To all of the women at mile 20

By Erringer Helbling

It has almost been three years since I received the phone call that I had precancerous cells, ran a marathon for those who still could and was given the privilege to share my story with the Prevent Cancer Foundation. If I said that the moment I received that call from my doctor in October of 2019 inspired me to take care of myself to this day, I would be lying. In all honesty, it seems that as time passed, my passion to take care of my body faded—but that passion is my foundation to give back to this world.

It wasn’t until I noticed the Foundation’s “Back on the Bookscampaign, that I started training again for my own personal marathon, my health. When I received the “Back on the Books” notice in a recent Foundation newsletter, I was called to take the simple action of booking another screening appointment with my doctor. And while that action was simple, it sparked a new and more dedicated lifestyle for my health, including staying active, eating healthy and encouraging friends and family to stay ahead or get back on track with their routine cancer screenings.

There are some days that the 2019 Athens Marathon feels like yesterday, and other days it feels like it’s been a decade. In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted my experience of time, like how time warped when I ran that marathon. When I started the race, time flew. But when I hit mile 10, time began to slow down and I felt more distanced from others. And of course, time felt at a standstill when I met mile 20. I hit a wall, felt alone and hurt to take one step in front of another. Somehow, I made it to the finish line because I knew others had done it before me. Ultimately, I knew I was not alone.

If you’re at mile 20, it’s okay. Many of us are still there, especially as we navigate life with COVID-19. If you wake up every day figuring out what “your normal” looks like and are struggling to do even the simplest of tasks, you’re not alone. So much has changed around us, and it’s time to take one step at a time because we are all figuring this out together. To all of the women around the world who are working toward better health—no matter when you cross that finish line to embark on the next journey, so many of us are there with you. Putting my health first saved my life, and I’ve been able to do things today that I previously took for granted, whether it’s going for a morning walk with my husband or having the energy to visit with my family and friends. I hope that all women feel called to do the same.

Life is a marathon. It’s full of moments when you’re going fast, going slow and hitting walls, all the while with your sight set on your north star. For me, my marathon in 2019 was full of ups, downs and changes of pace. That has been the same for me in my cancer prevention journey in 2022. And it’s through an incredible support system of family, friends and places like the Prevent Cancer Foundation that I continue to press on. I still have the strength I need to put one foot in front of the other as I live my life with prevention in mind. I’m personally thankful for my husband, Brian, for running by my side and holding me accountable for my prevention journey. Because of my ability to keep up in my “cancer prevention marathon,” we were able to go on hikes together during our honeymoon, and we just celebrated our one-year anniversary.

Despite how things have drastically changed from day to day, over time I’ve been able to consistently stay active, regularly see my doctor and remind myself that all I can do is my best—that is always enough. So pick up the phone, make an appointment and take that next step of your cancer prevention journey.

Thank you to the Prevent Cancer Foundation for your inspiration and being a part of my support system as I maneuver my marathon of life and staying healthy.

Not sure where to begin? Take this quiz to find out what routine screenings to get at every age.