“Cancer is a word, not a sentence.” – John Diamon
For Daphne Kirkwood, cancer was more like a question mark. It was the last thing she expected to hear from her doctors after finding herself lying on the hospital floor, writhing in pain. It was the kind of pain so intense she thought she had days, if not hours left to live.
“When they said it was lymphoma, I was like, ‘Cancer lymphoma? No. Cancer lymphoma?’”
An unexpected diagnosis
Daphne is the owner and race director for iDaph Events, an Asheville based company that produces cycling, running and multi-sport events, including the Asheville Marathon and Half at Biltmore Estate. A mother of two, she is also a runner, swimmer and cyclist. Her youthfulness and healthy, active lifestyle do not make her a prime candidate for any type of illness. Her cancer diagnosis was a shock, to say the least.
“That day, I did a run and swim like I normally do…and then I noticed at the office I had back pain in my lower left back,” she recalls. “Thirty minutes later, I’m at urgent care.”
Doctors found an 8×4 sized lymphoma in Daphne’s abdomen area, laying on her kidney and ureter, along with other smaller lymphomas. Her official diagnosis: Follicular Lymphoma. She was told she needed to undergo chemotherapy starting just two weeks later and continue periodically for six months with intensive chemo and then two years of maintenance chemo in order to have relief from the pain and to live.
“I was scared. The doctors told me the chemo should work quickly, and I was in so much pain that I just wanted relief. So, I was willing to do whatever it took.”
Daphne approached her treatments like everything else in her life: She went to work. She paced the room during her chemo sessions, instead of lying down, in order to speed along the process. Being active has always been comforting for Daphne, and chemo wasn’t going to change that.
“I noticed people who were there were all getting their treatments and sleeping, just laying around. I didn’t want to do my treatments that way,” Daphne says. “I was going to war.”
Daphne didn’t stop running and cycling throughout all of her treatments. Some runs turned into walks, and sometimes she could barely turn the bike pedals, but she kept up her routine and stayed as active as she could during that time. She also found ways to occupy her mind during the treatment sessions by journaling and writing gratitude cards to her friends and family, “so she “could be grateful, instead of scared.”
“I learned a long time ago that gratitude and fear cannot live in the same room, in the same space.”
After six months of intense chemotherapy, the chemo had worked, and she was officially in remission.
The journey continues
Daphne’s work is far from over, as continued chemotherapy, PET scans, and checkups for two years are all part of the preventative phase of lymphoma. It is not for the faint of heart, and the chemo is draining.
“Going through cancer I have realized it is the longest endurance event I will ever participate in,” she says.
Daphne’s cancer diagnosis was, of course, life-changing: Mortality had stared her in the face, but her years of being a runner, cyclist and swimmer prepared her for the fight. She has the stamina she needs to carry on and appreciate the milestones along the journey. Known to her friends as the “Daphanator,” she strives to live each and every day to its fullest potential, which always includes spending more time with loved ones, and growing her business.
“I ask myself often if I am living to my full potential. Am I using my gifts? Am I serving my community? Am I giving back and contributing to this life beyond myself? Am I showing up as the best mom, the best girlfriend, the best lady boss, the best small business owner that I possibly can?”
Leukemia Lymphoma Society
Before her diagnosis, Daphne chose the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS) as the charity partner for her main event, the Asheville Marathon & Half at Biltmore Estate. She had no personal ties or connections with them; she just believed they were doing good work and wanted to support them. Once she received her diagnosis, she knew their relationship would take on a different meaning.
“Leukemia Lymphoma Society is determined to find cures for lymphoma, and I am all in when it comes to that mission,” she says. “I am 42 years young, healthy and have a long life ahead of me…
“There needs to be more than treatments. There needs to be cures.”