Woman who survived brain tumor runs for veterans
By ANDRA BRYAN STEFANONI
The Joplin Globe
PITTSBURG -- She thought, at first, that the headaches -- bad headaches that wouldn't go away -- were just from stress, or maybe allergies.
She was a mother of two young boys, her husband had just finished his doctoral dissertation, and they were planning to move from their home in St. Louis to Oklahoma for his new university job.
When the pain became unbearable one May evening in 2005, she went to the emergency room at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis to get medication.
It was then that 33-year-old Kimberly Harries learned she had a brain tumor.
Two days later, Harries had surgery for what doctors determined was a malignant meningioma -- a rare, sometimes fast-growing cancer that often spreads to other areas of the body.
Her cancer was aggressive. The tumor, the size of her fist, compressed her brain in such a way that doctors believed it had been growing for perhaps two years.
Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and intensive care followed, and finally, the move to Oklahoma in August.
Two weeks later, Harries was running.
"I did it, then called the nurse to ask if I was allowed to," she said with a laugh as she stretched last week in anticipation of a training run.
This fall, at age 40, Harries will run a marathon on behalf of others whose lives have been upended -- not by cancer, but by war.
Harries grew up in Maryland near the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
At age 20, she went to the Marine Corps Marathon to cheer on one of those neighbors, and she was so inspired that she decided she wanted to be a part of it.
The annual marathon has been held in Arlington, Va., and Washington, D.C., since 1976. It is billed as the fifth largest marathon in the United States, the ninth largest in the world, and the largest that does not offer prize money. With a field of 30,000 runners from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 50 countries, it is known as "The People's Marathon" because it is open to all runners ages 14 and above.
"It's just so amazing to see," Harries said. "Marines and spectators line the entire way. I just thought, 'Oh, I gotta do this."'
But then marriage, children and a move halfway across the country from Maryland to St. Louis put her goal on hold.
After the birth of her second child, Evan, in September 2002, Harries told her husband that she was finally ready to run that marathon.
"He didn't laugh at me, and he was a high school cross country team captain," she said. "That's when I knew I really might be able to do it."
She began training in April 2004, but as a beginning runner she could knock out only two miles at first.
By October, she was up to 20 miles. With only a few weeks left until the marathon, she decided to get in a five-kilometer race, but after falling and breaking her hand, it was put in a cast.
Having raised $3,000 and feeling ready for the marathon in every other way, Harries consulted her physician, who told her she could go ahead and run.
"'Just don't fall down,' he told me. I completed it, even with the cast," she said. "But I also completed it with a brain tumor. I just didn't know it at the time."
It was just seven months later, in May 2005, that she would go to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and learn of the malignant meningioma.
After the move to Oklahoma, the family came to Pittsburg in 2009. Harries' husband, Phillip, had accepted a position as an assistant professor of biology at Pittsburg State University. Kimberly Harries is an administrative specialist in the department of music at PSU. Their children, Aidan and Evan, just completed fifth and third grades.
After getting settled in a new town, Harries began running again, deciding last year that she would celebrate her 40th birthday this year by tackling a second Marine Corps Marathon.
She often goes for runs on a hiking-biking trail near the PSU Veterans Memorial, where she is reminded of the sacrifices made by those in the armed services.
"I think about my recovery and how fortunate I was," she said. "I was not in the line of fire, nor was I in harm's way. We've got men and women putting themselves in harm's way every day, and they're coming back with injuries I can't even imagine. They should have the ability to run this race, too."
Harries is dedicating the funds she raises for this marathon to the Semper Fi Fund.
"I'm running as a member of the Semper Fi Team," she said. "The Semper Fi Fund's mission is to provide immediate financial support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. armed forces and their families."
Support includes specialized and adaptive equipment, adaptive housing, adaptive transportation, education and career transition assistance, and other therapy and support.
Harries' great-uncle was a Marine, and her father served in the Army. But her inspiration for this marathon comes from the stories of injured veterans.
One, a quadruple amputee, Marine Sgt. John Peck, received a specially adapted truck in April in Beltsville, Md. It was made possible by a $23,000 grant from the Semper Fi Fund and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Peck was injured by an improvised explosive device during combat in June 2010 in Afghanistan. He lost both legs above the knee, his right arm above the elbow and his left hand. A two-time Purple Heart recipient, he is going through recovery and rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Harries herself continues to have a fair share of medical attention. The surgery to remove the tumor left her with four titanium plates and screws that hurt in the spring and fall when the weather changes and she must have MRIs every six months.
"I've been told if it comes back, it would come back aggressively," she said. "But the longer I don't have any recurrences, the better my recovery is. I'm not going to worry about it anymore. I don't have time to."
She must raise $400 to participate in the marathon in October; to date, she has raised $120. But her goal is $1,000, so she is sending letters to friends and family members, and she has an online campaign page at www.active.com/donate/semperfifundmcm2012/runkimberlyrun.
Information from: The Joplin Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com