Healthy for the Long Run

Cindy Kuesis remembers the night in December 2005 when her plan to run the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon became real.

"I literally heard a voice," says the 37-year-old colon cancer survivor from Barrington Hills. "It said I was going to take this challenge to raise funds for cancer and start a new life."

For Cindy, that new life has been filled with love and achievement. Two years after surgery and chemotherapy, she ran the marathon – raising more than $16,500 as a Charity Runner for the American Cancer Society. And in July 2007, she and husband Dan welcomed their first child, Max, now 8 months old.

But there was a time Cindy wasn't sure she would ever become a mom.

Colon cancer runs in her family. Cindy's father is a 20-year survivor of the disease. So she did everything she could to take care of her health.

"I ate a vegetarian diet with lots of fiber, all organic, and no junk food ever," she says. "And because of my family history, I got my first colonoscopy at age 31."

That test showed no signs of trouble. But a year and a half later, Cindy was having difficulty digesting meals. She had lower abdominal pain and a lump near her appendix. Her doctor scheduled radiology tests to determine the problem.

When the tests found no cancer, her doctor told her she probably had a hernia. "I believed this might be true," Cindy remembers. "I just thought, I've taken such good care of myself – how could it be cancer?"

But when her symptoms continued, Dan insisted on another look.

Cindy was diagnosed at age 33 following her second colonoscopy. She underwent surgery the day after the test, and a month later began chemotherapy. Afterward, doctors told her they were unsure she would be able to have children.

"They gave me a form of chemo normally used on older patients," Cindy explains. "No one knew exactly how it would affect me." She says Max's arrival last summer in excellent health comes as an especially sweet gift.

Cindy's message to others at risk for colon cancer is to trust their feelings. "Deep down, you know when something is wrong with your body," she says. "Work with your medical caregivers until you find the answers."

Most of all, she says, don't be afraid to take – and even repeat – the tests that can save your life.

The American Cancer Society thanks Cindy Kuesis and hundreds of other Charity Runners nationwide who raise funds and awareness by entering endurance events such as half-marathons, marathons and triathlons. Illinois runners are training for this season's events now. Join us!  Start by finding an event near you.