Mahwah Mom Fights Cancer While Training For Marathon
Woman said working out with friends during chemotherapy treatments helped make her stronger
When Mahwah resident Nancy Graf was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on December 23, 2011, she knew how she wanted to deal with having the disease – by training for a marathon.
Before her diagnosis, Graf had been working out in Mahwah every week at the Police FIT Camp, a personal training program owned and run by two MPD officers, Jonathan Weber and Lt. Jeffrey Dino.
During the classes, Graf had befriended fellow Mahwah moms Leslie Konikow, Kim Barron, and Tracey Manne. The foursome “developed a real bond” while working out together several times each week, Konikow said.
Being active, Graf said, “actually helped me get diagnosed. You know your body better, so you know when something isn’t right.”
Last October, Graf’’s symptoms “started out as an itch,” and grew to include bruising, night sweats and difficulty breathing, she said. It took doctors until January 5 to diagnose the wife and mother of three with Stage 2B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. An 8-centimeter tumor had begun to wrap around her aorta. “Cancer never crossed my mind,” she said.
Graf began chemotherapy treatments in January. During her six months of treatment, she continued to work out with her friends.
“We probably did about 60 workout sessions during my treatment,” Graf said. “I missed four.”
Helping her through it the whole way were Konikow, Barron and Manne, who asked Graf to train with them for the Run-A-Muck Marathon, held in Woodbury, NY last month. The race is a 5K mud run, with hills, tire obstacles, river crossings, walls, ropes and a giant mud crawl before the finish line.
Graf, who ran track when she attended Mahwah High School, took the challenge. Together the four women, who had never participated in a mud run before, trained for the marathon.
“It became more than a workout,” Konikow said. “It’s the source of what created an incredible friendship.”
“It’s very empowering for all of us,” Manne added. “You accomplish things you never thought you would.”
The women joined other residents who helped Graf through her treatment. “The community was absolutely amazing, people rallied for me and helped anyway they could,” Graf said. Her workout buddies became “an incredible support system,” she said. “I now feel like the people you choose to be with really do define you, and they helped me through this.”
Graf finished her treatment and was declared cancer free on June 11. The four women ran the Run-A-Muck Marathon on June 16.
“She is an inspiration to others,” Barron said of her friend. “Doing this meant a lot to all of us.”
The four friends are now in the midst of planning what their next physical challenge will be, all while continuing their work out sessions together.
“When we work out at camp, we learn that you never know what you’ll be up against, and you are prepared for a fight,” Graf said. “I thought it’d be a creep at the ATM or something like that, not cancer. But, I really think working out with my friends and with the support of my family prepared me for the fight.”
“I am surrounded by amazing people,” she said.