Bellingham runner battles back with different attitude

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 11, 2013 

11 Waterfront 15K preview

Stacey Killian, of Bellingham, stands on Taylor Dock on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 in Bellingham. Killian, a breast cancer survivor, is running in the Waterfront 15K, her first since her surgery and chemotherapy in 2009.


Stacey Killian used to run with a fiery demeanor.

It was her vice, and she couldn't indulge it without stoking that within her to be better - to run faster than the previous day.

But that was before she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer nearly five years ago. That was before her body was wrecked by chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. That was before everything in her life changed.

"I used to be hardcore. I used to wear all the gadgets," she said in a phone interview.

Cancer has a way of changing people, just as it did Killian. She no longer adorns herself with gadgets that track her speed or distance. Those things are for people who care about that stuff.

Instead, Killian, who owns the Colophon Café in Fairhaven with husband, David, is preparing to run in the Fairhaven Runners Waterfront 15K on Saturday, Sept. 14, with a new mentality, one that values running in a much different way than she used to.

"I have no idea how fast I am running right now, and I don't really care," she said. "I am just happy to be out there and be able to do it, and that is a form of self-acceptance. Swallowing your pride and saying, 'OK, I might be slower, be less hardcore, but I am better and healthier.'"

The Fairhaven Waterfront 15K will be the first race Killian will participate in since she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The course takes runners along the Bellingham Bay and day-of registration is available. The race begins at 8:30 a.m. at Fairhaven Village Green.

It's fitting that Killian makes her return to running for this race, the same race that sparked her passion in running in 2006. While that was quite a long time ago, and certainly much has changed in her life since, there is something cathartic about picking up where she left off, she said.

But old habits have a way of dying hard, and she knows her initial thought upon crossing the finish line and seeing her time will take her back to a time when she actually cared about how fast she was.

"I know there will be a moment where I am going to look at the time and be like, 'Ah, crud,' but I am going to have to get over it," she said. "The time is not important. It's the process of actually how I've gotten to the point where I am going to cross the finish line."

It's been a long road back. Despite staying active during chemo and the other forms of treatment she was receiving, running became a bit of an afterthought. After all, she had a family and her overall health to be concerned with, and running didn't quite measure up to those aspects of her life, she said.

But as her health began to return, so did that old relationship with running. Only thing was, she wasn't in the shape that she was once in.

"It was frustrating," she said of returning to training. "I felt like I was starting over. My lungs were seizing up, my legs hurt ... that's probably how everyone feels starting out. But that's not how I ended since I was running marathons at the time I was diagnosed, so to me I didn't remember that feeling."

Her body wasn't quite prepared, and neither was her mind.

The cancer was always in her mind at that time, like the fear of reopening a fresh wound. Every ache and pain she felt brought her back to the possibility that the cancer had resurfaced.

"It's an, 'Oh no, it is a reoccurrence. I'm winded, there must be cancer in my lungs,'" she said. "I think every cancer patient does that for a while, just waiting for that other shoe to drop."

The shift was gradual and fleeting. The pain she felt from running began to feel more and more familiar as the days went on, and eventually, those little fits of soreness went away.

Her body was getting used to running again, and so was her mind.

Now, she finds herself on the trails of Galbraith Mountain less encumbered by the beating sounds of the music coming from her iPod, and more attuned to what is around her. As she paced along that particular path, she said that running had become an outlet for her to heal.

"I finish a run feeling like everything is spun into a nice little ball," she said. "It is more of a meditative thing for me. I feel grateful that I can go out and do that."

The fear she once had about possibly never returning to running lessened by the day, and the Fairhaven Runners Waterfront 15K is just the beginning of Killian's comeback.


Where: Fairhaven Village Green

When: 8:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 14

Day-of registration is available

Price: $35

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