Rebecca Sarver got over the initial shock. She got up and kept going. When it was behind her, she shed tears, celebrating an accomplishment.
"I had my moments, but I'm going to get back, one way or another," she says. "I felt like a tough girl."
Sarver, a Greensboro resident, is describing completing a 5K road race despite a hard fall just a few days ago.
But so much about this race, an early-evening 3.1-mile run, has mirrored her fight this year with small-cell ovarian cancer. And this tough girl, indeed, might be talking about that at the same time.
Sarver, 46, a mortgage loan officer for BB&T, was diagnosed in January, just days after feeling pressure in her lower right side during a run. She ran again three days later, hitting about a 10-minute pace with the Breathless Babes, but the pressure and pain from a tumor continued and prompted a doctor's visit.
"It's big, and it's bad, and it needs to come out immediately," her doctor told her.
Within days of that initial shock, on Jan. 27, Sarver underwent a hysterectomy, and chemotherapy treatments began in Chapel Hill. Chemo could've been worse, she says, but for her running history and fitness.
"I was never sick through chemo," she says. "I credit running for being healthy at the start of chemo."
The treatments left her weak, and neuropathy robbed her of the feeling in her feet. But she wanted to get back up and get running again.
"Life goes on, you can get back to normal, the new normal," she says, "but life keeps going and you can do all the same things you did."
So she began running in an undeveloped part of McNairy Pointe, alerting neighbors to her whereabouts but running alone, running in circles in a cul-de-sac because it was flat.
Her first run came May 24, about a week before chemo treatments ended. She started with a mile, and while she needed 24 minutes, she finished it.
"I just built from there," she says. "I would just run what I could."
Sarver, who has always been athletic, ran her first Women's Only 5K Walk & Run in 2008. The race, held annually on the first Saturday in October, raises awareness about breast cancer and raises funds for mammographies. Sarver's friend Kelly Meassick encouraged her to enter that first one, and she got coaching from Maureen Franklin with the Greensboro Running Club's Women's Running School leading up to it.
"I was the worst participant ever," she says. "I had cheap shoes, my knees hurt every time, I had massive blisters, I lost both big toenails. ... I tell people it was the best $50 I ever spent."
Sarver has paid it forward by coaching in the school since then. So she and her 17 pupils trained for this year's race, only to see it canceled because of weather.
"I was bound and determined," Sarver says. "The Women's Only was going to be a tick mark, like, 'Take that, cancer!'"
Her backup plan, a 5K in support of her sons' Cornerstone Charter Academy, didn't work out, either. So along came Fleet Feet's Saucony Glow Run on a November Thursday night.
Sarver set a goal, to beat 34 minutes. That fall in the second mile on the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway, throwing her off her plan, proved to be merely a microcosm of her year.
"It's not exactly what I was looking for," she says of the 5K. "But it was very emotional. I was kinda by myself, and it's pitch-black. ...
"Once that initial pain wore off, it was like, 'Yes, there's no way I'm not going to finish this race.'"
Or maybe she is talking about beating ovarian cancer. She knows the stark statistics: This type has returned in 100 percent of the cases within the first two years. She'll require visits to doctors in Chapel Hill every eight weeks.
"My goal is lots of water, keep up my running and my strength training and eating organic," she says. "But I had a really good head through it, a very positive attitude, 'hunker down and this is what we have to do.'"
Sarver got back up from her surgery and treatments. She got back up that night on the greenway, and she will get going again Saturday at the Turkey Trot 5K in Reidsville.
"I even cried a little bit," she says of her first 5K back – or maybe about the larger victory. "It's just such a feeling of accomplishment."
Take that, cancer.