Outrunning Cancer

A patient and her caregiver complete the Maryland Half Marathon and raise more than $10,000 for UMGCCC

Dana Deighton and Tiffani Tyer crossing finish lineWhen faced with a challenge, Dana Deighton does not shy away—she confronts it head on.

About three years ago, Dana received a devastating stage-4 esophageal cancer diagnosis, a rare disease commonly seen in older, less active men. As a younger woman with a healthy lifestyle, Dana refused to settle for standard treatments that only prolong survival. Instead, she thoroughly researched esophageal cancer, sought multiple medical opinions, and eventually found trust in Dr. Mohan Suntha at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

While on Dr. Suntha’s treatment plan, Dana met Tiffani Tyer, a nurse practitioner in the Radiation Oncology department. Dana and Tiffani quickly bonded, especially over their shared passion for running.

For the past several years, Tiffani participated in the Maryland Half Marathon and 5K, an annual event that benefits the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC). Dana made a donation on Tiffani’s behalf and committed to running the race with her the following year if her health improved—which, it did.

This past spring, Dana and Tiffani trained for the race. While mostly running independently, they provided accountability to one another by sharing their training experience during Dana’s treatments. The duo also fundraised for UMGCCC and initially set a goal of $5,000. To their delight and surprise, they raised more than $10,000 for the cancer center.

“When people know you are doing something genuinely and for a cause that really matters, they want to be a part of it too,” Dana says. “Friends and family as well as people who had no relationship with us came out of the woodwork and made a donation. People with a similar experience as me understand the value of their contribution to a place that makes a big difference.”

Dana and Tiffani not only met their fundraising goal, but they met their running goal as well. On May 14, they completed the 13.1-mile run and crossed the finish line together—a moment they both will not soon forget.

“I’ve always exercised. It is part of who I am,” Dana explains. “Not being able to do the things you are used to doing—whether daily chores or exercising—is just a bad reminder of what is going on. Being able to do the things you are used to is a really positive thing and a huge part of the mental battle.”

Three and a half years since her original diagnosis, Dana still fights the cancer battle. Every two weeks at UMGCCC, Dana receives immunotherapy treatments, which harnesses the power of a patient’s immune system to fight the cancer. Dana’s diagnosis is serious, Tiffani acknowledges, but through it all, continues to persevere and live for the moment. “Dana knows how significant her diagnosis is, but she never stops asking questions about what she can do to help herself,” Tiffani says. “The most impressive thing about her is that she continues to advocate for herself. Even if it is scary, she asks the questions that you may not want to know the answers to.”

For now, Dana and Tiffani continue to run races together and most recently completed the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November.

While the road ahead may be uncertain, their bond is undeniable. Whether training for a half marathon or continuing the fight against cancer, Dana and Tiffani take each day one step at a time.