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One Step at a Time

How I Went from Being Unable to Walk After Cancer to Running Marathons

by Matt Jones

Inspiration image

Matt Jones runs in his fourth marathon – the Perth City to Surf Marathon in Perth, Australia – on his fourth continent in August 2013. It took him just over six hours to finish the race.

On January 29, 2016, I crossed the finish line of my seventh mara­thon on my seventh continent. Just three days prior, I completed my sixth mara­thon on my sixth continent, Antarctica – yes, I ran a marathon in Antarctica.

But twelve years earlier, at age 25, I was relearning how to walk. Compli­cations from acute myeloid leukemia had sent me into an unconscious state. When I came to, I had to relearn how to tie my shoes, how to read a paragraph, and how to walk. While relearning how to walk, I remember my dad saying to me, “Son, you can do it, one step at a time.”

Each of us has life-defining moments when our destiny intersects with fate and our lives are forever changed in unexpected ways. For me, one of those moments happened on September 11, 2002 – a day I will never forget.

It was my senior year of college, and I looked forward to graduating and going after my dreams. As I began the fall semester, I noticed something wasn’t right; I had a sore throat that would not go away, and I was sleeping up to 16 hours a day. During one 24-hour period, I slept for 23 of those hours. I thought I had mono. Never would I have guessed it was cancer.

Goal by goal, step by step, I learned how to walk again.
Then I began to run.

Inspiration image

Matt Jones

After three months, three rounds of chemotherapy, and three hospital stays, I was in remission. Feeling like I had knocked cancer out, I drove around my hometown with the windows rolled down blasting the Rocky theme song, “Eye of the Tiger.”

Seven months later, I relapsed and was told that I needed a bone marrow transplant to survive. It was while wait­ing for a donor, as the cancer spread to the fluid in my brain, that I slipped into an unconscious state. Against all odds, I recovered.

The first thing I remember after coming out of my unconscious state was sitting on my hospital bed looking down at my shoes. My laces were untied, and I thought to myself that I should try to do something about that, but I couldn’t remember what to do or how. That’s when my dad walked over, reached down, and tied my shoes. Then, he and a physical therapist helped me to stand up. After placing my right arm around my dad’s shoulders and my left arm around the physical therapist’s, they picked up my left leg and put it in front of my right, and then picked up my right leg and put it in front of my left. One step at a time.

Even with their help, I was only able to walk five yards before becoming exhausted. The physical therapist got a wheelchair to take me back to my room.

As I lay in my hospital bed that after­noon, I visualized myself completing a marathon, a feat I was crazy to even dream of tackling after only being able to take a few assisted steps.

My first goal? Take one step by myself. After that, my goal became making it down the hospital hallway and back. Goal by goal, step by step, I learned how to walk again. Then I began to run. Two years and four months later, I completed the 2006 San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.

I’ve run six more marathons since then. However, the greatest finish line I have ever crossed was on Mother’s Day 2004, when I walked out of the hospital after a successful bone marrow transplant. I have been in remission ever since.

Looking back over my marathon with cancer, just like each physical marathon I’ve run since then, I came through it by taking one step at a time toward a goal I set out to achieve.

In life, it’s not about your circum­stances, but the choice to keep moving forward one step at a time. Today, the ultimate victory for me is sharing my story and inspiring others through the mara­thons in their own lives. Just like my dad told me – that I could do it, one step at a time – you, too, can cross the finish line of any marathon that you are running.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Matt Jones went from being a three-time cancer conqueror to completing seven marathons on seven continents and is now an inspirational and motivational leadership speaker and author. You can learn more about Matt at MatthewDJones.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2016.