How Running Saved My Life

Dear Fleet Feet Savannah Staff,

"First I would like to thank you and your awesome store in all the assistance you have given me and my family throughout the years.  I've been going to your store since 2008 when I first got transferred to Charleston, SC (yes I would make the drive every time I needed shoes).  I learned about your store from the Rescue Swimmer shop at my parent unit here in Savannah (U.S.C.G. Air Station Savannah).  

I would like to share a story of recent events and how running saved my life.  I would also like to give you credit because your shop has always given me good advice and has given me enough information to continue running.  I use to suffer from shin splints and I was at the point of quitting the running game until I went to your shop and learned all kinds of good stuff."

Hello, my name is Fernando and I thought I should start with a back-story.  I’m a 45 year old man who’s spent the last 19 years as an active duty aircraft mechanic for the U.S. Coast Guard.  I’m married and we recently celebrated 23 years of marriage.  I am a father of two beautiful kids, my daughter who’s 7 and my son 4, whom could not be happier as kids.  We have the perfect life.  This information will become relevant in the next few paragraphs.

Soon after our transfer to Air Station Savannah Jessica and I decided it would be a good idea to run a marathon (thanks in part to my sister-in-law Ingrid, who was the first person in the family to sign up for a full marathon. I had run multiple 5, 10 and 12K’s but never a marathon.  One year almost to the month after our marathon adventure was completed and many other races after that.  We had decided to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Savannah again as an Anniversary run.  We were in the middle of training for our marathon when I noticed my energy level was not the same as in previous months.  I kept asking myself, is there such a difference in stamina one year after completing a full marathon?  Shouldn’t I be getting better? But as we continued running our short runs during the week and our long runs during the weekends things were just not improving.  I kept telling my wife that something was wrong, we were only two miles into our ten miles for the day and I was extremely fatigued.  So I decided to visit the units Flight Surgeon.  There I was diagnosed with having anemia and was given iron pills to get me back on track.  But something was still not right.  I continued complaining to my doctor.  He ordered a CT scan and found no anomalies except for small gallstones.  We continued training and eventually completed half of the scheduled full.  We were ready for the full but the heat index caused the full marathon to shut down. Fate? Maybe.  One week after our race I end up in the ER getting my gallbladder removed because of the gallstones.  But this is not the end of the story or even how running had saved my life.

As we continued to run and train for the Gasparilla in Tampa I still didn’t feel one hundred percent.  Something was still off.  I went back to medical and again spoke to the doctor. He told me that it was possible the iron pills were affecting my stomach lining. Combine that with gallbladder surgery, and it is possible to still have stamina problems.  Ok, so off the pills I go.  Two weeks later still not 100 percent.  I return to medical.  “Doc, there’s something wrong with me.  I can’t maintain my running stamina.  Even my wife who is a slower runner is running past me like I’m standing still.  We need to get to the bottom of this please.”  So here comes the colonoscopy and EGI and I got the worst possible news.  “Fernando you have colon cancer in your ascending colon. We’ve taken some biopsies to see the extent of the damage.  We are also going to schedule you for surgery.  We will be removing your entire ascending colon and part of your transverse colon.”  Two weeks later I was in surgery getting the procedure done.  What was the outcome?  Stage 3 Colon cancer.  So here I am today having completed two of 12 chemo treatments.  

Why do I say running saved my life?  It’s quite simple.  Had I not been so in-tuned with our running routine I would have never known something was wrong with me. Sure I would have eventually known about the cancer but as I learned, ascending colon cancer is one of the cancers that is not noticeable until it is too late.  I’m not out of the woods yet but I’m highly optimistic all will come out fine.  When will I be able to run again?  This was the first question asked when I came out of anesthesia according to my wife.   I’m not sure that part of my life is yet to be written, but I have a plan B.  My brother in law recently picked up cycling and has been asking me to go with him. Then I thought to myself, why can’t I do the same?  I’ve learned how to surf in Puerto Rico, learned how to dive in Miami.  I’ve been all over the Caribbean doing both things, I’ve also learned how to run marathons in Savannah effectively, why can’t I cycle as well?  I’m not sure how I’m going to pull it off but hey we are limited only by our mental insecurities.  If you say you can’t do it, you will not.  I’m on the other side of the spectrum.  Even with cancer I think I can do anything I want. 

 - Fernando Sanchez

Fernando, we are so glad that running helped you to get an earlier diagnosis than you would have, had you not been seriously training. Also, thank you for your support of Fleet Feet Sports over the years - it warms our hearts to know that we have been able to help you (and your whole family) in your journey as a runner. Keep fighting and stay strong through your treatments, and we look forward to seeing you out on the roads, either with running shoes on or on a bike! 
 - The Fleet Feet Savannah Staff 

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