One year ago, Dotti Fields could barely walk from her bedroom to her living room. She had just started chemotherapy and the chemicals were taking their toll on her body.
"My heart said one thing," she recalled. "But my legs said something else."
A casual runner before being diagnosed with follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the Tarpon Springs woman, 59, hoped she would one day be healthy enough to jog around the block.
"I wasn't really thinking about running a competitive race," she said. "To be honest, the thought of a half marathon never crossed my mind."
But on Nov. 24, the married mother of two grown sons will attempt what her doctors once thought was impossible — complete the Women's Running Half Marathon.
"When people are diagnosed with cancer, they often ask, 'Why me?' " Fields said. "But I know I have a role to play and that is to show that there is hope. You can empower yourself and beat it. I am living proof."
Fields' odyssey began in March 2012 when she noticed a lump in her neck. She was too busy with work to get it checked out, but a few months later, she relented and saw a doctor.
"The doctor called and told me that he thought I had lymphoma cancer," she said. "He said I should see a neck surgeon to have the tumor removed."
She saw an oncologist instead who passed on more bad news: "It was Stage 4, in my bone marrow, therefore fully systemic throughout my body and not curable," Fields explained.
However, as cancers go, it "was a good one," her doctor said. "It could be treated and the tumors maintained." Her treatment plan would include six rounds of chemotherapy. Each session would take two days, every three weeks.
But more curve balls came her way. First, she was bitten by a rabid raccoon. "It was hiding under the car in my garage with three babies," she said. "I had to put my chemo on hold for two months so I could deal with the infectious disease docs and the inoculations."
Two months later, she fell trying to help her aging dog up and fractured several vertebrae, which added a spine doctor to her growing medical team.
Finally in mid October 2012, she resumed chemotherapy, a process she describes as "let's kill your immune system in order to try and heal your body."
She finished her last treatment in January.
Over the summer, Fields met representatives of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training program.
"I was being honored as 'honorary hero' and was deeply touched by these athletes who had come out to run and raise money to help find a cure for cancer," she said.
Running, or even partly running a half marathon, was not on her bucket list. "But then I never had cancer on that bucket list either," she said. "So I had to meet the challenge."
In the months that followed, Fields gradually built up her endurance. She had good weeks and she had bad weeks. Still, almost every Saturday, she met her fellow Team In Training competitors for organized training sessions.
"Cancer has a funny effect on survivors. You see life differently and you learn to appreciate your days and those around that fill your life with a purpose," she said. "You learn to remove the drama and stress wherever/whenever possible, as it is not important to survival."
Fields said her battle with lymphoma has caused her to think of herself as a warrior who took on cancer and won.
"You have to walk proudly each day filled with confidence," she said. "You can do anything if you put your mind to it and try."
Terry Tomalin can be reached at [email protected]