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Patient with rare cancer bound for New York City Marathon

Margaret McGugan celebrates making it to the finish line of the 2019 VCU Health Half Marathon with her son Margaret McGugan celebrates making it to the finish line of the 2019 VCU Health Half Marathon with her son, who completed the full marathon.

When Margaret McGugan joins the pack of 50,000 runners for the New York City (NYC) Marathon on Nov. 6, she will have a support system every step of the way.

“I am not running the marathon alone,” McGugan said from her home in North Chesterfield, Va. “My sister Terrie and my niece Meaghan have been training with me, each in their own hometown. We, our spouses and other family and friends for a total of 11 people will be [there] to either run or support us and our effort to raise over $10,000 for neuroendocrine cancer research.”

In the fall of 2013, McGugan was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer, which the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation defines as rare, slow-growing tumors with an annual rate of seven cases per 100,000 individuals in the United States.

McGugan remembers waking up with mild abdominal discomfort one morning in October 2013, but her level of pain progressed so quickly that she went to an area emergency department by the afternoon. On October 28, McGugan had surgery to remove a neuroendocrine tumor (NET) that was adjacent to her mesenteric artery.

In November 2017, a NET caused McGugan to have her right ovary and fallopian tube removed; she also had a resection to remove a NET at her terminal ileum in her small intestine.

Following her recovery from the second surgery, McGugan transferred her care to VCU Massey Cancer Center.

“My experience with Massey has been positive,” McGugan said. “I'm the kind of patient that strives for 100%. I want science and medicine to do all they can to treat my cancer and eliminate my symptoms. So when I'm asked how's it going I've been known to have a list of concerns that I want addressed. Massey doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners have all been able to respond in kind. They've tweaked my medication, vitamins, and recommended a whole-food, plant-based diet. I've followed their advice and all in all I feel pretty good.”

McGugan found a community through Massey’s Integrative Health Program. She has participated in yoga classes, along with mindfulness sessions and the women's support group led by social worker Freda Wilkins.

"Freda creates a calm and safe space to discuss and explore issues and feelings that cancer patients are experiencing,” McGugan said.
Running, which McGugan has enjoyed for three decades, also helped her through the NET diagnosis and treatment. McGugan participated in the Monument Avenue 10K and Richmond Half Marathon for 15 years but set her sights on her ultimate challenge in Jan. 2022.

“I never thought of [training for the NYC Marathon] as moving forward from my diagnosis, but it definitely helps keep me focused and exercise is part of my care plan,” McGugan said. “Some days training takes all of my energy, but it gives me a sense of accomplishment. I fell in June and slightly fractured my distal fibula. That slowed me down for about eight weeks, but it didn't stop me! I went to VCU Health Sports Medicine for physical therapy and guidance to get back on track as quickly as possible.”

McGugan, who runs by the motto, “Every Pace has its Place,” looks forward to crossing the finish line in NYC. She will be fueled by her gratitude for living nine years strong with NET.

“It has changed me in that I quickly had to refocus my life to manage my limited energy,” McGugan described. “I am grateful to my husband, son and daughter-in-law and the rest of my family and friends for their support and encouragement.”

This story was originally published on VCU Massey Cancer Center’s New Center. It was written by Amy Lacey.