Real Run­ners

Run­ning has helped Donna Dunn cope with tragedy

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents - Re­mis­sion Pos­si­ble is now rais­ing funds for a new bone mar­row trans­plant ward for the Cardiff and Vale Health Char­ity; just­giv­­ing/re­mis­sion­pos­si­ble

Un­til Oc­to­ber last year Donna Dunn had not run in a race since tak­ing part in the 800m at school – in 1985. But 30 years later, there she was, on the start line of the Cardiff Half Marathon, thanks to her 18-year-old daugh­ter, Emily. Now she doesn’t know where she’d be with­out run­ning.

‘Emily had in­tended to run Cardiff her­self,’ says Donna, from Cwm­bran in south­east Wales. ‘It was on her bucket list. But still in hos­pi­tal fol­low­ing a bone mar­row trans­plant, she was too poorly to train. She said, “You know what? I’m go­ing to trans­fer the place to you!”’

At first, Donna, 43, was doubt­ful. But when some other mums at Emily’s school said they’d train for it along­side her, they down­loaded a Couch to 5K pro­gramme. ‘ Week one was walk five min­utes, run one minute,’ she re­calls. ‘Af­ter 43 sec­onds I thought I was go­ing to die. But it’s amaz­ing how quickly you progress.’

While Donna didn’t en­joy the phys­i­cal side of run­ning, she soon ap­pre­ci­ated the breath­ing space it of­fered: ‘ With Emily in hos­pi­tal and three other kids to look af­ter, it was of­ten my only con­tact with the out­side world,’ she says. ‘I’d get up at 5am, we’d meet at 6am to run, then I’d shower, get the kids off to school and travel to the hos­pi­tal in Cardiff to be with Emily. Her first ques­tion when I walked into the ward was al­ways, “How far to­day, Mum?” It was so nice to see the pride on her face.’

Emily had been di­ag­nosed with Burkitt Lym­phoma, an ag­gres­sive form of blood cancer, in De­cem­ber 2013. She was given just weeks to live, but af­ter four months of chemo­ther­apy, she went into re­mis­sion. The ju­bi­lant teenager made a list of all the or­gan­i­sa­tions that had helped her get to that point and launched an ini­tia­tive – Re­mis­sion Pos­si­ble – to help im­prove the chances of re­mis­sion for all. ‘She threw her pas­sion, hu­mour and pos­i­tiv­ity into Re­mis­sion Pos­si­ble and she be­gan writ­ing about it on her blog,’ says Donna.

But the cancer re­turned in Novem­ber 2014. It was de­cided that Emily needed a bone mar­row trans­plant. Al­ways prac­ti­cal, she wrote to news­pa­pers, gave in­ter­views and spread the word as widely as she could about the im­por­tance of sign­ing up to the bone mar­row reg­is­ter. ‘She suc­ceeded in get­ting thou­sands of peo­ple in Wales to sign up, which has re­sulted in 11 suc­cess­ful matches that we know of,’ says Donna proudly.

A match was found for Emily and she had the trans­plant in Jan­uary 2015. It was suc­cess­ful, but com­pli­ca­tions fol­lowed and she was in hos­pi­tal for most of the year. When the half marathon came around in Oc­to­ber, she wasn’t well enough to go along and cheer her mum on.

Her duty ful­filled, Donna hung up her run­ning shoes with some relief. Then, un­ex­pect­edly – dev­as­tat­ingly – Emily passed away on March 12 this year. ‘There have been tears ev­ery day since we lost her, but we in­tend to con­tinue her legacy,’ says Donna. ‘Emily used to say, “It’s no good say­ing how in­spi­ra­tional I am un­less you are mo­ti­vated and in­spired to do some­thing.”

One such mo­ti­vated per­son is ul­tra run­ner Jeff Smith. He was moved when he met Emily and af­ter her death he con­tacted Donna and said he wanted to put to­gether a team to run the 2016 Cardiff Half in aid of Re­mis­sion Pos­si­ble. ‘He had T-shirts made with Run­ning for Emily on them and when I said I’d like one he said, “Of course – if you run the race.”’

As more and more peo­ple signed up to run for Emily, Donna’s ‘never again’ wa­vered, and fi­nally top­pled. ‘I’ve ac­tu­ally found run­ning to be a cathar­tic part of the griev­ing process,’ she says. Emily’s brother Evan, 12, has started run­ning too. ‘It’s re­ally help­ing him with his grief,’ says Donna. ‘He can see that even though Emily has gone, she is still hav­ing such a pos­i­tive ef­fect on peo­ple.’

Run­ning groups have sprung up all over Wales as a re­sult of the pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing Run­ning for Emily – more than 120 peo­ple turn up for the monthly train­ing ses­sions at Cardiff Bay.

‘It’s strange, the things run­ning can do,’ says Donna. ‘Peo­ple find all sorts of ben­e­fits. It’s an im­por­tant out­let for me.’

When the kids were young, Donna and her hus­band, An­drew, used to take them to a lo­cal Santa Run. Last Christ­mas, in a fit of nos­tal­gia, Emily sug­gested they all go along to it. It turned out it wasn’t held any more. ‘ We’ll just plan our own one,’ she de­cided. They did just that, with the help of a lo­cal char­ity and run­ning club, Grif­fith­stown Har­ri­ers. Emily wasn’t able to run it, but she started off the 132 run­ners, and cheered them all home. As a fit­ting trib­ute, the run will now be held in mem­ory of Emily ev­ery Christ­mas.

‘Even though Emily is gone she is still hav­ing a pos­i­tive ef­fect’

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