Thousands of people will line the streets of Long Beach on Sunday to watch the seemingly endless stream of marathon runners whiz by them; each one with a number on their chest and a story of how they got there. But one of those runners isn’t supposed to be there.
No, 56-year-old Myrna Nalus isn’t supposed to be enjoying a familiar run around her city this weekend, but nothing could stop her from doing what she loves. And Myrna loves the Long Beach Marathon.
Myrna was scheduled to undergo chemotherapy treatment on the Friday before the race, but she told her doctors at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance that she would simply have to reschedule.
“The Long Beach Marathon is more important to me than my chemo. That’s what I told them.”
Her cancer was first discovered in 2003, located in her bladder before eventually spreading to her kidneys. In 2007, Myrna had to have her right kidney removed. But instead of letting her cancer keep her down, Myrna used it as inspiration to change her life.
“After those operations I decided to challenge my illness with exercise,” she says.
So she started riding bikes and hiking, before eventually discovering her passion for distance running. She decided to join up with Run Racing, getting the group support she needed to run her best. Every Tuesday and Saturday, early in the morning, they’d wake up to run the city together.
That training led up to last year’s race, when Myrna signed up for the Long Beach Half Marathon. She completed the race in around two hours and 45 minutes, even while having to make frequent stops along the way.
“For every mile there’s a bathroom,” she says. “And I had to stop to go pee because of my condition.”
It’s especially important for Myrna to stay hydrated, and she is forced to drink a lot more than the average runner. Plus, having just one kidney puts additional strain on her body. But all that means is more bathroom breaks on her way to the finish line. She’s running this year’s race as an anniversary run, but it will mean much more than that.
A few weeks back, Myrna started to feel like something wasn’t right. She just wasn’t quite the same.
“I lost my appetite. I couldn’t sleep at night. You can feel there’s something wrong with your body.”
On September 21, Myrna was told that her cancer had metastasized to her fallopian tubes and ovaries, and had formed a tumor. Her doctors scheduled her for an intense round of chemotherapy to begin on October 5, but Myrna couldn’t miss her run, and had the appointments postponed.
She is currently scheduled to have four seven-hour treatments over the course of two weeks following the race, but does not look forward to what that will do to her body.
“Imagine, if I’m going to do that, imagine what’s going to happen to me. I’m going to look miserable,” Myrna says. “Chemotherapy will kill you—it’s medicine. Not like running—it’s a miracle.”
She knows that the decision on her treatment is ultimately up to her, but in the meantime, she just keeps running every day.
An engaging personality who is never lost for words, Myrna describes herself as the joker in the group that always makes people laugh. Her spirit has remained strong through her difficult time, and she feels inspired to give back to others. She spends a lot of her time volunteering, and has even had the chance to return to her home country to race. In November of 2011, she raced in her native Philippines with the intention of “inspiring people over there”.
But Long Beach is where her heart is, and it’s the race that means the most to her. Back in August, she set her goal to finish the 13.1-mile race in under two hours, “Because I don’t stop. I don’t quit.”
She has even challenged others to race with her, including some of her classmates from the Trinity Vocational Center in Gardena, where she studied Nursing back in 2009.
“I told them, ‘There’s no weight, there’s no age, there’s nothing when it comes to running. Look at me. I can still run. And I only have one kidney.’”
But Myrna has no intention of letting up for her the classmates that come out to run with her. After all, she’s got that two-hour goal to push for.
“I’m not sure if I’m gonna run with them,” she laughs. “I told them I might be faster than them. It’s hard to wait, because you have to keep the momentum.”
“Once you start running, you want to keep running. As soon as you stop, it’s hard to keep going.”