Personal best: Athlete maintains stride through diagnosis

Waiting with his wife for an appointment in the surgeon’s office last year, Jeff Sykes handed her a flier for the Komen S.F. Race for the Cure.

Denise Martini had run the race with daughter Laura seven years earlier, and she knew that there was no better time than the present for another go at the 5K event.

It was September 2008, two months shy of Martini’s 50th birthday, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Coping with the seemingly endless waiting between appointments, procedures and surgeries was exasperating.

“It drives you crazy,” Martini said. “I wanted them to get in there and start cutting.”

The third generation native San Franciscan was a high school tennis player and hurdler at Oroville High School, near Chico. Martini played varsity women’s basketball for MIT, where she studied civil engineering, although she offers that there weren’t a lot of women at MIT in the late ’70s.

Running has been a constant in Martini’s life for the past 35 years. The 2007 Bidwell Classic 5K in Chico proved to be Martini’s most memorable race, as she and her mother both won their age divisions. Mom, Carmen Phillips, was victorious in the 70-74 division with a time of 37:01, and daughter took the 45-49 crown in 23:53 and a 7:42 average mile time.

On Sept. 27, Martini will be taking her place at the starting line in the 2009 S.F. Race for the Cure. Son Jake ran with mom Denise at last year’s event, which took place three weeks after Martini received her diagnosis and one week before she endured three surgeries in a four-week period. Her second-place finish in the survivor division with an 8:15 mile was a worthy accomplishment; yet, finishing second on the “pink honor roll” was her ultimate source of pride.

“This is something I can do. I can raise money,” said Martini, a construction consultant and fundraiser extraordinaire. “I sent e-mails to everyone I know. In my work, I am thankful to have a lot of friends who are lawyers. It felt really good for people to give support. It was a good way for people to do something. You can only make so much soup.”

As she endured the surgeries, the chemotherapy and the radiation treatments, Martini did appreciate the gifts of soup as well as the cookies baked by Jake’s high school friends. Those checks of $2,000 and more that she solicited, contributed generously to the $228,000 in total donations that last year’s San Francisco race generated.

At 5-foot-8 and with an athletic runner’s physique, the only outward sign of the past year’s struggle is Martini’s short hair style, which she has decided to keep.

“My doctors seem to all agree, because I was in good shape going into treatment, and I continued to stay active during treatment, those were key contributors to the fact that the chemo wasn’t that hard on me, that I reacted well to it,” Martini said. “Some of it is luck, some of it is mental attitude and I’m convinced that a lot of it is physical exercise.”

 

Racing for a Cure

What: 19th annual Komen S.F. Race for the Cure, 5K Run-Walk and 1 Mile Fun Walk

When: Sept. 27, 5K Run begins at 9 a.m.

Where: Ferry Building

Info: komensf.org or (415) 397-8812

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