DAN FOSTER, 57
Foster was diagnosed with rectal cancer a decade ago. His doctor, anticipating surgery, told him that dropping from 230 to 170 pounds would greatly assist his recovery. He lost the weight and, having experienced the fruits of exercise for the first time in his life, has since embarked on many long-distance fund-raising walks. In 1999, a recurrence of the cancer spread to his lungs, but he now has a clean bill of health. He organizes “Dan’s 5K Fun Run” for cancer charities from his home in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn.
When my doctor told me to lose the weight, I was kind of overwhelmed: I didn’t expect he’d ask me to lose that much, and I’d never even liked running when I was a teenager. But I cut out junk food and started jogging every day, from my house up to the Resurrection Church. I’d get up there and say a prayer. When I went into surgery, I was 170 pounds on the money. The running probably didn’t do much—I didn’t run that far! But it kept my mind in a good place.
About six months after my surgery, in 1997, I was sitting in a meeting at the hospital, and some nurses and other volunteers were making plans for National Cancer Survivors Day. I said, “I think I’ll walk out to Montauk.” It just came out of my mouth—and as I started to think about it, I realized it was probably a little too early to do that distance. When I had gotten back from surgery I couldn’t even make it from my house to the corner. So instead I walked from my parish in Brooklyn to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which is around fifteen miles, and did it again the next year. By 1999 I was ready. I walked from the Montauk Point Lighthouse to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral—140 miles—in seven days, starting on National Cancer Survivors Day. After the first day, I put my feet in the pool at the place where I was staying and when I went to get up, I couldn’t. My legs were cramped, and I had to crawl on my knees to a fence to hoist myself up. The next morning, I was walking around in the parking lot and my legs were tight. A car turned in—it must have said on the radio or on TV where I was staying—and someone rolled down the window and said, “Let’s go, Dan!” The adrenaline rush … I wish everybody could feel something like it. It felt like I hadn’t even walked the day before.
On my last day, there were police with me, as there had been the whole time. When I started walking over the 59th Street Bridge, I had chills; when I turned onto Fifth Avenue toward Saint Patrick’s, the police put their sirens on. I felt like all of those who had succumbed to cancer were with me. I was walking by myself, but I wasn’t alone. I felt like I could have walked forever. There were people running alongside me, people were honking their horns, some people at Saint Pat’s asked me for my autograph. By the time I was done, I’d raised $20,000 from all the people who stopped on the highway. My wife and I were blessed by Cardinal O’Connor, and we took a limo back home. When I got back, I think I walked over to the pizza place. My body was still going.