By Ryan Winiarski
Oct. 11, 2015. It was a cold and wet Saturday morning as I tied up my laces to run the Hartford marathon. Only my second marathon, I had let time slip by and was completely unprepared, untrained, and foolishly optimistic as I stepped out to run those 26.2 miles that morning. I was so unaware how much my life was about to change.
Pacing myself, I recall thinking, “This is easy, I didn’t even train and I’m still running an 8:30 mile.” With thoughts like that running through my head and feeling like my optimism was paying off, I was determined to prove I could destroy this race without wasting all that time training. I hummed the tune:
“Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride
Nobody’s gonna slow me down, oh no
I’ve got to keep on movin!’”
With a cocky arrogance, Mile 20 came out of nowhere and slapped me down with an obstacle unlike any I had ever faced... That wall would become a metaphor for the challenges I would face in the next couple months, and was also the beginning of my journey to the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon.
Early November. Recovery from the race took a long time, but I felt like I deserved the pain and discomfort for not properly training and thinking that I could cruise through a marathon. A few weeks later, I started a new job, about an hour drive from my house. While the long drive wasn’t ideal, the ride gave me plenty of time to listen to Elvis Duran and the Morning Show.
One morning, as I listened and laughed along to the antics and shenanigans, the message hit home. You see, this was November: Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, and Elvis had Dr. Oz on the show teaching everyone how and what to do to check your testicles for lumps. In typical fashion, Greg T stripped down to nothing, and had Dr. Oz checking his boys for lumps and abnormalities. While Dr. Oz didn’t find any abnormalities or lumps on Greg T’s testicles, I was driving to work trying to convince myself that the enlarged testicle in my pants was just a strain from the marathon a month before.
It was about a week before Thanksgiving, and in 4 days I had scheduled a vacation to go to Curaçao with my parents for ten days. A bit worried about what the doctor might say, but not wanting this testicle issue to hang over my head on vacation, I went to have it checked out.
The doctor immediately felt there was cause for concern and sent me to get an ultrasound on my testicle. The ultrasound results were in and it was clear that there was an issue, but it was unclear as to whether it was a tumor or just an infection — as a precaution I was put on an antibiotic. A bit scared and unsure of what this all meant, I asked the doctor, “Should I cancel my trip in 2 days?” To which I was informed nothing’s going to happen till after Thanksgiving, so go and enjoy your vacation.
Flying into Curaçao I knew this was going to linger in the back of my mind the entire time I was there, but in my head I was hoping this was an infection or a curable STD, and not “the big C.” I knew that the first KLM Curaçao Marathon was happening while I was on the island and considered signing up, but quickly started having ludicrous thoughts like, “What if running the Hartford marathon unprepared was what caused this mass in my groin?”
Stressing out the entire week about not having cell phone service, I was anxious to get back and hear from the urologist to know what was going to happen next. The minute I landed in Miami, my phone blew up with messages from the urologist’s office. One terrifying message after another, I listened to them all, until I finally got to the last one, which had come in that day. Informing me that he was gravely concerned about the mass and not understanding why I was ignoring calls from his office, the doctor urged me to call and come in right away.
The next day I was in his office going through a battery of tests, followed by an appointment for surgery two days later. It was December 5th, and I was barely recovered from my island hangover, as I was rolled into an operating room to have one of my boys chopped from my loins, leaving me half the man I once was. Surgery went well, and after some uncomfortable recovery time, I was confronted with more testing and chemotherapy to ensure nothing had spread to my lymph nodes.
Fast forward to January 19. I received an email about entering the lottery for the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon, to which my girlfriend, Meredith, had already qualified — and despite my current situation, I didn’t want to be left on the sidelines watching. Plus what were the chances that I would actually get selected…
February rolled around and I completed my chemo and just had to avoid getting sick. I spoke with my oncologist about running, and really wanted to know when I could get back out and start doing casual runs and exercise. She advised me that it was in my best interest to not be too physically active for a month or two. That lasted till March 4th, the day the lottery selections were announced.
I opened my email to find: “Congratulations!! You’ve been selected to run in the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon!” While extremely excited about being selected, I still didn’t feel 100% healed. I was fighting fits of depression, and because I had changed jobs and insurance right before my diagnosis, money was really tight. Still, a week later I threw my hat into the ring, telling myself this may be a once in a lifetime experience.
I looked at running the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon as a bookend to my experience with cancer. It would be almost a year since I had started feeling symptoms and I wanted to use running as a way to beat my depression. Training gave me a way of getting out of my own head, focusing on the road, miles, and the spectacular event in the greatest city in the world that lay ahead of me.
I recently went back in for a scan and blood tests, and it was great news when the doctors informed me that nothing had spread and my blood work showed no cancer markers — but also that I was looking healthy and happy! Looking forward to closing the book as I run my very first TCS New York City Marathon!
Ryan Winiarski, 38, lives in Suffield, CT. In November 2014, Ryan was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After surgery and months of chemotherapy, he is now in remission and is working to remain healthy and active. When Ryan was going through treatment, he was inspired to enter the lottery with his girlfriend, Meredith Lanoue, for the TCS New York City Marathon, and both he and his girlfriend were given bids.
Though there have been times of doubt on whether or not he would be able to train for and complete the marathon, Ryan said, “If I didn’t run the marathon, I would be letting myself get beat up by what happened,” and that is something he is not willing to do. Ryan and his girlfriend are running together, and they are both excited to run the race in their all-time favorite city.