My mini-marathon: Running to beat cancer

Mother-of-two Catherine Egan continued to exercise during treatment for breast cancer and believes it played a key role in her recovery

Catherine Egan. Photo:

Catherine Egan. Photo:


Exercise has been a key element of Catherine Egan’s recovery from breast cancer. When she was diagnosed in August 2016 life suddenly became very dark.

“I had been out running one morning and felt a lump in the shower on my breast. Two days later, I put on a running top and you could actually see the lump. I went to the doctor straightaway and two weeks later I was starting chemo. It was terrible. I asked myself, ‘am I going to see my little girl go to school next year, what am I going to miss in life?’”

Egan originally started running for fitness reasons. “I’m a busy mum and I worked full-time. I was just trying to get myself back into some sort of shape after having two kids. I was just about tipping to 10km mark before I was diagnosed.”

She began to research the importance of staying active during cancer treatment and pushed herself to continue running through the initial rounds of chemotherapy. “I was able to run for about seven-eight of them, but I did get slower over time. I just had to get out of the house.

Catherine's story

“There’s this big misconception that you should wrap yourself in cotton wool and not exercise during treatment. But research shows the value of exercise when it comes to both preventing reoccurrence of the cancer but also reducing the symptoms the treatment can have.”

Catherine Egan. Photo:
Catherine Egan.

In May of last year, while she was still undergoing her treatment, Egan decided to run the 2018 VHI mini marathon. She joined a running group in Leixlip and slowly began easing her body back into the exercise. “My kids now see me training three times a week. My little boy, who is three years’ old, thinks I’m going to win. We try to normalise exercise in our house, that you do sport and exercise to keep yourself fit and healthy.”

Art project

A few months ago, Egan read in her running group’s WhatsApp group that VHI were looking for women to share their stories for an art project. “At first I thought I’m not going to respond to that. But then my husband said ‘you’re always saying you want other women in treatment to know the value of exercise’ so I put my name forward.” She was introduced to artist Vanessa Power who produced a painting based on Egan’s reasons for signing up to the race.

“I got quite emotional when I saw the painting. It said ‘we run to be stronger’. When I told Vanessa my story the word ‘strength’ would have been the last thing I’d think she’d come up with. I was delighted that somebody would meet me and think I’d come out stronger.”

Egan will be fundraising for the Irish Cancer Society’s Breast-Predict research programme and feels strongly about promoting Irish scientists’ research into cancer.

She completed her treatment last September and says exercise has played a key role in her recovery over the past few months. “I’m a different person entirely now in terms of how I look at life. I’d be quite a positive person and I lost that positivity for a long time. I found it very difficult to hold it together during the treatment. But now it’s like a light has shone through. I’m so much more aware of how precious life is. It was so important keeping strong and fit, it’s amazing what your body can do.”

Part 1: ‘We run for hope’
Part 2: ‘We run for me time’