Running her way through chemo with a whole crew

Friends of Kim Skarphol made running to cancer treatment a group effort

Running her way through chemo with a whole crew

Cancer is a life changing diagnosis.

But for Kim Skarphol, her life didn’t change too much.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer on Jan. 2. But her biggest worry? That she wouldn’t be able to run.

“I was told I might not be able to do it. My hardest day was probably with the oncologist and finding out my chemo plan. I wasn’t expecting it to be as aggressive as it was,” said Skarphol.

“She had to deliver the news to me, that I probably won’t be able to do my running,” she added.

Always running

Skarphol, 65, has pounded the pavement ever since she was young. She says she couldn’t imagine not being able to do the activity that gives her the most joy, through both chemotherapy and a pandemic.

“I did the half mile in track in high school, and then just ran all my life. Did a few marathons, and qualified for Boston, and ran Boston. I can’t put the mileage on as much anymore, but it’s still my passion. Mentally as well as physically,” she said.

While it was tested, Skarphol’s mental and physical strength was illuminated throughout her journey: She ran to each and every chemotherapy appointment she had.

Learn more: Breast cancer care at Sanford Health

“I had this goofy idea of running through chemo, kind of like, ‘Come hell or high water, hold my beer, watch me do this.'”

And she did, but not alone.

Running together

Skarphol has been a staple of the Fargo running community for years, and when she asked for even the slightest bit of support, she was greeted with more than she could’ve ever asked for.

“I reached out to probably eight of my running buddies, and said, ‘Hey, here’s my idea: I want to run to chemo. Here’s my schedule, if anyone can join me, that’d be great.’

“They said ‘Oh, heck yeah. We’re in.'”

Cancer survivorship: Find resources near you

Each and every person Skarphol reached out to was there in a heartbeat, and ran with her all four months of her chemotherapy rain or shine, snow or sleet, or through “downright brutal wind.”

“On March 9th I woke up, and I knew there was a chance of ice and sleet. I looked out the window at 4:30 a.m. and there’s like a half an inch of ice on the streets. I show up, and there’s eight people waiting. There’s 20-mile-an-hour wind that we’re running into, and it’s maybe 10 degrees with ice.

“I said, ‘OK, you guys are nuts. I have to be here. You don’t.’ Such a supportive group, it’s amazing.”

And as Skarphol kept running, that support kept growing.

“There was 20 people on my last run. It was just so powerful,” she said.

Support from everywhere, and everyone

Skarphol’s support went beyond the Fargo running community. She says her husband and two sons stepped in up a big way. One even ran with her.

“I have a son in (Washington) D.C., and another here in Fargo. The diagnosis hit them really hard. My one in Fargo joined me on most of my runs. That was impressive because he doesn’t like to run, but he did it.

“There was one morning where I messaged him the day before and said we’re meeting at 6:25 a.m. at the church. He said, ‘That’s early.’ I responded back ‘Yeah, but you don’t have to go into Roger Maris (Cancer Center) for six hours,'” Skarpohl said with a chuckle.

“He never complained again.”

She even had support from inside Sanford. Dr. Anu Gaba, Skarphol’s oncologist, ran with her to her first chemotherapy session.

“How can you ask for any more support than that?” said Skarphol.

‘Get your screenings’

Skarphol says she was blessed with two things: the overwhelming support she’s had, and catching the tumor while it was small.

“Thanks goodness for mammograms. They found it and called me that day, and caught it small. I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have that mammogram. It was a triple negative, which is aggressive,” she said.

Because she had so much support, Skarphol stresses the importance of reaching out to others, checking in with friends, and asking for help if you need it.

“There’s no reason to be alone at this time. We all kind of feel like we’re stuck and alone, but there’s support everywhere, even on Facebook. Try to find at least one person who will just listen to you, or maybe run with you. That’s really important.”

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Posted In Cancer, Cancer Treatments, COVID-19, Fargo, Imaging, Running, Specialty Care, Wellness