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MONUMENTAL STORIES

7/1/14 - From Patient, To Runner, To Advocate for St. Jude

by Kailyn Castro

She's not just running for St. Jude's Heroes - She is One

In the summer of 2009, right before starting my senior year of high school, I took up running. I had always been a little heavier than my friends and I wanted to look good for my senior year. I would always feel really fatigued after my runs, but I just figured that was because it was new to me. I ended up losing around 30 pounds that summer; I was surprised by how easy it had been to drop the weight and look great for my last year in Sherman, TX.

Kailyn Castro Lymphoma A few weeks into school, I noticed I had a swollen lymph node in my neck. I figured it was nothing and that it would go away eventually, but it didn't. It became near impossible to sleep comfortably and there were no signs of it going away. After going to my pediatrician I learned that I needed to get a biopsy of the mass. A week later I had a CT scan and surgery. A week after that, on September 9, 2009 we had the results. Stage 4-B Hodgkin Lymphoma.

My pediatrician referred us to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. St. Jude was unlike any hospital I had ever been to - colorful, warm, and inviting. Everyone in the hospital - doctors, patients, and patient families - was happy to be there. We met so many amazing families that had been touched by a horrible disease, but the hospital had instilled a sense of hope in all of them.

Kailyn Castro Treatment I was fortunate; my treatment was shorter than so many others. I was always sick, but never sick enough to be admitted as an in-patient. It felt like an eternity of treatment, but it ended in less than a year. After months of chemotherapy and weeks of radiation, I went into remission the spring of 2010.

It took me awhile to realize how blessed I had been in having a shorter and less difficult treatment. I started college, met new friends, and wanted to move forward with my life after cancer. For a while, I did not want to talk about it - I just wanted to be normal. Or at least I thought I did.

After a year of trying to leave my toughest life experience in my past, I began to embrace it. I was so amazingly blessed - I fought a deadly disease and survived when so many others are not as lucky. I finally realized that I was given the opportunity to live a healthy life for a reason. I needed to make the most of it. I created a "Bucket List" and began crossing things off. I went sky diving, traveled to the east coast, got involved with St. Jude fundraisers, and ran a half-marathon.

I had no idea I would enjoy running long distances so much, I ran a few more half-marathons. Little did I know none of them would be as meaningful as running the Monumental Half-Marathon in November 2013.

In July 2013, I moved to Indiana for an internship opportunity I had received with the St. Jude fundraising office in Indianapolis. I quickly learned about the St. Jude Heroes running program and became a Hero. As a St. Jude Hero I was able to run not only in support of the hospital that gave me my health back, but the hospital that continues to work on driving the overall survival rate of childhood cancer to over 90 percent.

As a St. Jude Hero I was able to fulfill two promises I made to myself since winning my battle with cancer: to give back to St. Jude and to live my life for those who lost their own battle. Fundraising for a cause close to my heart made it much more meaningful. I had a dozen family and friends who donated to St. Jude on my behalf. I ended up raising $555. In the midst of fundraising, school, and my internship, I didn't train as much as I would have like for the race itself. I was worried when race day came it would not be my best.

Kailyn Castro Half Marathon Finish On November 2, 2013, I pulled my St. Jude Heroes technical tank over my head as I prepared for the 13.1 miles that lie ahead of me. Even though I had not trained as much as I originally had planned, it was my best race. Not only was it my second-best race time, but I never felt fatigue. I had the voices of my friends and fellow patients at St. Jude pushing me, reminding me to keep going for them.

Running as a St. Jude Hero was one of the greatest experiences I have had. There was satisfaction in being able to do something for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital when they had done so much for me. Running the Monumental Half-Marathon was more than running 13.1 miles; it was running in support of what Danny Thomas, the founder of St. Jude, believed: "No child should die in the dawn of life."

Kailyn Castro
St. Jude Heroes
2013 IMM Half-Marathoner