RUNNING enthusiast Judith Ocaña was preparing to join her first marathon in 2015 when her world crashed after she found out that she had cancer.

The 27-year-old Communications Specialist at Visayan Electric Company (Veco) found out she had cancer during the company’s annual physical exam, just a week after her birthday.

Ocaña had a biopsy and underwent thyroidectomy, an operation that involves the surgical removal of the thyroid glands, last Aug. 25, 2015. After the thyroid glands were removed, the result revealed that she had stage 1 thyroid cancer.

“I feared for my life when I learned that I had cancer. I also felt sad for the family and friends that I would leave behind,” Ocaña recalled feeling after learning that she had cancer.

It was a tough year for Ocaña as she was isolated during her radioactive iodine therapy.

“I was isolated for one week in the hospital and also for about two months in a boarding house. I was taking radioactive iodine. I was isolated because of the radiation of the medicine that can harm other people,” Ocaña told SunStar Cebu.

During the whole process, Ocaña drew strength from family, friends, and self-determination to get cured. She also wished and prayed for healing to Sr. Sto. Niño.

“I had to fight and be positive despite what happened,” said Ocaña, who completed the one-year therapy and was cleared of cancer last October 2016.

Ocaña’s journey to become cancer-free made her stronger. She returned to work and continued what was halted because of cancer, running included.

It was timely that the 10th Cebu Marathon, a running event that is part of the activities of Sinulog Festival, which is celebrated annually for Sr. Sto. Nino, was about three months away after she was declared free of cancer.

“I asked permission from my physician. I got some tests and I was cleared again to do physical activities. I was really happy knowing that I could run again,” she said.

On Jan. 8, 2017, two years after her original goal of running the full marathon, she finally ran again, this time in the 21K division of the Cebu marathon.

“I was a bit afraid because it was my first fun run since I had cancer. It was my third 21K overall. I prepared for the race and I trained after work. On race day, I even brought my health card with me to make sure if something bad happens,” said Ocaña.

She finished the 21K in 2 hours and 29 minutes, a personal best.

“The run was for Sr. Sto Niño for healing me and I dedicate this to all cancer survivors, fighters and those who were taken. Yes, cancer made me weak once, but it made me stronger and let me discover the warrior in me,” said Ocaña, who graduated cum laude with a degree in banking and finance from the University of San Jose Recoletos (USJ-R).

“Running is my personal therapy after I survived cancer. Exercise such as running produces happy hormones that can prevent depression. Most of the people who underwent cancer therapy are prone to depression, so exercise will really help,” said Ocaña. She still wants to run her first 42K and hopes to inspire cancer patients.

“To the people who are fighting cancer, just be strong with the fight and don’t lose hope. To the cancer survivors, let’s help inspire cancer patients.”