Love. Passion. Amore. It’s impossible to define it in its infinite forms, even though its power shapes nearly everything about us.
On this Valentine’s Day I feel compelled to tell you about a man who continually sets my heart on fire and leaves me weak in the knees with his passion.
This man, by the way, is in serious competition with my husband.
Okay, I confess: I’ve been fooling around.
I can picture the disgusted looks on your faces as you read this news. But try not to think too badly of me, even if this affair has been going on for nearly fifteen years.
It might make you happy to know that this “other man” whom I adore so much, has never once brought me roses or chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Nor has he toasted with me champagne, pampered me with peeled grapes or showered me with sweet nothings. In fact, he has never even uttered a word to me.
The name of this quiet man? Fred.
If you’re concerned about my darling husband, don’t worry, he’s okay with Fred. He even supports my flings with him.
You see, Fred is a driving force in the battle against cancer.
His full name is Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon, and also the founder of Fred’s Team, an organization supporting runners who dream of a world without cancer.
In early 1990, after a long illustrious running career, Fred Lebow was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was determined to use his passion for running as a means to battle this insidious disease, and designated Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as the New York City Marathon’s first official charity.
His program, simply named Fred’s Team, encouraged runners to gather pledges for each mile they ran and donate it to MSKCC.
Since 1995 Fred’s Team has raised more than $45 million for pioneering research.
How did I fall head-over-heels for Fred?
Simple. Cancer drove a truck through my heart when I was eighteen years old. My dad, who was just 51 at the time, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died six months later–just a few weeks into my freshman year of college.
A decade later, that same semi-truck looped back around and plowed into my heart once again. This time it was my mom who was stricken by the disease. Her breast cancer left me dazed, my heart barely pumping. All I could do was watch helplessly (long-distance, no less) as she suffered through painful surgery and treatments.
It’s then I dragged my running shoes out of the closet and fell in love with Fred–or more accurately Fred’s Team, and what it represented.
I’d always loved running, but my shoes hadn’t logged more than five miles in a good long while. Somehow lacing them up again and putting one foot in front of the other helped me sort through my anger, grief and frustration. It also helped remind me of my inner strength—even if setting a goal like the New York City Marathon was so absurd I couldn’t bring myself to utter the words to a soul, except for my husband.
When I joined Fred’s Team though, I realized that it was impossible to raise money for cancer research if you didn’t tell people what you’re doing. Eventually I built up my courage and began sending out letters. Unnerving is the best way to describe it–especially since asking people for money is one of my least favorite things to do.
When I confided in a good friend that I felt like I was bragging when I told people I was running a marathon, she gave me sage advice: “Just remember this is not about you. It’s much bigger than you, so get over it!”
And I did.
Donations immediately began pouring in—along with words of encouragement and stories of how cancer had affected many of my supporters. People blew me away with their generosity. It seems everybody knew somebody who had been knocked down by this disease.
With each mile I logged and each dollar I collected, my heart slowly began to heal. No longer did I feel powerless against the disease I loathed so much. By raising funds to support researchers working hard to find a cure, I felt like I could finally face cancer and say, “GAME ON, SUCKER!”
That was fourteen years ago, and I have not looked back since.
Since then I’ve run eight marathons (NYC-three times, Paris, Rome, Portland, Santa Barbara-twice), two triathlons, and also participated in a 400-mile cycling event through the Colorado Rockies. With the help of many extraordinary supporters I’ve raised over $60,000 for cancer research.
And now Fred and I are getting ready for our next tryst . This time we’ll be participating in a 50-mile cycling event in Solvang, California on March 10th.
Why do I keep doing this? Unfortunately that careening truck keeps smashing into my heart.
My mom survived her initial bought with breast cancer, but later died of colon cancer. My Auntie Katie also died of cancer in 2010. Auntie Margie died of cancer in 2011 as well as Aunt Bertha. Cousins, uncles, friends, colleagues, neighbors–nobody is immune. Every day it’s somebody new. Steve Jobs, Baby Lexi (read my friend Jessica’s story here to learn more), my friend Molly, my other friend A, my friend, Angie’s dad. It goes on and on. But I refuse to give in to this beast, and I hope you will join Fred and me in trying to kick its ass.
If you’d like to know more about Fred’s Team or if you’d like to support my upcoming half-century cycling event, click on this link: Becky’s Ride for Fred’s Team
Love is what drives us as human beings. And love is what drives me to continue doing what I do.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Fred. Thanks for being my “other man” for some many years. Your passion and commitment still move me.
