Debbie Salerno Moran ’90
Starts WeCancerveFitness.com to Help Ease the Pain of Cancer
by Judy Cabassa Tart ’78
August 2001. She sat in her doctor’s office, trying to digest a myriad of issues and information – diagnosis, prognosis, course of treatment. Like thousands of other women each year, Debbie Salerno Moran ’90 had just gotten the news that she had breast cancer. She was shocked, especially because she had no obvious risk factors. She was young and slim, exercised regularly, ate a healthy diet, and had breast-fed her three children – all factors known to decrease the risk of breast cancer. Plus there was no history of breast cancer in her family. She felt completely healthy. How could that little lump be cancer?
“I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I remember focusing on a small Ironman Triathlon trophy on my doctor’s desk. It was as if I were wired to accept images like that at that moment.” As she gazed at the symbol of tenacity and strength that symbolized the completion of perhaps the most grueling competition known to athletes, she understood that she would be looking to his strength to get her through this awful challenge.
Within weeks of this change to Moran’s world came the change to all of our lives – September 11, 2001. Moran and her husband lost his cousin, a close family friend and another friend’s husband. Amidst the shock and grief, Moran came to realize that the victims of 9/11 had no chance to fight, but she could fight.
She began chemotherapy, followed by radiation. As the regimen progressed, her body weakened, and for the first time she felt sick. All along, her body had masked all symptoms of this insidious invasion. Her body had betrayed her, and now she felt could not trust it. To regain control, Moran resumed her exercise by walking. She developed a rapport with her doctor about the need for exercise, and shared her workout schedule with him. The initial two miles became one mile as treatments took their toll, then it was three blocks, then to the end of the driveway.
Still she persevered. December 31, 2001, marked her last treatment, and with that end came a new challenge – Moran committed herself to training for a marathon. The 2002 New York City marathon became the first of many (see bottom.)
Gradually the effects of her chemotherapy and radiation subsided. Instead of needing to reduce her activity, Moran felt compelled to keep moving. Each day that she increased her routine, moved more, she felt more alive. Exercise allowed her to take control of her body and her life.
With courage and determination, and the support of friends and family, Moran completed the 2002 New York City Marathon. It was the end of one chapter of her life, and the beginning of a new one. She couldn’t help but think that a regimen of activity would be good for all cancer patients, both mentally and physically. She knew that exercise was an important component in her fight against cancer, and felt it was her job to get the word out.
Moran began searching for statistics and information on cancer and exercise. In 2003 and 2004 studies were released that corroborated her personal experience. Several hundred men and women of all ages and types in all stages of cancer were showing improvement through exercise, just as she had. With this confirmation, she forged ahead to develop a business plan. It became a family affair, as her daughter suggested the name. Moran relates, “My daughter said to me, “I know why they call it cancer – because you can survive!” With that, wecancervivefitness.com was launched.
In working with another volunteer organization, Moran had seen brochures and promotional materials that she liked. In contacting the graphic artist to discuss her venture, she learned that the woman also had a company that focused on helping other women develop small businesses. It reminded her of her Trinity experience. “At Trinity I was surrounded by women helping women. It all came together as if it was meant to be.”
One thing followed another. Outreach began with doctors’ offices – including her own – and spread to area hospitals. Moran’s business now has a steady flow of local clients, but with a website its reach is limitless. Plans for a book that will also reach a more global audience are in the mix as well.
Moran works with clients to develop exercise routines that are appropriate for each person, incorporating meditation and positive thinking with a personalized physical regimen. Her motto: “If you believe it, you can achieve it.” Clients receive uplifting stories and current research news in addition to workout sessions, all aimed at moving forward with a positive frame of mind. All parts of the program are integral to the overall success of the patient. “It’s amazing, after feeling so sick from chemo and radiation, how your body wants to be healthy again,” she relates. “The power of the human body is amazing, especially combined with the human spirit.”
Moran is glad to share her story because it is an opportunity to spread the word about exercise. She reminisced, “At Trinity, we had a group of friends known as the Get-Along Gang. When I was diagnosed, one of my friends sent me a card that contained a quote from Maya Angelou – ‘Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.’ It is such an important concept. To me, anyone who is engaged in the fight against cancer is a survivor. I have lost many friends to this disease, but I still consider them to be survivors because of the way they lived their lives. That is the greatest lesson. It gives purpose. When (cancer) happens at an unnatural time in your life, you need to make the most of it. I am so grateful to be here. I love my life. I prayed I would stay on this earth. I am a very spiritual person. When this happened, I didn’t find my religion – it was there for me.”
A Greater Cause Than Yourself
Moran remembers that New Year’s Eve in 2001, the end of a terrible year and the last day of chemotherapy and radiation, when she first decided to train for the New York City Marathon. It was hard work building her stamina to earn a slot in the mother of all marathons. She drew a coveted lottery number – one of 30,000 runners selected from a pool of more than 60,000 applicants – and joined “Fred’s Team,” a group that raises money for Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC. She reached out to her community, asking for a dime or a dollar per mile. People responded with checks, many for $26.20. As the big day arrived and Moran paced herself through the streets of New York City, her husband and son engaged in their own subway marathon, popping up at various points along the route with big pink signs to cheer her on. As she passed Sloan Kettering at mile 17, she was energized at the sight of pediatric cancer patients, pajama-clad, in wheelchairs and standing, waving from the sidewalk. Moran was victorious, completing her first marathon in just over four hours and raising nearly $25,000.
Success breeds success – the following year Moran’s husband Bill joined her in training, and again friends supported them, challenging him to match Moran’s achievement. In the six years since her diagnosis and treatment, Moran has completed marathons in New York (twice), Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Lake Placid and Washington, DC. She always runs as a cancer survivor, and to date has raised more than $75,000 for cancer research, benefiting Sloan-Kettering and the Young Survivor Coalition of Boston, among others.