South Hill woman organizes, runs marathon while battling cancer

Cat Schwartz, 56, is staging and running the Big C Marathon on Dec. 4 in Puyallup. She’ll have a surgery for breast cancer on Dec. 8. She has run 76 marathons, including at least one on every continent except Antarctica.
Cat Schwartz, 56, is staging and running the Big C Marathon on Dec. 4 in Puyallup. She’ll have a surgery for breast cancer on Dec. 8. She has run 76 marathons, including at least one on every continent except Antarctica. Courtesy

On Sunday morning, Cat Schwartz will run in the Big C Marathon, a race she founded.

Four days later, the 56-year-old South Hill woman will undergo surgery for breast cancer.

Schwartz compares battling cancer to racing in a marathon she doesn’t want to enter.

She knows plenty about marathon running. She’s run 76 of these 26.2-mile tests of endurance (In fact, two were 31 miles). She’s run at least one marathon on six continents (Antarctica is still on her to-do list).

And she’s run at least one marathon a year since she finished her first in 2007. The Big C Marathon will extend that streak to 10 years.

“Running might be a bit of an exaggeration,” she said of Sunday’s marathon, “but I will be finishing.”

Schwartz was supposed to run the Berlin Marathon in September, but those plans were derailed July 25 when she learned she had breast cancer.

Now she’s battling the disease while relying on her running experience to get her through. Schwartz says she’s running “aid station to aid station” until she arrives at the finish line.

The Big C Marathon starts at 8 a.m. at Puyallup’s Cockrell Cider Farm and will take place mostly on the Foothills and Riverwalk trails. She was hoping to get 15 participants. As of Nov. 28, the race had 38 participants, many of whom are walking to support Schwartz. Others are coming to the farm’s tasting room to cheer on participants. Proceeds will go to a yet-to-be-determined cancer research project.

Schwartz has already had a mastectomy and is now on medication with potentially brutal side effects. She doesn’t plan to let it slow her down much. In fact, she’s learning that exercise has helped people better cope with the medication.

“So, my goal is to keep exercising,” she said.

Despite being busy with her treatment, training, organizing the race and her job as a substitute teacher, Schwartz recently made time to field a few questions:

Q: How did you discover you had cancer?

A: I looked in the mirror and I saw an indentation. I went to visit my son that day and he had just had a physical and he was concerned he might have cancer. I said, ‘Well, we might be chemo buddies because I’ve got this indentation.’ He said, ‘Mom, I’ve just been looking up this stuff. That is a huge risk factor. You have to call your doctor right now before you leave my apartment.’ So I did.

He didn’t have cancer, but it was almost like it was meant to be that he had that scare so that he could get his mother to get an appointment right away. … You’re a healthy person. You’re fit, you’re active. It’s the last thing on your mind that you have a serious disease.

Q: Do you think being a marathoner and knowing how to deal with pain and suffering make you better equipped to handle this battle?

A: We’ll see. That’s the aspect of marathoning I always liked. It’s very much a mental sport. We always say marathoning is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical. And it really is. It is a long race and things can happen. And you have to deal with the side effects of the race. That’s what I keep going back to. Managing pain in different parts of your body. Managing pace. Managing all kinds of issues.

Hopefully that kind of training will serve me well with this kind of race.

Q: What made you decide to run a marathon this year despite everything you are going through?

A: I needed a positive goal. I needed a reach. It’s hard to get out there when you are feeling down about life and it’s rainy and cold. It’s like I tell my students, my homework is going out and doing 4- to 6-mile runs after work and if I don’t do my homework my race is not going to go well. It’s going to get ugly and painful and it’s not going to be pretty. And you want to look good for the picture at the end.

Q: Why did you want to put on your own race?

A: I didn’t know what the course of my disease would be. I didn’t know if I would be able to travel and there weren’t any local ones that really interested me, so I decided to do my own.

Q: What do you hope people get from this marathon?

A: I hope they have fun out there. A lot of them are doing it for people they know who have cancer. One of the walkers is a friend of mine who has cancer. I just want them to get that a marathon is a metaphor for life in a lot of different ways. And I want them to push themselves. And a lot of these people are.

There are a lot of people who are doing this who are not race-ready and are doing this because I said, ‘Ready or not, guess what, you’ve got to do this.’ That’s how I felt when I got that call (cancer diagnosis). I don’t want to do this. Well, guess what, you have to do this. You may have horrible treatment and a retched little life for a spell, but you have to do this.

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