In August of 2007, I took Puck for his routine rabies shot just before the first Chicago Bears pre-season game of the year. What should have taken us a few minutes turned into hours when we discovered a nine-cm tumor lodged up against his bladder. The next day he immediately went into surgery to remove the tumor.  A week later, we received devastating news:  Puck’s cancer turned out to be hemangiosarcoma, a very aggressive and malignant form of cancer.

Puck was an 8-year old American Staffordshire Terrier who had been my stable little buddy through some rough times during my early years on my own. I adopted him two days before he was set to be euthanized from the Animal Welfare League on the Southwest Side of Chicago on July 19th, 2001.  

I remember specifically when the AWL asked how my new dog would get exercise, I responded that, “I love to run. I want to take him running with me everyday.  He will motivate me.”

After his diagnosis, I tried a variety of different methods to help save his short and precious little life.  Being in my early 20s, I was unable to afford any type of veterinary treatment, so chemotherapy was out of the question.

I tried different types of homeopathic remedies including a variety of mushrooms and adding colloidal silver to his water.  He seemed to be getting better, though on September 22nd, 2007, I saw his health go for a drastic turn.  Within days, Puck could no longer go out for walks to relieve himself on his own.  Instead, my sister and I needed to carry him to the grassy areas because his legs would just give out from underneath him.  By Tuesday, September 25th, Puck could no longer stand up, roll over, or even eat on his own.  I was feeding him whole milk through a turkey baster. 

On Wednesday, September 26th, 2007, Puck left this earth as another victim to this horrible cancer.

I have missed him so much everyday, and worry that his younger sister, Evie, will one day face the same fate as he had.  

Shortly after Puck passed away, I was talking to my mom about my own health. I was overweight, never exercised, had a stressful job and put just about everything that is not supposed to go into a person’s body into mine for “sustenance.”

I said to my mom, “If I just had a team like in high school, I would start running again and get healthy.” There is no reason that someone barely 25-years-old should have chest pains, as I did.

The very next day, I received a pamphlet from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to “Join the TEAM,” “RUN a half marathon,” “Fight CANCER.” It was some sort of higher power sending me a message.

I went to the meeting listed in the pamphlet. I heard a young woman named JulieAnn talk about losing the love of her life in college to cancer.

I signed up to run and train for a half marathon with a team, Team in Training – the endurance fundraising program from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

I began raising money to join the fight and find a cure for blood cancers ever since Puck’s passing.  I ran that half marathon. I ran the full Bank of America Chicago Marathon that same year. I ran it the next year, and the next. Then I ran a 50k (31 miles) ultramarathon, a 50-mile ultra, a 100k, and then a 100-mile ultramarathon foot race.

I ran eight more marathons and over 25 ultramarathons. I changed my body, my habits, my lifestyle, my mental health…

I changed my work ethic, my desire for greatness, my determination…

I changed everything about me, and I’ve met the kindest, most compassionate people this world has while doing so. I created a new, amazing and supportive family out of Team in Training. I started hanging out with people who are foolish enough to think that they can change the world. People who surprise me daily because they ARE changing it one mile at a time.

There was one thing that I was right about back when I adopted Puck in 2001, and that was the belief that Puck would be my motivator. 

When I look back at my entire life, I realize that Puck’s passing wasn’t a loss. The awareness that he has led me to was the best gift that could ever be given. And then I remember…

It all started because of a dog.

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