The finish line at a marathon isn’t just the conclusion of a 26.2-mile race.
It can initiate a new beginning in lives. It can be a rite of passage into sacred status among runners. And it can be the motivation for resolve to overcome doubt.
But Becky Faaborg testifies it can be so much more.
The 59-year-old resident of Edmond, Okla. believes completing the Prairie Fire half-marathon in Wichita a year ago reclaimed her life from the ovarian cancer she was diagnosed with less than a month before the race.
“I was not only doing my first half-marathon, but I was fighting for my life,” Faaborg said. “I was going to run and I was going to stick it to cancer and tell cancer to get out of here because there is no way it’s sticking around.”
When doctors discovered the Stage 3 cancer during an annual checkup in September 2011, Faaborg vowed she was not defeated. It is estimated that more than15,000 women will die of cancer of the ovary in 2012, according to the National Cancer Institute.
After the diagnosis, Faaborg completed the half-marathon on Oct. 9, underwent surgery to remove the cancer 10 days later and began an 18-week chemotherapy procedure just before Christmas.
“To me, it was never an option to be anything other than optimistic,” Faaborg said. “That’s just who I am. I don’t know how else to look at it. I just don’t let things get me down like that. I never once thought, ‘Why me?’ It was more like, ‘Why not me?’ ”
But the ripples it sent shooting across her life were undeniable.
Jim Faaborg, Becky’s husband, became so immersed in the battle that he talked of the cancer as if he was also infected. But no matter how much he tried to persuade himself, he had to accept that he couldn’t beat the cancer for her.
“I love her and as her caregiver, I cannot tell you how difficult it is to want to help but not be able to,” Jim said. “I was concerned she was pushing too hard, but I had to recognize that Becky is a fighter. She had to sit me down and tell me, ‘You will not limit me.’ That just shows who she is as a person. She’s a fighter.”
Faaborg’s enthusiasm, despite her situation, uplifted those around her.
Inspired by her courage, close friend and running partner Christy Batterson dedicated each race in her honor. After every marathon, Batterson visited Faaborg to drop off her medal.
“I didn’t deserve them,” Batterson said. “Whenever I felt like I wanted to give up and couldn’t go on, Becky is the reason why I kept going. If she can do it, then I have nothing to complain about. That’s why she deserved those medals.”
Ignoring the limitations of her post-chemo body, Faaborg set a goal to obtain a sixth-degree black belt in taekwondo. Eleven weeks and two days after finishing chemotherapy, she passed her test and was awarded black-belt status.
“They told me that I would never be able to do something like that,” Faaborg said. “I guess it was unheard of doing that after chemo. But I wasn’t going to let cancer stop me from doing anything.”
But there are constant reminders of the physical toll it has taken on her body. Chemotherapy sapped the strength of her legs, which will likely never return. She can still run, but it’s diminished to a form of walking and jogging she calls “wogging.”
Faaborg never dwelled on the negatives, however. She claims her positivity was a reason why she was able to persevere.
“My whole outlook on life has been forever changed,” Faaborg said. “I thank God every day for things I used to take for granted. I feel blessed. I think that’s the big word. I feel very, very blessed.”
“I can’t say it’s like we’re back in the naïve world we were living in before,” Jim added. “This is all very real. But now we do make sure to enjoy those days and not take them for granted.”
Becky will return to Wichita again this Sunday for the Prairie Fire half-marathon. She will be accompanied by a host of supporters, decked out in “Team Becky” shirts to help raise awareness for ovarian cancer research.
And this time when she wogs across the finish line, Becky will be cancer-free.
“I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it,” Faaborg said. “It’s going to be very emotional for me when I cross that finish line, knowing that it’s gone. Wichita will always have a special place in my heart because it symbolizes success for me. It will always be the place where I knew I beat cancer.”