This is beautiful. You have a very gentle voice in your writing. I feel as if I hear your words through a whisper, yet they are strong and loud. Your writing stylistically is great. I enjoy the rhythmic cadence of it.
Cancer sucks. My father died of cancer in 2003. It is an awful disease. It sweeps in and takes loved ones too soon. But there are stories of hope. Cancer is an equal opportunity employer — it doesn’t just hire people, it’s a forced labor camp. Cancer does not discriminate either. It is a mystery and hopefully we can find a cure soon.
$60,000 is amazing and your heart and spirit raised much more than that. You are quite an inspiration and I am honored to know you.
Thank you for sharing your story. Your essay opens the heart, gently (no doorbell required). You are a gifted writer, and your gifts go beyond the word…
Becky, I keep learning of new sides of you and like each one more than the last. What a beautiful post, and you should feel amazed at the amount of money ($60,000!) you have helped contribute to this worthy cause. I am in awe. Wow. I am proud of you for overcoming your fear of sharing your dreams, and instead, following the advice of your friend. What a story, what a post, and what a difference you’ve made. I have your donations window open and am heading over there to help you continue to help others.
You have just earned the “lump in my the throat” award! Thank you for your kind words AND for your contribution to the fight against cancer. I just had two more people tell me today how they have been affected by the disease. One spent that last year battling breast cancer (a young mom with a 5-year old) and the other just lost her mom to the disease. It’s hard to stay optimistic when you continually hear these stories, but comments like yours reinforce why I keep doing what I do. Thank you so very much!
Another beautiful post, Becky . . . I know too many people who have been affected by this insidious disease, including a friend who, on Valentine’s Day this year, received the numbing news that she has a rare form of aggressive breast cancer. Let’s hope that all of our efforts combined will finally stop it in its tracks.
Oh, Nancy, I’m so sorry about your friend. I will think nothing but good thoughts for her as she battles this disease. Your friend’s diagnosis reinforces to me with sledgehammer force why I continue to do what I do.
Becky, your story is such an inspiration that I donated to Fred’s Team on your behalf. I lost my mom in 1998 to this disease, one sister when she was twelve and the lastest victim was my oldest sister in 2008.
I truely pray that this disease will be eradicted so that others can enjoy a full life. Augie Hicks
Augie, I’m so sorry for your devastating losses, and so appreciative of your kinds words and your contribution to Fred’s Team. You and your family are yet another reason to keep doing what I do. Thank you.
Beautiful! You’re a strong and wonderful woman. I am glad to hear your husband allows your passion for Fred.. both are good men, indeed.
Thank you, Brenda. I loved your poignant post, “What is Strength.” Strength comes in all forms and is fueled by an infinite number of things. I wish my strength wasn’t fueled by cancer, but we take what we’re handed and try to turn it into something positive.
Thank you for the beautiful post, Becky. You are a true inspiration to me! My mother is a breast cancer survivor. My father-in-law died 5 years ago from multiple myeloma. I salute your efforts in the fight against this terrible disease.
Thank you, Tina. Your comment couldn’t have come at a better time. I ‘m just heading out the door on a 40-mile training ride and I’d much rather be sipping coffee and writing today. Thank you for taking the time to leave me a message and remind me why I do this.
A moving, wonderfully written post.
I’ve lost one of my brothers, my grandfather, and a number of other family members to cancer, and all too many friends. Your own losses are staggering. What an inspiration you are to all of us!
Thank you, Maureen. I’m sorry cancer is all too familiar to you as well. I appreciate your kinds words of encouragement, and believe deep in my heart that a cure for this devastating disease will be found soon.
I am so glad that you did this Becky, you already know my husband has stage 4 lung cancer from being in the group and are fighting everyday to keep him here but I had no idea that your dad had it! I am so sorry that you went through that but Im so glad the way that you have chosen to veer that truck is towards being in these walk/runs. I think its great and you are a great person!
Samantha, I think of you and your family often, knowing the heartache and frustration of battling cancer. I will continue to think good thoughts for your husband, and will give him a place of honor on my jersey on March 10th (I often write the names of people I know affected by cancer on my uniform and ride/run in their honor). Thanks for your kind words of support!
