1. Health

Cancer survivor excited to run Miles for Moffitt

Kathee Johnson has been losing weight and working out. She feels good. She likes what she sees in the mirror.

But what is reflected is not just thinner thighs or more pronounced cheekbones.

"Finally, I'm looking in the mirror and seeing myself,'' she told me. "I haven't seen me for a long time.''

Kathee, a 43-year-old wife, homeschooling mother of five and public school tutor, hasn't just been waging the weight war.

Back in 2007, the Dade City woman learned that her constellation of annoying symptoms added up to a tough diagnosis: Hodgkin's lymphoma. This is a cancer of the lymphatic system, an essential part of the immune system.

Her physicians at Moffitt Cancer Center assured her that treatment usually is successful. But in her case, it wouldn't be quick. The cancer came back the year after her first course of treatment and would require more chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant to knock it out.

Steroids added 50 pounds and altered her appearance so dramatically that when she went to Zephyrhills Alliance Church for a prayer service, longtime friends ''didn't even know me, I was so swollen,'' she told me.

The worst part was the bone-crushing weakness and fatigue. She could barely haul herself up off the couch for many months.

Slowly, her strength started coming back, and the steroid bloat started disappearing. She has been cancer-free for four years, but it was within the past year that she has felt more like herself, and better able to get back in shape. The day after Christmas she joined Weight Watchers and has dropped 22 pounds.

But perhaps the biggest change began when her younger daughter suggested teaming up at the Dirty Girl 5K, a mud run in early February in Dade City.

"Are you kidding?'' Kathee told her. "I can't do that!''

But she did watch her daughter compete. "I was tearing up. I thought, 'I want to be part of that.' It was like an aching inside of me,'' she said.

Then Kathee's mother called to ask Kathee to join her for the Gasparilla 5K later in February. They walked it, although Kathee couldn't resist sprinting across the finish line.

"I was so excited to be part of it,'' she said. "It felt like another step away from cancer.''

At Gasparilla, she met organizers from Miles for Moffitt, the fundraiser for cancer research that will be held May 11.

Signing up was an easy decision for Kathee, who raves about the care she received at Moffitt. With her friend Vicki Russell, Kathee got serious about training, working with coach Lynn Gray of Take the First Step in Tampa to improve her technique. She's been walking less and running more as the weeks go by.

"I'm surprised at how fast running has changed things, and how it has improved my inner strength,'' she told me.

"I've always had strong faith in Christ, but the mental strength is what I had lost. I'm gaining that back.''

Next weekend, Kathee will lead her own team — Kathee's Krew for the Cure. Her husband, Don, and the kids, ages 10 to 19, will all be there. So will her mom, dad, sister and Vicki.

During her cancer treatment and long, difficult recovery, Kathee held one Bible verse particularly close, the beginning of Isaiah 40:31.

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles.

Now that she is an athlete, Kathee finds meaning in the entire verse, which concludes:

They shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.