"I'm going to run every day until you're cancer-free." Those were the words Vanessa Oshima spoke to her childhood best friend, Caroline Steer, from across the world when she learned of her breast cancer diagnosis.
And 1,837 days later, Oshima has stayed true to her word. Oshima and Steer had lost touch over the years, but Steer's diagnosis rocked her—so she committed to running outside every day, no matter what. "I decided to run outdoors to mirror Caroline's struggle," explains Oshima. "Cancer patients have good days and absolutely shitty days where they wake up and just start crying for no reason. Cancer patients don’t get to choose not to do it on a shitty day; they just have to get up, face it, and go. I don't run on the treadmill when the weather is rough, because cancer patients don’t get to choose to do that. They have to wade through the shit that is that day."
Now, Steer is cancer-free—but Oshima didn't stop running once Steer got the "all clear" from her doctor. In addition to helping support her friend, Oshima saw tremendous psychological and physical benefits from her daily practice. So she kept going.
Then, Oshima got a diagnosis of her own.
On an ordinary day this past February, Oshima got a startling diagnosis: Her doctor told her that she, too, had breast cancer. "The first thing I did when I was diagnosed was call Caroline and tell her I was diagnosed, and she put on her running shoes and ran for me that day," Oshima remembers. "It’s all about women supporting each other to be even better together, especially in a fight like this one."
In addition to Steer's support, running has become Oshima's crutch. "There have been so many times when I’ve struggled and I’ve just run outside and cleared my mind," she says. "It’s time alone. Even before I had cancer and was a working mother, it just allowed me breathing room and mental space. Mentally, it calms me down and helps me notice things I wouldn't otherwise."
"When you ask why she's running, she says it makes her complete."
On the morning of her mastectomy, Oshima went running. Granted, it was just around the hospital, but she knew she was better-equipped to face what was ahead if she laced up her running shoes first.
Seven months later, Oshima is still struggling to beat cancer. And the two things getting her through it are Steer's support and her daily runs. "Have you ever heard that song by Melissa Etheridge? It’s called 'Run for Life,'" she says. "There’s a line in that song that goes, 'When you ask her why she’s still running, she says it makes her complete.' That song has become my anthem; I’m running every day because it makes me feel alive and complete. Cancer hasn’t stopped me as long as I am still able to run."
Running to love her post-cancer body.
As Oshima learned after Steer's diagnosis, as a cancer patient, she has her good days and her bad days. But the main thing that keeps her feeling strong and confident—one mastectomy and months of chemotherapy later—is her running habit.
"I didn’t get reconstructive surgery, so I have a giant scar and a completely flat chest," she admits. "I think because the rest of my body is quite fit and healthy, there's an element in feeling strong in my body that makes me feel a unique kind of confidence in my body. There are days when I stand in front of the mirror and cry, and I don’t like the scar. A friend of mine said to me, 'That scar is a reminder that you are stronger than the thing that’s trying to kill you.' She's right."
Touched by Vanessa's story? Read about this yogi's cancer battle.