Bless you, Becky, for doing something so tangible. So many of us sit on our hands, wish we could do something, grieve with loved ones or for ourselves, as one by one we lose people dear to this disease. Yeah for Fred’s Team and Yeah for you. And thank you.
Thank you Diane. Joining Fred’s Team has helped me feel empowered, and helped me work through the grief and anger of losing so many loved ones to cancer. It keeps me sane, fit, and positive about beating this disease. I appreciate your kind words of support!
How wonderful for cancer research that you’ve been able to raise so much. The work is so important, I do hope they find solutions to all cancer soon, in our lifetime. Great post! I’m impressed that you plan to ride 50 miles. How long does that take you?
Thank you, Monica. The best part is that thousands of others around the world are also raising money for research. My contribution is just a drop in the bucket, but at least it’s a drop. When others add their drops, the bucket will overflow and wash this *&%$# disease away for good. Oh, and the ride? Depending on how hilly the course is, should take between 3-4 hours. Think good thoughts on March 10th!
Another moving, inspiring, eye-opening post . . . I know the courage and grit and training (duh) and determination it takes to run a marathon. Knowing you’ve done this eight times puts me in awe of you. And, yet, when I think about the driving force behind your running and cycling, it is nothing short of a powerful reminder of the things we do for love.
Thank you, Deborah. Yep, when it comes down to it, it’s all about love–for the many peeps in my life lost to the disease, for those currently battling it, and to Fred’s Team and the legion of researchers working hard to find a cure.
Thank you Becky. Today, I sit here grateful to have been the recipient of very potent treatments for breast cancer made possible by years of dedicated fundraising by people like you and Fred. I’m sure, that as a result of your continued efforts, cures and ever more effective treatments will be found for all cancers.
And a belated Happy Valentine’s Day to you. Belated because I was having my port removed yesterday, what I feel like is the official end of my year long battle. Woot!
Wow, Lynne, my heart is singing as I read your comment, knowing you had your port removed yesterday. That is some seriously good news. Congrats! Here’s to many more years of good health and happiness ahead. I will celebrate you as I crank out my 50-miles on March 10th. Woohoo!!
Extraordinary story! Cancer affects so many of us; it’s such a voracious beast. Even those who recover are never the same. Thanks for doing this Becky, for running, for collecting donations, and overall, for talking about it. Some time ago I wrote a newspaper article about the girl who started a campaign against cancer in Vancouver, my home city. Here is her website: http://www.letsfcancer.com/home.html
You might be interested to read some stories on that wall.
Thank you, Olga. I appreciate your kind words of support. And thanks for sharing the link. I LOVE IT!
Becky, you have officially become one of my heroes. I, too, am involved in the fight against cancer, but the best I do anymore is walk. I shall go to your site and donate. Thank you for the great insight into your soul. And, as you know, I can’t let the moment pass without commenting on your writing. Superb, as usual. “Cancer drove a truck through my heart” and the following thread is just perfect writing. I know that perhaps that was not your goal with this post and, yet, you achieved it, nevertheless. Well done, my friend, well done. HF
Wow, thank you so much! You totally made my day. It’s heartening knowing how many other people are trying to battle against cancer too–whether they run, walk or simply write a check. It’s going to take all of us to beat this thing. Your kind words and your contribution couldn’t be more appreciated!
We’re all in this fight together! I lost my grandfather to cancer and just last year a very dear friend lost his battle. We’ll beat it! We’re a tough generation. All strength in fighting the good fight. HF
I like your attitude!!
God bless you and Fred!! xo
Thank you Ann! I appreciate your support and your kind words.
It’s people like you, Becky, whom I admire most in the world, and I’m so thankful for what you’re doing to help save lives! I’m thankful because my daughter was cured of her cancer because of research that you and others have helped fund over the years. Thirty years ago, my daughter’s diagnosis of leukemia would have been fatal. Today, the cure rate for her type of cancer is over 90 percent. Sadly, there are still so many kinds of deadly cancer which take the lives of people everyday–like that of precious three year-old Lexi, who died of her leukemia last Friday after a two year battle. Thank you for doing this, Becky.
Thanks, Jessica. It means a lot to me to have your support. You, of anybody, knows how devastating cancer can be. I’m so thankful Isa beat it. And even though I didn’t know Lexi, my heart breaks for that sweet little girl and her family. It’s just one more kick in the butt to keep working hard at raising moolah to find a cure.