How I Got This Body: Beating Breast Cancer and Training for the Marine Corps Marathon

How I Got This Body: Beating Breast Cancer and Training for the Marine Corps Marathon
Photographs courtesy Katherine Warrick.

Welcome to How I Got This Body, our look at some of the amazing things the human body is capable of and the Washingtonians who put their bodies to the test. Want to share your transformation story? Email ccunningham@washingtonian.com.

Who I am: Katherine Warrick, 36, a social worker from Montclair, Virginia.

What initiated my change: At 31 years old, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, stage IIb. Without a family history of breast cancer, and without carrying the BRCA gene mutation. I was previously in ‘good’ health and fitness. So you can imagine my surprise when one day while vacationing in Puerto Rico, I found a lump. ‘Body by Jake’ used to be a thing. Well, I instead I got ‘Body by Cancer.’ Transformation could not be a better way to describe what cancer treatment does to your body. In April 2012, at five feet tall and roughly 118 pounds, I could make it the 3,088 feet high to the Mt. Britton Tower in El Yunque Rainforest, but it wasn’t easy. After 18 rounds of chemotherapy and six surgeries, including bilateral mastectomies and reconstructions, making it to the top floor of my house was exhausting! One of the crazy things they never tell you about chemo is the food cravings. Which makes sense when your taste buds are totally out of whack. I never met a carb I didn’t like during treatment. That, plus steroids which keep the chemo from making you too sick, meant I was a puffy little 130-plus pounds who couldn’t climb the stairs with a basket of laundry.”

How long I’ve been cancer-free: “Five years. And counting. Every October 22, my husband, my family, and I celebrate that day as my cancer-free ‘birthday.’ October 22, 2012 was the surgery I received the coveted NED—no evidence of disease. It wasn’t until 2015 I started running and, for once, not hating it. A dear friend planned to run the 40th Marine Corps Marathon to celebrate her 40th birthday that year.  And I decided 2017, at five years cancer-free, would be my Marine Corps Marathon year. Five years without recurrence is kind of a big deal, by the way. So when the date for the 2017 race was announced—October 22well there’s just no way that could be a coincidence!”

Warrick after finishing the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday.

My exercise plan: Running. And a lot of it. Spin classes are great, too. Nice weather and countless beautiful parks throughout Virginia and Maryland make for wonderful weekend hikes. But mostly a whole heck of a lot of running. Training for the Marine Corps Marathon I mostly followed a 16-week plan inspired by the Hal Higdon training program. I did longs runs on Sundays and varied distances mixed with cross training during the week. Training races also helped with mental and physical preparation. For me those were the Navy Air Force Half Marathon, Prince William Half Marathon, and Army Ten Miler.”

My healthy diet: Eating like a baby! And by that, I mean eating every three hours. I cannot recommend it enough. And knowing that food is fuel. Aiming for getting ‘enough’ protein instead of ‘too many’ calories is a beautiful thing. In the last three weeks preparing for the marathon I concentrated on meats and veggies without paying much attention to portion size. And mostly stayed away from alcohol, dairy, grains, and sugar. No easy task when your spouse is from Wisconsin—he’s a patient man!”

‘Body by Jake’ used to be a thing. Well, I instead I got ‘Body by Cancer.’

How I stuck to my goals: “For my first goal—beat cancer—there wasn’t much choice not to stick to that one. When I started treatment, I did everything by the numbers. With five months of chemo, I told myself, ‘It’s only five months. You can do anything for five months!’ Same with recovering from surgeries. And later when I ran my first 10K, ‘It’s only 6.2 miles. You can do anything for 6.2 miles!’ I doubted that statement many, many, many times running the Marine Corps Marathon. The thought that I could do anything, much less run, for 26.2 miles was laughable at times and felt like an outright lie at others. But there’s no quitting!”

How I feel now: “Grateful. I ran a marathon on October 22, 2017, because on October 22, 2012 I couldn’t. Cancer treatment is really hard. Physically and mentally. Not just on the patient, but on their family and friends. It’s ugly and it’s scary. I’m beyond grateful that I’ve been physically capable of two pretty major challenges. And even more appreciative of the support I’ve received with both.”

One piece of advice: “Look for a team or cause that inspires you. With the support of my family and friends, I helped team DetermiNation raise over $57,000 for the American Cancer Society with this race alone.”

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.