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I ran 50 marathons in 50 states, all while battling cancer

By Don Wright, Special to CNN
updated 9:17 AM EST, Wed February 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Don Wright finished his goal of running 50 marathons in 50 states last month
  • His last race was in Honolulu, which he ran with his daughter
  • Wright says an experimental drug has helped him keep his cancer at bay

Editor's note: 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. In 2011, we met Don Wright, who developed a passion for running marathons right before his cancer diagnosis. Wright decided to run a marathon in each state. He achieved his goal last month.

(CNN) -- I feel incredibly lucky to have the health and the years needed to run a marathon in each of the 50 states.

When I was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma nine years ago, only half of newly diagnosed patients survived more than five years. Since then, I've run 70 marathons, the most recent in Hawaii, my 50th state.

Hot, exhausted, sore, bent a little to the right, and walking a lot, I finally trotted across that finish line in Honolulu. I'm sure I had a big grin on my face because it was the end of a long quest, the completion of which was never a certainty.

There are more people who climb Mount Everest each year than there are runners who finish 50 states of marathons.

I remember laughing a little, feeling a mixture of joy and relief, as I limped to the table where I could pick up my finisher's shirt and medal. I didn't dare sit down at first, afraid that my muscles would cramp up -- I had to keep walking for a few minutes at least. Everything was sore.

But muscles recover, and I was soon off to the other events of the day: an interview, then to collect my wife and daughter (who also ran the full marathon). We checked out of the hotel and hustled to catch a plane, where I could finally relax. Sleep came easily, even on the plane.

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Since then, the 50 States Marathon Club has accepted my documentation, so I'm a certified "50 Stater." It's done and official. Right now I'm savoring the temporary freedom from goals and running just for the joy of it.

One big reason that I can run with myeloma is a drug called pomalidomide. It's just a little red pill that I take every night. It doesn't cure the cancer but has kept it at bay for almost five years, without the severe side effects and clinic visits of regular chemotherapy. It's a miracle drug for me.

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When I started taking pomalidomide, it was an investigational drug, not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration. I wish that life-saving experimental drugs such as it could be much more widely available to people whose lives are threatened by illness.

Happily, pomalidomide has been approved by the FDA and will be available to those who need it soon, marketed under the name Pomalyst. It has the potential to do for thousands more what it has done for me.

We don't know what's next for us yet, but whatever it is we'll continue to do it as a family. My wife and daughter have 48 states, including their marathons and their half-marathons, so we'll certainly run in their remaining states, Virginia and Massachusetts. And whatever we do, it will be in support of worthy charities.

Live one day at a time and make it a masterpiece.

See more from the Human Factor series

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