Running in Remission: White to run half marathon as fundraiser for Gilda's Club

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By: 
Rob Reischel
On Sept. 13, 2019, Middleton assistant athletic director Ben White was diagnosed with cancer. Today, White is in remission. And on the one-year anniversary of his diagnosis, he’ll run a half marathon on behalf of Gilda’s Club Madison.

Ben White never let himself look too far ahead.

White stayed in the moment. He seized the day.

And as each new morning arrived, he began the same process over.

Today, White still doesn’t look too far ahead. On Sunday, though, he will look back.

White, Middleton’s assistant athletic director, was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma on Sept. 13, 2019. Today, White is in remission.

To celebrate what White has overcome in the past year, he’ll run a half marathon Sunday — the one-year anniversary of his cancer diagnosis — through Middleton. The run will also serve as a fundraiser for Gilda’s Club Madison, which White said provided invaluable emotional support during his fight.

“We are running not in a celebration of where we are at, but more so recognizing what we have gone through this past year,” White said. “To think of where we were almost a year ago, not knowing what was going on with my health, a four-day stay in the hospital running multiple tests and then finally a diagnosis to where we are now is pretty surreal. Your world can change in an instant and ours definitely did. And now we are going to run together.”

White will run with partner Kathleen Callaghan and the couple’s three children. A select group of immediate family and close friends will also take part.

The runners will meet at Parisi Park in Middleton at 8:30 a.m. White has carved out a 6.5-mile path that the runners will complete twice — while socially distancing, of course.

“We are also using this run as another journey to help appreciate how far we have come in 12 months,” White said. “No ‘13th’ feels the same for us, so we are taking this ‘13th’ to acknowledge our journey and the journey of others who are battling cancer. We also want to honor those we know that we have lost to cancer.”

After White received his cancer diagnosis, three co-workers at Middleton High School told him about the benefits of Gilda’s Club. White says he wasn’t in the right place mentally for an emotional support group. Instead, he focused on his chemotherapy treatments and listening to doctors.

In January, though, White’s son, Parker, asked if they could go to Gilda’s so he could talk to other children that had parents dealing with cancer. White joined a support group himself and quickly realized how beneficial it was.

“What we were missing was the mental and emotional support,” White said. “Gilda’s provides a safe place to talk about what you are going through as a cancer patient. You can let down your guard and just be honest because even though our cancers are different, our feelings are very similar.

“Family Night at Gilda’s was great as it was one night a week that Kathleen didn’t have to worry about dinner. A volunteer group at Gilda’s always provided it for us. And Gilda’s provides support for partners and kids as well. All their services are free and we just want to see if we can give back a little.”

White underwent treatment at the UW Carbone Center. And when he was deemed in remission, he told his doctor — Julie Chang — that he planned to run a marathon this year. Chang suggested a 5K run, and White eventually decided a half marathon made the most sense.

Sunday will now be a celebration of what White and his family battled through both physically — and emotionally.

“When we were battling cancer, we always took it one day at a time,” he said. “The thing we have learned about cancer and chemo treatment is that your body takes longer to recover after each treatment. Chemo has a cumulative effect on your body. You don’t bounce back as quickly as time goes on. It’s the one message I try to give to new members of Gilda’s or other cancer patients that reach out to me.

“When we started the battle, Kathleen did a great job of encouraging me to try and stay active as much as I possibly could. It was simple short runs, then little walks. I lost a lot of strength and my stamina drastically dropped, but we always tried to make sure I was able to walk when I was healthy enough to do that. And then as I started to recover, we started out with family hikes. I usually hung out in back as Kathleen and the three kids walked ahead, but I was out there. That started the road to recovery.”

When White runs today, he says he’s “at peace.”

He thinks back to January of this year and his final chemotherapy treatment, one he says, “Kicked my butt. It was the worst I felt.”

White thinks about all the people in his life that helped him push through on the days he simply wanted to stay in bed.

He thinks about the family members and friends that he’s lost to cancer through the years.

And White thinks about former Middleton athletic director Bob Joers, his dear friend who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in May. White and Joers fought cancer at the same time, and leaned on each for support almost daily.

“Our check-ins with each other were so beneficial,” White said of Joers. “He inspired me daily and still does. When I run now, my mindset is so different.

“I just use my runs to reflect, think and count my blessings. As my good friends and I say on tough days, ‘Still breathing, feet pointed in the right direction.’ Some days that is all you can ask for. And when you think about it, when you start there, you have the start to a good day.”

 

To make a donation to Gilda’s Club Madison on White’s behalf, visit: https://gf.me/u/yvhx6f

 

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