Dr. Christine Meyer, desperate to stop her patients’ pain, forms Exton running team to fight cancer.
By Melissa Jacobs | Posted October 27, 2014
Over 33 years, Elreida Heffernan had cervical, kidney, colon and other cancers. She beat them all, but the disease took its toll on Heffernan and her family. “The first cancer [she had] was when I was 11 years old, so most of my childhood memories are of my mom being sick,” says Heffernan’s daughter, Wendy Ford, of West Chester. “My emotions? Anger, frustration, helplessness. I believed in research and fighting for a cure, but I didn’t think I could make a difference.”
One Facebook post changed Ford’s mind—and her life. In January 2013, she read a post from Dr. Christine Meyer, her primary-care physician. “She wrote about her aunt having cancer, and how frustrated and sad she was about that,” Ford says. “I felt like she was describing me, too. I didn’t have a way to deal with those feelings. Christine did. She wrote, ‘We are going to run.’”
They would run together, and they would run for a cause: raising money for the American Cancer Society. That’s what Meyer proposed in her Facebook post. They would start with the 10-mile Blue Cross Broad Street Run held in May, giving them four months to train and generate pledges.
Ford signed up immediately. “But the next day, I thought I was crazy,” she admits. “Ten miles? I hadn’t run a mile since high school. I was overweight. I have a husband, kids and a job to juggle. I didn’t believe I could do the run. But Christine said I could—and I believed her.”
Apparently, many people believe in Meyer. More than 520 amateur runners have joined Team CMMD, named for her Exton medical practice, Christine Meyer, MD and Associates. They train together at runs held every Sunday morning. Together, they’ve finished the Broad Street Run twice, raising a team total of $250,000 for the American Cancer Society. On Nov. 15, Team CMMD is hosting its first 5K run.
When Meyer wrote that first Face-book post in 2013, she’d been in a prolonged funk—a deep, dark place that felt inescapable. The year prior was one of the worst of her life. Three longtime patients, all under 50, struggled with late-stage cancers, and her aunt—whom Meyer calls her mentor and idol—was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.
“Everywhere I looked was cancer, and I felt that it was winning,” Meyer says. “I slid into this depression, most of it professional. There was nothing I could do to help my patients.”
It wasn’t the first time Meyer felt that weight. Following the birth of her third child, she battled postpartum depression, which running eased, then shattered. Her husband, Dr. Christopher Meyer, an avid runner, literally pulled her off the couch. What started as a jog around the block turned into a passion. She’s completed 15 5Ks, the Rock ’n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, and the Broad Street Run (twice).
Then she stopped running for various reasons: three young kids, a husband, a busy medical practice, and a cancer-stricken aunt. “Running had been an agent of euphoria,” Meyer says. “And when I stopped, I slid—and slid hard.”
So there Meyer sat, in front of her computer on New Year’s Eve, scrolling through Facebook and seeing “how fabulous everyone else’s life was.” Then she saw a link to the Broad Street Run. Running had cured her before, and she believed it would do so again. She registered, then posted the Facebook message that inspired friends, family, patients and colleagues to join her.
“Our group runs are at 7 a.m. on Sunday mornings,” says Meyer. “We start out in small groups and talk, but then the packs separate. We have people who are strong runners and people who aren’t, but everyone finishes.”
Once, a runner was at the finish line and saw someone really struggling. “He ran back out a half-mile and came back in with the other person so he wouldn’t struggle alone,” Meyer recalls.
That’s the message behind Team CMMD: In every challenge, no one has to endure it alone. Ford’s mother survived her cancer, as did Meyer’s aunt. Ford and Meyer credit Team CMMD with helping them help their loved ones get healthy. “We are stronger as a team,” says Meyer. “And if you don’t believe me, come join us for a run.”
Snow Excuses: Dr. Christine Meyer’s tips for safe and comfortable winter running
Hats: a skull cap or headband is a must. Frostbite attacks ears, but you don’t always feel it because the rest of your body is warm.
Gloves: Lightweight, moisture-wicking gloves provide coverage without overheating.
Socks: Wear regular running socks, then top them with wool socks, to keep moisture out and warmth in.
Locations: Scope them out in advance. Drive the course and look for icy patches.
Water: Bodies don’t feel thirst in cold weather. Meyer leaves bottled water at the halfway point on runs—even in the snow.