On the Right Track: Herman Runs for Life

August 31, 2006

Janet Herman runs because she likes the results, both immediate and long-term.

“After I run I feel mentally calmer and physically energized. It’s a good time to think,” said Herman, an environmental sciences professor who also credits running for her determination
and strength to fight breast cancer.

Herman, 50, is a runner, running coach and now beneficiary of her own work raising money for the U.Va. Breast Care Center at the Medical Center. For 10 years, she has run in the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler, which has raised nearly $300,000 for the center over 14 years.

Herman ran the race in 2005 after her own nine-month bout with breast cancer. She raised $7,071 in personal sponsorships, while the entire race generated about $100,000. This year the race, now in its 24th year, hopes to raise even more money.

At the time Herman was diagnosed, she had run for a decade, a practice she started to improve her health.

“My son was five,” she said. “I was a frazzled, full-time employed mother of young children,
out of shape, fatigued and physically inactive.”

She joined the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler race preparation program and started
training, running a half mile the first Saturday and building slowly, following an organized

“My husband thought I was so slow at first it couldn’t be referred to as ‘running,’” she said. “I
didn’t think I could run the whole four miles [of the race] without stopping.”

Family support helped her finish the race. After that, she persisted, encouraged by coaches and
the camaraderie of the community of women runners, many of whom have become close

Last year, Herman found she needed the mental calmness she gets from running more than
ever. She had her regular mammogram near her 49th birthday. She had one every year, without
concern. There was no family history of breast cancer and no risk factors. But this time there
was a problem.

“I was in complete disbelief,” she said. “I felt healthy and normal. This couldn’t be happening
to me.”

Biopsy results indicated it was happening to her, but she was still convinced the tumor would
be benign. She got the verdict on that in mid-November, with a surgery at the end of the
semester to remove the tumor. “That was not my favorite Christmas,” she said.

More tests. More surgery to remove more tissue. The semester started, and so did the
chemotherapy, continuing through the end of April. She lost her hair at the end of February.
“It put a whole new spin on tired,” she said of the chemo.

The 47 undergraduates she was teaching were kind and supportive, she said. One student had
his head shaved for crew. This gave her the courage to remove her hat.

“He helped me be bald,” she said.

The radiation treatments went from May through the end of June.

The treatments further sapped her strength. Herman reduced and then stopped running.
Treated at the Medical Center, she walked to her appointments. “Walking across Grounds in the
spring, with the fresh air, was very good for me,” she said.

“Early detection is still the best factor in ultimate survival,” she said. “Exercise during and
after treatment brings about better survival rates.”

After radiation, she tried to reclaim her life.“When you are diagnosed, your whole life
feels out of control,” she said.

To regain some control, Herman prepared for the Four Miler. But her trials were not over. Her
mother died that July.

“She was declining and ready to go, but she wanted to see me through,” Herman said. “She
lived to see me finish treatment.”

Herman started fund raising as well. She convinced 122 people to be her personal sponsors
for the race.

“People were willing to give to the cause, but also because they could sense her passion,” said
Mark Lorenzoni a founder of the race and a member of the race committee.

Herman’s daughter, Amelia, 17, raced with her. It was hard going, but Herman got a boost at the
“inspirational mile,” where donors post signs with the names of cancer survivors and victims.
Herman knew her name and her mother’s name were posted.

“I was afraid to look,” she said, noting she had cried at seeing other people’s names. “I thought
if I looked I would lose it.”

After the race, she returned to see her name on the wall. “It was such an emotional day, a lifeaffirming day,” she said. “It was draining knowing I was one of those survivors.”

The consummate teacher, Herman now coaches during Saturday morning training sessions.
The teacher has also learned something from her battle with cancer.

“I am not a relaxed person,” she said. “I learned to enjoy the little things in each day more. The little things I might have missed.”