Inspired to run: Cancer survivor runs for family, hope
Brian Lombardi of Woodbury wasn't much of a runner until 2013. That's the year he was diagnosed with cancer.
Lombardi and his wife were expecting their third son when the diagnosis came: Hodgkin's lymphoma. He started cancer treatment on the closing days of his paternity leave.
Today the 41-year-old said the cancer is in remission. He has since become an avid runner, including multiple appearances in the Hope in Motion 5K, an annual event celebrating cancer survivors by Minnesota Oncology.
Joining him for the first time at this year's race Saturday, June 22, in Eagan will be his 9-year-old son, Owen.
We asked Lombardi about his cancer journey and how he stays motivated.
How did you first hear about Hope in Motion?
In April of 2013, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma (Stage II). My wife was 38 weeks pregnant with our third son. I began chemo treatment at the Maplewood Cancer Center during my paternity leave — not really the newborn experience I expected! My family received a lot of help from family and friends during my six months of chemo. That experience is the main reason why I participate in the Hope in Motion each year, to support the Angel Foundation, which assists families facing cancer.
I first heard about Hope in Motion in 2014, when I received an email from Minnesota Oncology. where I went for my treatment. I've been a participant and fundraising ever since. And this year for the first time, I'm part of the planning committee as well. It's been fun to be involved on both sides of the event, as both a runner and as an organizer.
How has running helped you after your cancer diagnosis?
I was never much of a runner before I had cancer. Unless I was playing a sport, I didn't find running enjoyable. A high school friend of mine who had Hodgkin's lymphoma several years before me had taken up running for the Lymphoma Society. So it became my goal to not only be strong enough to run, but to make a difference and raise money for those fighting the same disease I had. Her story motivated me to get involved with Hope in Motion.
For me, running has become a hobby. I participate in several 5Ks and 10Ks throughout the running season. My health has improved and I enjoy tracking my progress to better my times. I am thankful for the chance to be able to run, and running helps me not take things for granted. Running in the Hope in Motion event is very important to me. I run to honor those who are fighting, those who have overcome and those who have lost their battle with cancer.
And your family has taken this journey along with you?
Having a newborn is exhausting enough, especially with two other active children, but watching your spouse go through chemo at the same time was incredibly difficult for my wife. Kelly has been tirelessly supportive of me. She brought me to chemo treatments when she could (with our newborn). And in the middle of the night, when the pain would wake me up, she was always there to help me in any way she could.
When I first started running the Hope in Motion 5K my wife would come to the event and support me. After a couple of years, my older boys would then participate in the kids' fun run. My 9-year old son, Owen, has begun running in 5Ks with me. Last fall was his first official 5K, and he will be running in the Hope in Motion with me on Saturday. The whole family now gets involved in the event — my wife and other boys walk in support and cheer me and Owen on.
What tips do you have to stay motivated with running?
To make running more enjoyable, I like to make playlists and listen to them while I run. I also use a running app to keep track of distance, duration and pace. It allows me to track stats over time and work to improve my performance. I use a dry-erase calendar to plan my running days, plan distances and count down the days to the next race.
One way to help keep running fun is to pick some new races, but also run some of the previous ones. Or make running races a tradition with family and friends. It's not necessary to be the fastest runner in the race. For me, another big motivator is trying to beat my time from a previous race.
Each year, my former oncologist runs in the Hope in Motion. He's incredibly fast. My goal is to one day beat him.