Ten years ago, Beth Py-Lieberman learned she had breast cancer. She was fairly certain it was going to kill her. It didn’t matter that her odds of survival were great. She’d watched her mother die from the disease several years earlier, and now the end felt inevitable.
What upset Beth the most was that she was too young. At 46, she was 15 years below the median age of diagnosis in America. She had two kids, a good career. She ate well. She swam. In the past few years, she’d taken up jogging, mostly up and down Sligo Creek Park, a stretch of woods along a creek that meandered by her house in Silver Spring, Maryland.
During chemotherapy, Beth kept running. She’d wait a few days to get over the wooziness from the chemicals pumped into her veins, then force herself out the door, running every two days until her next treatment, three weeks later. To get through a few miles, she’d play a game with herself: Her route in the park took her by four bridges along a creek, so she equated each bridge with one of the four chemo sessions she had to endure. You’ve made it to one, she’d tell herself as she passed the first bridge. Now just get to the next.
Sure enough, the treatment worked. Today, Beth, who was my boss a few years ago at Smithsonian magazine, is as animated as ever—and, surprisingly, still goes for runs by those bridges in Sligo Creek Park. While the route has never stopped reminding her of that awful period of her life, her perspective on feeling so close to death has shifted.