November 29th, 2011
11:45 AM ET

Human Factor: Running marathons while fighting cancer at 70

In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship –- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week we meet Don Wright, who developed a passion for running marathons later in life, right before getting diagnosed with cancer. His goal is to run 50 marathons in 50 states.

"I've made an appointment with an oncologist for you." These are words that no one wants to hear from their doctor, ever. It was multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer with a median survival of about five years after diagnosis.

I had lost weight at Weight Watchers', then started running, and had just run my first marathon. Myeloma attacks the bones, and a broken bone would stop my running, so I was determined to run the Boston Marathon before I lost the ability to do so. I qualified for Boston and then ran it, then a few more marathons here and there. I had no reasonable expectation of finishing all 50 states.

That was eight years ago. I'm now 70 years old and since the diagnosis I have run 60 marathons in 41 different states, including the Seattle Marathon last Sunday. After some treatments that didn't stop it, the cancer has been stable for three and a half years on a novel investigational drug called pomalidomide, just a pill that I take once a day. I'm a beneficiary of modern innovation and research.

I have this incurable cancer, and my most pressing health problem is runners' knee!

My doctors are uniformly enthusiastic about the running as a way to strengthen my immune system and my bones. "We're not sure why it works, but keep doing what you're doing."

We can't know how long this treatment will continue to keep the cancer from growing, but for now, my family and I are relishing the extra time that I have been given, by traveling and doing these marathons together. They are a celebration of life!

I stand at the starting line and get choked up, thinking of the people I know who haven't survived myeloma, and how lucky I am to be alive and able to run a marathon. I can't wait to start the race. Even on a cold, rainy day in Seattle, I enjoyed every moment. As I run, I sometimes imagine that I'm just floating along, drifting past the scenery. I feel wonderful, and we're going for all 50 states.

Since August I have also been running on behalf of Team Continuum, a charity started by a man with myeloma. It helps patients and their families meet their daily expenses while fighting cancer. Here's how you can help:

- Click "like" on this Facebook page and a donor will contribute $5.00 at no cost to you: facebook.com/ERACECANCER.

- Go here if you would like to make your own donation directly to TeamContinuum.net.

With my cancer I am very lucky to be able to run marathons, and I feel even more privileged to run them on behalf of other cancer patients.

soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Derek

    Great story. You are an inspiration! Keep it up and good luck with your next endeavor.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Darryl May

    I thought my marathon days were over!! I ran Boston in 2008 and then was diagnosed with MM in 2009. Your story is inspirational!!! At age 50, I am going to put marathoning back in my plans. Thank you for your story.

    November 29, 2011 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Don Wright

      That's so cool! Good for you. I think that running benefits every aspect of health: Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

      November 30, 2011 at 23:52 | Report abuse |
  3. ksmahoney

    What a wonderful story. Exercise can be beneficial in ways we may not yet understand, and at the very least may improve mood, outlook, and stave off depression. I wish you the very best!

    November 29, 2011 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Laura

    My dad, an avid hiker, died from this cancer at 68 and while he seemed in fairly decent health during his treatments, I cannot imagine him running marathons with multiple myeloma. That in itself is amazing! Great story, and it is good to see new treatments are more and more effective. Keep it up!!!!

    November 29, 2011 at 18:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Dr Bill Toth

    I hope that as he finsihes the 50th state that his goal has expanded to include other countries. Live with Intention, DrBillTothCom/blog

    November 29, 2011 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Robert J English

    I am preparing to run my second marathon in May 2012. I am going to be 55 years old. Stories like Don's inspire me. Keep up the good work, Don.

    November 30, 2011 at 07:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bart & Eve


    A truly inspiring and motivating story. You exemplify what running is about and what it does for mind, body and spirit when running for the right reasons. Bravo Don! Keep with it, achieve your goals and then keep going.

    November 30, 2011 at 08:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Runstrong

      Running does not care about the reason! Run!

      December 29, 2012 at 12:37 | Report abuse |
  8. Ed

    Dear Don,
    Please tell me what kind of medication are you on. I do hope it is a natural medication because I've tried everything and now I may not make it without a miracle from God. The doctor said I have liver tumors that has increased its size. I started out with a colon exam and to my amazement they found polyps that was removed but had later spread to my liver. If anyone knows about a natural medication that can shrink tumors and boost my immune system without any side effects please let me know. PLease don't forget to pray for me everyone. I have a family that needs me and I need them. Lets remember that love heals all wounds. We all are a blessing to each other.

    December 2, 2011 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hank Horlings

      Dear Ed,

      I went to a seminar on alternative cures and I asked what do you suggest to get rid of cancer and Burton Goldber, the instructor said to eat a ton of broccoli as it has the highest cancer fighting agents

      December 2, 2011 at 16:33 | Report abuse |
    • Don Wright

      Ed – it's an investigational drug called pomalidomide.

