wanted to about yourself.”
Now back up and running, Denney has competed her first post-cancer half marathon and won her age group. She hopes to run the Eugene Marathon again in the future, too.
From completing her first marathon with cancer, to beating the disease and continuing to run, Jessica Denney is an inspiration to all of us.