Gunnery Sgt. Jerry Embry vowed to never run another marathon. After running two marathons nearly 20 years ago and several other races throughout the years, the once-avid runner began losing his drive. Now he’s preparing for the most important race of his life.
With new-found inspiration, the cancer survivor who’s been in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for a year will run in the 37th Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. alongside his former oncology nurse, Agnes Sicat from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
In April, the light tactical fleet project officer started training for the Corps’ annual physical fitness test, after returning to Quantico from Okinawa, Japan. A veteran runner, Embry normally runs several miles while training, so he began worry after experiencing shortness of breath after only a short distance.
“I really couldn’t run a mile to a half-mile without stopping and walking,” Embry recalled.
Embry, then 39, thought it was because of age.
“The only time I realized it was when I was exercising, so I figured I was just getting a little older and a little out of shape,” Embry said. “I’d then get aggravated with myself and run even harder.”
But revving up his workout only intensified symptoms. Embry recalled getting light-headed every time he attempted to push himself harder.
After convincing from his co-workers, he went to see a doctor on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. The doctor immediately called the next day. Embry’s blood was abnormal, a tell-tale sign that something was wrong.
He drove to Walter Reed in Bethesda, Md. for more testing and on Memorial Day, Embry was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
“I’m the healthiest person in my family and cancer doesn’t run in my family,” Embry said. “For me to hear that was very shocking but at the same time I never believed I was sick.”
Embry said his refusal to accept the illness or become depressed helped him get through. His positive attitude during the six months of chemotherapy treatment inspired patients and nurses as well.
“You get a few who are like angels,” said Sicat, who treated Embry along with other cancer patients. “There are a variety of ways to handle the disease but there are few people who stand out. I believe their positivity and motivation to live makes a big difference in their recovery. He's one of them.”
Embry would get up to socialize and help other patients, she recalled.
“Despite his illness, he was just always positive, sarcastic and humorous," Sicat said. “Wherever he went, it was always the loud part of the room,” she chuckled.
But Embry didn’t see himself as an inspirational figure.
“I was just being the person I am,” Embry said. “I’m usually the one who keeps everybody going … not necessarily super motivated, just energetic and upbeat.”
Embry said his desire to help others is what inspires him.
On race day, instead of relishing in his personal victory, he will honor the struggle of others: those currently battling cancer and a fallen Marine.
Wrapped around his wrist is a black killed-in-action bracelet, a small reminder of fellow Marine who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Lance Cpl. Thomas P. Elchols was killed in 2006 during a combat mission in Iraq.
“I was the actual CACO (Casualty Assistance Calls Officer) who knocked on the door and told his wife, who was four months pregnant with her first child,” Embry said. “That gives me more inspiration than what I went through, honestly.”
On Oct. 28 Embry will run in honor of Elchols and the thousands who battle cancer. He and Sicat are running with the American Cancer Society Determination team.
Embry trains by running five or six miles a few times a week and running 13 to 15 miles every other week. In addition, he has run four other races this year to help prepare for the marathon, three of which were for cancer research.
Embry admits his goal is no easy feat. He’s even contemplated giving up.
“I’m getting ready to retire, so I don’t have to go out and torture myself with this,” Embry said. “But when I want to quit, I think about what I’ve been through, the people going through treatment now and the people who have lost the battle — that gives me inspiration,” Embry said.
Sicat, who sees dozens of cancer patients each year, said people like Embry give her hope.
“Just seeing him go through what he went through really taught me to take in that will to live and appreciate the fragility of life,” Sicat said. “Many times I’ve seen patients go through therapy and nothing works, which is why research to help prolong their life or find ways to cure cancer is important.”
This race is an opportunity to play a small part in that mission, she said.
Reprinted with permission from the QuanticoSentryOnline