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My Running Story - Shari Brain Nunez

I’m not an athlete but I try to stay healthy. Sometimes I’m not so successful at that but I try to keep moving.

I started running in high school. I was one of two female members on our high school cross country team. It was an uphill battle but I worked hard to stay in the competition.

Much later in life...after I married into 5 kids and gained a bunch of weight...I started running again. I was back to a healthy weight and feeling good. I stayed active and had run multiple marathons, half marathons, 10k’s and 5k’s.

Then I had a tooth ache. It lingered and I tried to ignore it. Finally I went to the dentist. He sent me to the oral surgeon who sent me to the specialist. I was diagnosed with Stage IV sarcomatoid carcinoma of the mandible.

Life as I knew it stopped and everything changed.

Within a month I had major surgery that removed my lower jaw and transplanted my left fibula to rebuild my jaw. They took a large amount of tissue, muscle and blood vessels from my lower leg along with the bone to reconstruct my jaw. This was followed by weeks of radiation and months of physical and occupational therapy. I had to relearn everything from talking and walking to eating. I also had lymphedema in my face, neck, chest and arms from the surgery and radiation.

I was determined to keep moving so I started walking races because I had too much pain to run them.

Fast forward 8 months... I was working with an occupational therapist trying to get control of the lymphedema. She told me she used to run organized races but could no longer run due to back issues. Then she told me about a race she was determined to participate in...the Happy Half Marathon...because it had this super cool, glass medal for finishing. I said let’s walk it. She said she would feel like a loser to walk it. I asked her if she’d ever won a race. She said no... you’ve always been a loser...

So she tells me about the race. The Happy Half Marathon... in Springfield, Ohio... ...wait...what?

My parents grew up in Springfield, Ohio... My dad’s family started the Brain Lumber Company... My maiden name is Brain... My grandparents, dad, aunts, uncles, cousins, all worked there... So...we signed up for the race, planned our trip and booked a hotel.

That was last year. 9 days after my one year cancer free anniversary. We both walked the race and finished with tears in our eyes. The Happy Half crew cheered us on through the whole race and welcomed us to the finish line. It was a huge accomplishment for both of us and something we’re both super proud of.

Since then I’ve completed multiple half marathons and 5k’s. I’m feeling good and determined to keep moving.

I’m already signed up for this years Happy Half and looking forward to it. It will be 2 years and 6 days past the surgery that removed the cancer. I’m hoping some of my bee squad will walk with me.

My mantra... stay positive, keep moving and do everything the doctors tell you you have to do. So far... so good.

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