Celebrating a cancer ‘all-clear’ with a half marathon

Cancer survivor uses resilience to beat disease while training for race

A Sanford Health patient takes an early morning

If you’re a runner in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, odds are you know Kendra Brouwer.

An active member of numerous run clubs in the city, she’s been a staple in the running community for years.

But despite her long history of running, one could say it’s a miracle she’s about to run the Sioux Falls half marathon.

Diagnosis and complications

In January of 2020, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She underwent chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and 30 rounds of radiation treatment.

“Not that a pandemic wasn’t enough,” she laughed.

Related: Sanford Health launches research study on cancer prevention

Come December, she had another surgery – this time to remove her ovaries, in an attempt to decrease the possibility of cancer returning.

After that procedure, she started feeling good. Good enough to circle a few race dates on her calendar.

“Then, beginning of February, I had a cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. I was unresponsive in my sleep. My husband woke up to me totally non-responsive. My heart stopped completely, and they had to shock me back into some rhythm,” she said.

‘It really is like ground zero’

It came as a total shock because she was feeling so good. After the momentum she had built with her health, she said the cardiac event brought her back to square one.

“It really is like ground zero.”

From ground zero, though, she knew she had the opportunity to build a better version of herself. “I’m very grateful for all of my doctors, and the care I had at Sanford through this whole year and a half. I know they put me back together well,” said Brouwer.

Your running shoes: Do they need a medical checkup?

She said she realizes training for and running in a half marathon sounds crazy after everything she’s been through. She counters that by saying it’s given her an increased appreciation for doing things she wants to do.

“I really believe that you can’t let stuff like that totally stop you in your tracks. This is something I’ve wanted to do. I’ve ran a couple half marathons. I have a marathon on my radar. I’m not sure when that’s going to be, but you can’t wait to do things because you don’t know what’s going to happen.

“I didn’t anticipate cancer. I didn’t anticipate a heart condition or a heart event. So, if there’s things you really want to do, whether it’s personally or in your athletic endeavors or whatever, (you) can’t wait to do that stuff,” Brouwer said.

Training starts

So, as soon as she felt good enough and was given the OK from her providers, she didn’t wait any longer. In May, she applied to participate in the Sanford Run Project, where she’d have access to all of the amenities offered at Sanford POWER, in preparation for the Sioux Falls half-marathon.

“So, I was like, well, I wanted to run the half marathon anyway. Why wouldn’t you want to get all the amenities and perks of getting to train out at Sanford POWER?”

From running-specific training programs to a 3D running analysis, Sanford POWER is practically a one-stop destination for any and all runners.

She’s worked with a physical trainer and a running coach, who created a 12-week program specifically for her.

“I’m doing the Sanford POWER for runners program two times a week. I’m running three to four times a week. I have a couple of mid-distance kind of recovery runs and then usually a longer run,” she said in July.

Getting stronger

Since the program began in May, she’s seen a steady increase in her performance, especially when lifting weights. It’s something she attributes to the specialists she’s been working with at Sanford POWER.

“We’re lifting heavy and it feels good. It’s that kind of sore where you know you did something a little more, but not like the kind of sore that makes you not able to walk up the stairs for days,” she said.

“I’m grateful that my body is keeping up,” she added.

While her body is keeping up, she said there’s times where she feels like it’s not. Whether it’s mental fatigue or “legs that feel like tree trunks,” she knows setbacks are normal.

But with each setback comes the opportunity for growth. And, sometimes what feels like the smallest victories can end up being the biggest, in the long run.

“Just a little progress goes a long way. You start building and building and building and building and being patient with the process, because it doesn’t happen overnight. Just like anything that’s worth it, it doesn’t happen overnight.

“So, looking back now: I’m six months from when I literally died in my bed. So, look what you can do in six months,” she said.

Ready for race day

The longer she’s trained, the more ready she’s become for race day.

She said she has confidence that race day will be the peak of her running and back-to-health journey.

“Sometimes your body’s in it, but your head maybe doesn’t have the right endurance. Then some days I think I’ve got this, I’m going to be fine, and I go out and my legs feel like they’re stuck in concrete. So, I do think that it’s a little bit rare to have mind and body in the right place at the right time for an awesome run.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t have super-awesome runs all the time, but I get them done. I believe that all the things I’m doing and all the help that these people are giving me are all in preparation to get to that point on race day. I haven’t had my best run yet, because it’s going to be on August 29th.”

Learn more

Posted In Cancer, Community, Heart, Running, Sioux Falls, Sports Medicine