How one runner overcame cancer diagnoses on her journey to the Boston Marathon

Marathon runners walking to the reunification areas after the race. Photo by Nia Harmon

04/19/2023 by Nia Harmon

On Monday, April 17th, around 30,000 runners flocked to Boston to run in the 127th annual Boston Marathon. A symbol of athleticism and mental toughness, the oldest marathon in the United States attracts runners from around the world, all looking to tackle the 26.2-mile trek starting in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and ending before Copley Square.

Marathon runners walk to the reunification areas after the race. Photo by Nia Harmon

Traveling to Boston from Vancouver, British Columbia, completing the marathon was not only a long-awaited dream for Mikaela Barnes but also a reminder of how strong one can be when determined to achieve a goal. 

Training throughout her teenage and young adult years, Barnes ran in half marathons as a university student. Eventually qualifying for the Boston Marathon in 2019 after running in the BMO Vancouver Marathon, Barnes had her sights set on competing the following year. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from running in 2020, on top of unforeseen health challenges in Barnes’s life that detoured her original marathon plans.

“The following year, I would’ve loved to compete, but I actually got diagnosed with cancer, and I had treatment that ended in surgery seven months ago,” Barnes said. “Seven months after my surgery, [I am] finishing treatment running the marathon.”

Through the diagnoses, Barnes found solace in running, continuing to work towards her goal.  

“Running was a part of my journey all the way through,” Barnes said. “It was an outlet and a place [where] I could maintain something that felt like myself through radiation and chemotherapy treatment.”

Following the surgery and recovery period when Barnes was unable to run, her continued perseverance throughout the diagnoses contributed to a renewed sense of strength on race day. 

“I’d also say having had the treatment experience that I did, I feel mentally tougher than ever before,” Barnes said. “I felt like I conquered those hills with a different ‘oomph” in my step, which was pretty amazing.”

For Barnes, the Boston Marathon remains a symbol of triumph in spite of the obstacles. 

“Maybe someone else’s individual marathon isn’t running forty-two kilometers, but I think that there’s grit and determination that comes from it,” Barnes said. “The marathon is a great example of just mental and physical strength, and I think it’s something that can carry forward through any experience that someone goes through.”