In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

August 19, 2014

Running for life

By In the Loop

Linda Wortman was inspired to run to raise lung cancer awareness.

Linda Wortman shares her lung cancer survivor story with Team Draft

For nearly two years, Linda Wortman thought she had SARS. Or TB. Or something along those lines. "I had a cough that wouldn't go away," the former Northwest Airlines flight attendant tells us. "I'd start choking. I thought I was going to die." Despite appointment after appointment for symptoms that wouldn't go away, Linda says her doctors back home in Montana brushed off her requests for a chest X-ray. It wasn't until she came to Mayo Clinic that she received a diagnosis she says she never saw coming: lung cancer.

"You could have knocked me over with a feather," she says. "I've never smoked in my life. I cross country ski. I eat right. But that explained the cough." Two days after her diagnosis, Linda -- who was one of several flight attendants who helped get smoking banned on airlines back in the 1970s -- was in an operating room at Mayo Clinic having a three-centimeter tumor removed from one of her lungs.

After the surgery, Linda says she became determined to show the world she could "live a normal life again," so she started running. During a trip to Mississippi, running to "stay in shape" turned into much more. "There was a sign in a window that said a little girl in town had cancer," she says. "The sign said they were having a race to raise money. They were asking for $20, so I got up at 7 a.m. the next morning and told my husband I was going to run in that race. I didn't have running shoes, so I wore these little tiny flats that I got at Target, and I went and I ran that race."

Linda didn't just run that race -- she finished second in her age group. And she hasn't stopped running since. (She has upgraded her footware, however.) "I've kept running because it feels good," she says. "It was soon after that race that I decided I was going to run a 5K in every state and a 10K on every continent."

And while she's well on her way to doing just that -- having now run 5K races in all 50 states -- she says her immediate goal is to cross the finish line at Mayo Clinic's Healthy Human Race this coming weekend as a way to thank everyone at Mayo who's had a hand in her treatment. "They don't understand how good they are," she says of Mayo staff. "Whether it's a doctor, nurse, head of a department, someone who draws blood, or someone who stops you in a hallway to ask if you need directions, it's the Mayo model of care that saved my life. So if I can cross that finish line -- and I don't care what my time is -- I just want to finish and thank everyone at Mayo Clinic for saving my life and for listening to me when nobody else would."

Linda shares her story on the Team Draft website and in the video below. You can learn more about the Healthy Human Race here.

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Tags: Lung Cancer, Patient Stories, Running, Wellness

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