JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Hundreds of people will push their body to the limits to complete the Finish Breast Cancer Donna Marathon and half-marathon in Jacksonville. A physical battle is the least of their worries as many of these runners are breast cancer survivors raising money for the cause that saved their life.
The big race brings in people from all over the country. Melissa O'Rourke lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Susie Burns lives in Denver, Colorado.
It’s not where their story starts that matters. It’s when... Their story goes back 12 years.
"We both belonged to a run group, a run training group," Burns said. "We trained for different races and stuff. Over time, I noticed that Melissa and I ran a similar pace. So I would look for her at the start of every run so that I could run with her. We also both liked to be quiet. Neither one of us were big talkers. We worked out really well as run partners."
They quickly became best friends.
You could say best friends do everything together. They took it to another level.
Their story picks back up in 2020, when Melissa was about to turn 40. She went to her doctor-recommended mammogram.
“I was told I had breast cancer so I let our friends know and everything. Then started my journey," she explained.
A few months later, Susie was down in Louisiana visiting.
“I was down in Louisiana for Thanksgiving that year to visit my parents, also to see Melissa, and at a certain point during that trip, I noticed a very large bump under my arm," Burns said.
She was adamant hers wasn't cancer because what was the likelihood she got a diagnosis right after her friend.
But sure enough. These best friends were diagnosed with breast cancer months apart.
Both has cancer in the left breast, though different types of breast cancer. Both had big surgeries on the same day. Now, both of them are cancer free.
“I definitely would not obviously wish cancer on anybody and I certainly wouldn’t wish cancer on anybody’s friends or family, but to have someone to go through it with. Someone that you are as close as Melissa and I are has made all the difference," Burns said.
They are back running and still recovering from the cancer.
They say this half-marathon run is a celebration of being on the other side of cancer as they call it. It's a different kind of battle as they say their bodies are not the same, but they’re thankful to have someone to run alongside them through life and the Donna.