Published in the Torch, January 2015, pages 11-12.
By Nick Stinson
On March 27, 2013, 43-year old Konnie Stinson successfully registered for the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon to be held the following October, setting her on the path to achieve a goal that she had held for several years. There was, however, one small wrinkle: Konnie had not been feeling well for several weeks, experiencing shortness of breath, headaches, and light-headedness. Within a few weeks–and just prior to her son’s second birthday–she would be diagnosed with Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia.
Konnie Stinson looking strong 11 miles into the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC, October 26, 2014
With an IgM level topping 4000 and a bone marrow biopsy showing 90% bone marrow infiltration, her doctors started treating her immediately with plasmapheresis and chemotherapy. The summer of 2013 held many challenges as she dealt with the combination of Waldenstrom’s symptoms and the side effects of chemotherapy. Yet Konnie remained hopeful that she would be able to run the marathon in October. By early August, however, she finally had to admit to herself that this would not be possible. Asked to recall this moment of truth, Konnie says, “It was awful–I thought I had collected myself, but I broke down and cried on the phone with the woman from the marathon. She offered the following encouragement, ‘Hey, look at it this way–you’ll have an extra year to train.’”
Konnie wrapped up her treatments in November of 2013, achieving a partial response but of short duration.
The next move was to pursue a maintenance regimen, first with rituximab and then with the newly introduced ibrutinib. Her response to ibrutinib was excellent, but she experienced serious side effects that led her to discontinue the drug in April of 2014. Again, her blood numbers quickly headed in the wrong direction.
With her husband Nick, Konnie attended the Tampa IWMF Ed Forum in late May. It was a rare chance for them to unplug from their hectic life, and they found time to discuss how she might remove some of the roadblocks standing in the way of the marathon. “I was concerned that she was taking a huge emotional risk – she would be devastated if she couldn’t run that race,” says Nick looking back to those days. “And the complications from her WM had the deck stacked against her, but I was ready to support her no matter what she chose to do.”
Shortly after returning home from the Tampa Forum and after consulting with her doctors, Konnie decided in early June to resume the therapy once again. Of this decision and what it meant for her marathon aspirations, she now says, “I was going to run it no matter what – there were no other options. My deferral in 2013 was for one year only and now registration is by lottery, which meant I might not get in next time. In 2014 I was running it.”
It was at this point in her journey where her toughness and dedication came into full display. She joined a training group that would train on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. Starting in early July, she would receive her chemotherapy every Friday, and be out running in the hot Maine summer weather less than 48 hours later. Every week she ratcheted up the distance, culminating with a 22 mile run in mid-October. Reflecting on what it was like to train while concurrently receiving chemotherapy, Konnie says, ”It was good to have something else to focus on, I was happy to be outside running even though I felt terrible–I was happy that I wasn’t inside hooked to a pheresis machine. Some days were slow, but I had come so far from the previous spring when I could not ascend a flight of stairs without being short of breath.”
The hard work over the summer paid off, and she was ready for the marathon as October arrived. However, she would face one final and significant challenge. On her last long run, exactly one week before the race, a severe bout of plantar fasciitis flared up in her foot. “I have had plantar fasciitis on and off for ten years, but this was by far the worst ever – I literally couldn’t walk on it. I was so angry, but had to figure out how I was going to do the race.” An orthopedic specialist reluctantly agreed to give her a shot of hydrocortisone in her foot. He couldn’t say no when she told him about the journey she had been on over the last several months.
Konnie at the finish line: “I could have kept running.”
On October 26, 2014, with eight close friends and family members in attendance, Konnie ran the 26.2 miles of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. Konnie had this to say when asked about the significance of the accomplishment, “Finishing was bigger than running the 26.2 miles. Running used to be a solo activity for exercise and therapy, but this journey was not a solo one. Prayers came from around the country, I had unconditional support from so many people–my coach, dietician, people helping to watch my 3-year old when needed, peers in my running group, and my family. I saw that community is huge in overcoming any obstacle.”
Concerning Konnie’s achievement, her admiring husband Nick has this to say, “I got her a card a few days before the race to give her a final shot of encouragement. It had a picture of a chocolate chip cookie with the following words:
Tough Cookie (tuf kook-e) noun:
- A person with the right mix of sweetness and strength.
- One who doesn’t crumble under pressure.
- A fighter who’s too busy kicking butt to sit down and cry, but knows it’s okay to do both
- A person who doesn’t always ask for support, but has lots of friends who would do anything to help.
I can’t think of a better way to sum up Konnie’s persona and spirit – this description fits to a tee.”
Konnie Stinson is the co-leader of the new IWMF support group in Maine.