In 2003, Don Wright received a daunting diagnosis of multiple myeloma. But not only has the 78-year-old survived, he has thrived. He’s since run 100 marathons, and is preparing for June’s National Senior Games.
The founder of eRace Cancer, a social media campaign to educate patients about advances and innovations in cancer treatments, Wright is competing in various track and field events this year, including the June 14-25 Biennial Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
He said cancer treatments that weren’t available when he was diagnosed have helped manage the disease. In fact, he hopes to run even faster this year.
“When I was diagnosed I looked it up, and the life expectancy for myeloma was two to five years,” Wright said in a press release. Now, 16 years later, I’m running track in the National Senior Games and can even dream about winning a medal. How’s that for progress?”
He began running marathons around the time he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of bone marrow cells. At the time, he said, the maximum disease survival rate was five years. But after running one marathon, Wright decided to try to qualify for the iconic Boston Marathon. He did, and has since completed at least one marathon in every state.
“With every mile and step I take, I am living proof that the best prescription for longevity is continued support for medical research and therapeutic development,” he said on an eRace Cancer webpage.
“Time and time again we have seen that medical progress can benefit the lives of cancer patients by staying ahead of the cancer’s ability to become resistant to treatment, and by providing treatments with fewer side effects that allow us to live to the full extent of our abilities,” he said.
Wright had tried numerous treatments before entering a clinical trial for a new oral drug that not only held the myeloma in check, but freed him to run around the country. About two years ago he added a second medication to his regimen that wasn’t available when he was diagnosed.
That’s why he established eRace Cancer in 2012 — to let others patients know that today’s cancer treatments are relatively more effective, and that more therapies are coming, he said.
“As I said at the time, here I am with cancer and my biggest complaint is runner’s knee,” said Wright, who advises fellow patients to clear exercise programs with their physicians.
The Minneapolis, Minnesota resident did not specify what treatments he takes. But promising studies and therapies abound.
Wright’s running is a family affair. He trains and travels to meets with his daughter Sarah, and wife of 55 years, Ardis, who also qualified for the upcoming games. Despite knee and hamstring issues, Wright qualified in four events last year — the 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter runs.
He works with a trainer because, as a cancer patient, he has special considerations. For instance, it’s risky for him to bolt from race starting blocks. Along with aches and exhaustion, patients can suffer from brittle bones that may break easily and can cause spine fractures. Wright even has to pace his training, taking what is usually a one-month program and stretching it to three.
Still, he has set his sights even higher, and continues to work to raise awareness of medical progress and innovation.
“As a kid I was one of the fastest on my block and even in my 60s I was fast,” said Wright, who has a robust social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. “I’d like to return to my running roots with a race measured in minutes and seconds instead of hours.”