      December 3, 2011 at 21:34 | Report abuse |
    • Isabella

      Dear Ed there are remedies that can cure or at least stop cancer cell from spreading look in YouTube for dr Tullio Simoncini he talk about Bakin Soda and his benefit another is Rick Simpson who talk about Hemp Oil. Hope that i can help you, i'll praying for you and may God bless you with healing.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:15 | Report abuse |
  9. Pauline Layne

    It is amazing the strengh you have when you take the right nutrition, I want to wish Mr. Wright the best of health and may GOD continue to BLESS him with more health. I have been suffering with back pain no doctor could ever tel me whats wrong, and most tell me it is arithritis, I only started feeling a significant amount of pain reduction after taking ViSalus nutrition and vitamins. everyone feel free to have a look at my site http://www.my90byvi.bodyvi.com and Don keep on going

    December 2, 2011 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Hank Horlings

    Help cure Cancer: Broccoli

    My Dad had cancer in 1995, I went to a seminar on alternative cures and I asked what do you suggest to get rid of cancer and Burton Goldber, the instructor said to eat a ton of broccoli as it has the highest cancer fighting agents in it so I told my dad and as he went back to his check ups after eating broccoli on a regular basis the tests came back with his white blood count dropping below normal and the doctors told him what ever you are doing, keep doing it. My Dad will be 90 July 1 2012 and is still doing good. Hope you and others get to read this.

    Hank Horlings,

    Waldport, OR

    December 2, 2011 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. jason

    Good Job Don. My mom had Ovarian cancer and never gave up or gave in and she is doing well today and cured . its people like you that make this world awesome

    December 3, 2011 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. john

    Glad to hear that your doing well.
    Could you give me the name of that pill that you take every day?
    I would like to try the pill after my chemo.

    December 3, 2011 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Judy

    Don....I'm so happy for you! I was watching CNN and heard the word "Multiple Myeloma" and my ears perked up. You're story and strength are wonderful. Unbelievable what you are doing. I will add you to my prayers! I learned something from you story and Dr. Gupta's comments too.

    December 3, 2011 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Bill

    Don, saw your story on HLN. My father has been recently diagnosed with the same disease. His back pain has caused his physical activity to come to a halt, this in turn is causing depression. I had not heard of the drug you are now taking but was hoping you could inform me as to it's name and of it's availability to other patients with MM. Good luck to you amd your quest to run in all fifty states.

    December 4, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Cyndi

    Don, I saw your story today on HLN. My husband was diagnosed in 2008 with MM he has undergone a bone marrow transplant, various chemo treatments, one clincial trial, but nothing seems to be working. His lambda light chains are very high now, he is now on Relvimid to try and keep the cancer cells at bay until they can get him on a compassionate use drug. Can you please tell me what drug you are now taking so that I can ask our doctor about it. Thanks so much for sharing your story you have touched so many people–keep up the good work. God Bless you Don and you will be in our prayers.

    December 4, 2011 at 21:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Joe

    Don- Saw your story on CNN news this morning. Like you I am a cancer patient. I was told the five year survival rate for my type of kidney cancer is 20%. My meds have side effects that prevent me from running or even walking a lot, so I ride bicycles. Most mornings I wake up at 5am and ride a 8 mile hilly route in the area where I live in central Texas. It is a great hour for me as my feet are fine riding a bike and my day goes much better with a nice workout at the start of the morning! I also ride 60-89 mile charity cycling events in my region. I was diagnosed in 2007 and had a football sized left kidney removed at the age of 57 years. Also had "mets" removed from my lungs in three surgeries since. My oncologist is a elite marathon runner and gets very excited to see my continuation of exercise and full time work. I have a lot of people watching me who say they are amazed with my active live and positive outlook. I am glad to see you are inspiring others with national attention! Keep up the good work and know you are also in my prayers.

    December 11, 2011 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Eric Rutin

    Great story. You are an inspiration!

    December 12, 2011 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. my name it Garry Simms

    I have MM diagnosed Jan 2010 had three vertabres crumble I had 10 Radiation 60 kemo treatment n tandem bone marrow transplant I work out with weights ride a bike treadmill n I'm active all day long threw the grace of a loving God n tons of prayer I'm still fighting the fight this is not a deaded sentence I live 1 day at a time n I refuse 2 give up that's the only time u lose is when u give up

    January 10, 2013 at 22:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Tam Hazinski

    Younger lambs are smaller and more tender. Mutton is meat from a sheep over two years old, and has less tender flesh. In general, the darker the colour, the older the animal. Baby lamb meat will be pale pink, while regular lamb is pinkish-red.:*.`

    http://calaguastourpackage.comOver and out

    May 25, 2013 at 00:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Alexis Nicholas


    Here at Pace Per Mile, we have been inspired by your story that we read here: http://www.mlive.com/sports/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/03/73-year-old_myeloma_patient_do.html and how inspirational you are to those around you.

    We would like to set up a time about two weeks from now to interview you and talk a little bit about why you decided to start running, how the cancer has effected your life and how you've chose to not let it stop you here on Pace Per Mile. The audio interview would take about 15 to 25 minutes via phone. The interview would air on multiple locations from our website that reaches more than 6.5 million visitors a year, our iTunes subscribers, and social networking including nearly 55,000 followers online. Simply, it's a way for us to promote what you did and get your name out there.

    We will try to schedule the interview around your availability so if you could let me know a few dates and times that would work best for you, that would be great. Is it possible for you to contact me at alexis.nicholas@pacepermile.com.


    Alexis Nicholas

    March 31, 2014 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.