Marathon runner back on course after fighting lung, ovarian cancer

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. A lifelong runner from Ohio is grateful to be back on the trails after battling lung cancer and ovarian cancer at the same time.

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CLEVELAND – Lifelong runner Joyce Chisar, 55, always dreamed of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. But to make the cut, she needed to rank among the fastest runners in her age group.

In September 2018, the Willowick, Ohio, resident signed up for a marathon in Erie, Pennsylvania.

“I was feeling really good last summer,” she said. “I thought it was the year of Joyce! I’d been training hard and my friends came to watch me run. It’s a 13-mile loop. I passed by them a couple of times, but toward the end, a pack of people went through, and I wasn’t with them. At mile 20, I had hip pain, I thought because of how I was running on a cambered road. I had to start walking, so couldn’t qualify because I couldn’t meet my time.”

Chisar took a break for a few weeks, but said every time she started running again, she’d be out of breath after about 100 feet.

“It felt like I’d eaten an extra-large pizza,” she said. “I kept running, but I had that overstuffed feeling for a few days.”

Her sudden running struggles prompted Chisar to see a doctor, who ordered a colonoscopy. She returned to work the next day, but just two days later, she “was almost doubled over in pain” from stomach cramps.

Chisar went to the emergency room, where doctors used an ultrasound to uncover a large cyst on her ovary. She then sought care with Stephanie Ricci, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at Cleveland Clinic.

Because the cyst was so large, a total hysterectomy and removal of both ovaries was performed. A biopsy confirmed that Chisar had ovarian cancer.

“The good news is that it was caught early, at Stage 1,” she said.

As a precaution, Chisar started chemotherapy treatment, and had additional radiology tests performed.

It was during these tests that a new spot was discovered on her lung, which turned out to be lung cancer.

Now facing two cancer diagnoses, Chisar learned her lung cancer was also in an early stage, treatable, and unrelated to the ovarian cancer.

“If they hadn’t determined that so quickly, it would have changed my whole course of treatment,” she said. “I needed to find a miracle in all of this, and that was my sign.”

Chisar met with Alejandro Bribriesco, M.D., a thoracic surgeon at Cleveland Clinic, who informed her that he would need to remove the lower lobe of her right lung.

As a runner, she was concerned about losing part of her lung. However, Dr. Bribriesco told her that because she was a well-conditioned athlete, she would recover more quickly from surgery.

Although it is still unknown why Joyce had two types of cancer, having synchronous cancer is “more common than people think,” according to Dr. Bribriesco.

Joyce, who had radiation therapy and is still receiving chemotherapy, is doing well since the hysterectomy in November and lung surgery in January. She has been able to return to work, and recently participated in the Stand Up To Cancer 5K run in August.

“The run was awesome. I wanted to run 11-minute miles, but ended up running 10-minute miles,” said Chisar. “I was super happy and had lots of folks on the course with signs cheering me on. It was an awesome day.”

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