Editor’s note: On Dec. 11, 2016, Darrell Henry passed away. This ended a three-year struggle that was harder for the cancer than for Henry. “Cancer will have no victory here,” says his sister, Misty Henry.
Darrell Henry has no colon. But he has a heart, the heart of a champion.
Henry’s colon was removed in June 2013 “because of hundreds of polyps and a large cancerous tumor brought on because of familial adenomatous polyposis, a genetic disorder which causes polyps in basically any part of the body. With hundreds of colon polyps it’s inevitable some will become cancerous.”
The biggest drawback to being colon-less: Hydration. “Most of the body’s hydration occurs in the colon. I drink 150-200 ounces per day to stay properly hydrated,” he says.
Doctors used a section of small intestine to build a replacement (called a j-pouch) for the colon and followed up by 12 rounds of chemo. Henry endured one round of chemo every other week for six months.
Henry decided to enjoy the experience as much as possible and dedicate himself to running.
“My intention was to fight as hard as I could, take any treatment necessary and beat cancer but also to gain as much positive from the experience as I could,”
says Henry, who tries to run 50 to 70 miles a week, even during chemo.
Running to Beat Cancer (Again)
“Running was so many things to me. In order to get out in the predawn cold for a 10- or 15-miler during chemo required sitting on the edge of the bed giving myself a pep talk. I would tell myself I was tougher than cancer. Chemo. Surgery. Pushing myself physically through running made chemo seem less of a hurdle. I punished myself physically above what chemo was already doing. That was a huge confidence builder. Not only did it help me physically but mentally and emotionally.”
Pushing himself got Henry through chemo and impressed the medical staff. “My doctors and nurses believed my running background helped my recovery more than anything they could have done,” he says, adding that the chemo treatments ended in January of this year.
Then, cancer returned.
“Being diagnosed with cancer again is no big surprise,” says Henry, of Mulberry, Arkansas. “My genetic mutation is a cancer producer. I was hoping for a longer break, of course. A bit of a letdown and daunting, of course, but there is only one way to look at it. The same way I did the first time. Kill it at any cost.”
For Henry, he uses his experiences to motivate others via social media. He is active on Facebook and Twitter, and uses those forums to inspire his followers. If he can do it, the reasoning goes, they can get out and run, hit the gym or whatever.
“I shall run very hard in the morning. I shall hit the gym at lunch. And on the way home from work. This is everyday. This is for life. For me. And for everyone I know who has cancer.” — Darrell Henry, Facebook post
He continues to work out while undergoing chemo, which started again on Nov. 17. He has five cancerous spots that will be treated with another similar six-month regimen of chemo. Henry is Stage 3B, with a prognosis the same as the first time: a 65 percent survival rate.
“My chemo regimen is three to four hours of infusion every other Monday morning followed by 48 hours attached to a portable chemo pump,” he says. Like the first time, the treatments will go on for six months.
For other cancer patients, Henry has some advice: Consult your physician about exercising, for starters. “Then do as much as you are capable of. If that’s walking 100 feet or running 100 miles. It can only help to be active. (New York City Marathon founder) Fred Lebow said running was the greatest way to fight cancer and I have to agree,” says Henry, who started running at age 27.
When Henry started running, he was suffering from chest pains — stress from his job. He was also overweight and had high blood pressure. “I decided to get in shape, lose weight, and manage my stress rather than rely on medication,” he recalls. “Within a few weeks I was increasing my running mileage and cutting my times and became addicted to how it felt. I’ve always been the type to overdo anything I enjoy. Running is no different.”
Now he hears from people via social media on how he inspires them, which in turn, motivates Henry to keep moving forward.
“People often say my story inspires them. Whether they read it on posts on FB or elsewhere and to hear that inspires me to push harder. To never give up. Knowing they use my efforts to strive harder compels me to run farther and harder. I don’t want to let them down.”
He hopes his blog — https://chasingcancer.wordpress.com/ — will inspire and help others. But it’s also personal therapy. “Writing it. Thinking about it and seeing it laid out in front of me will help me stay focused and watch the progression of this fight.”
Some people have also started fundraising drives to help Henry out.
“The fundraising drives have been surprising,” he says. “I didn’t know anyone planned to do so and these are people I’ve never met in person. To go through the trouble for me is so very touching. Restores a bit of faith in humanity to see others go out of their way to help. It makes me more aware of how I can help others. If they can do this for me I certainly must strive to help others even more so.”
Henry also is inspired by the cancer survivors he has met, including a woman who has beaten cancer four different times.
“It’s the people who face great difficulty but never let it take what they love from them,” he says. “They move forward with purpose and are able to enjoy life as they do so. I wouldn’t give up cancer if given the opportunity. I hope it doesn’t kill me, sure. But it has enriched my life, my experience in such a profound way and in so many ways. I am a much better person because of it.”
Hometown: Mulberry, Arkansas
Number of years running: 17
How many miles a week do you typically run: 50 to 70 miles
Point of pride: The ability to run forever and in the worst of conditions.
Favorite race distance: Anything over 10 miles.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Pasta!
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Anything by Chris Cornell.
Favorite or inspirational mantra: I’d rather die doing this than from anything else.
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
Blog: https://chasingcancer.wordpress.com/, Facebook and Twitter (@Bugs70)
Wow, thanks for the great blog post! Darrell is truly, truly inspiring. His story actually reminds me of the winner of the Runner’s World cover contest–another man fighting cancer who has kept up his running routine, and is leaving the docs shocked at its positive effect on him. I will pray that he beats this and continues to run — and inspire others — for many more years!
Thank you for this story. Now, to go run with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. #forDad #forDarrell
Thanks for reading and the nice comments, Jo and Sheena.
Darrell is pretty incredible. I enjoy following him as he dishes out encouragement to others and teaches us about what it means to persevere.
Another great post Henry. Thanks for bringing Darrel’s story to our attention.
What an inspiration! I love the fact that he’s taking one of the most feared conditions and using it to live more fully. Keep running and inspiring others Darrell.
Thank you so much for your story, it is not only inspirational for me as a runner but helps me as I battle my own fight with cancer. I will keep you in my prayers and continue to follow your story
Darrell died on the 11th of this month. He will never be forgotten. Cancer was battle scarred and weary after its fight with my brother.
Thanks for posting here, Misty. I was keeping up with the news and tributes to Darrell last week on Facebook. And I thought of him quite a bit during my marathon on Sunday. All the best to you and your family.
I’m so sorry to hear that. Our prayers are with your family.