A CORK mum-of-two is preparing to pound the pavements this Sunday at one of the country’s largest sporting participation events outside Dublin.
The 4-mile Evening Echo Women’s Mini Marathon is set to attract up to 8,000, many of whom fundraise for their chosen charity.
Lisa O’Dwyer, 38, from Fermoy went undiagnosed with endometriosis until a specialist in the UK finally diagnosed her condition in 2015. Lisa’s struggle with the intolerable pain was alleviated briefly by her almost annual participation in the women’s mini-marathon which she has been running in since 2009.
Endometriosis is estimated to affect between 2 and 10% of Irish women and is defined as the presence of endometrial-like tissue outside of the uterus. These deposits are found mainly in the pelvis, however they can be found in other sites in the body, causing an inflammatory reaction that leads to pain. Women with endometriosis commonly experience pelvic pain and problems with their intestines and bladder.
Lisa’s interest in health and fitness began following the birth of her second child, son Jesse, now 12, in 2008. She subsequently trained as a personal trainer and spinning instructor and held classes locally.
In 2009, Lisa sadly suffered a miscarriage early into her pregnancy. “It absolutely floored me but I had a chat with myself. I had to keep going for my other two kids who were still young at the time.”
In an attempt to manage her grief, Lisa decided to do something every week that she wouldn’t have been able to do while pregnant and the mini-marathon was on her list.
Recalling her first one in 2009, Lisa admits she hated every second of it.
“As I got to the last half-mile, I thought ‘this is awful!’ I hate it! But when I crossed the line, I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment! It made me realise that there are so many people struggling and they were all coming together to make a difference. It was such an incredible experience, I’m welling up just thinking about it.”
Lisa continued to run and completed the 24.6 mile Cork City Marathon in 2011.
However, she was secretly battling an undiagnosed illness and her condition was worsening which meant numerous trips to A&E. Lisa describes how her health began to rapidly deteriorate in the summer of 2012.
“I was screaming with pain and at that point, I had no quality of life. I could no longer work as a fitness and spinning instructor because my job was so physical. On top of that, I was told I’d have to wait for two years for a laparoscopy.”
At her wit’s end, Lisa took out a loan to see a specialist in the UK who finally diagnosed her with endometriosis. She had been warned by her doctors that the likely treatment would involve a hysterectomy.
“I would have loved to have more kids but I was willing to give up my womb, that’s how much I wanted the pain to stop.”
On her return from the UK, Lisa recalls having to ‘beg’ for a hysterectomy by sending out letters, emails and making phone calls to try and get the operation. She had a partial hysterectomy in 2015 and between her surgeries she missed out on the mini-marathon in 2014 and 2015 but resumed her passion last year.
“I am so grateful to the Cork Women’s Mini Marathon. It has gotten me through tough times. I can’t run as much or as intensively as I used to but when I’m out running I feel like the ‘old me’ is back.
“Running was the outlet that helped me through different challenges in my life and the mini-marathons often gave me the strength to push through. Although in pain, I knew it would be worth the feeling I got afterwards.”
Lisa says her health has improved slightly but she still experiences pain on a daily basis as the condition affects her bowel and bladder.
“I am in pain every day but I don’t want it to define me. Instead of sitting there focusing on the pain, I’ve learned to focus on someone else instead.”
And that is exactly what Lisa has been doing in the run-up to this year’s event, having recently learned that her two-year-old niece Róisín is suffering with cancer. Lisa went to visit Róisín in Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin in July and was overwhelmed by the care the staff provided.
“It’s been such an awful time but the way Our Lady’s swooped in and took over for Róisín’s parents really impressed me. Sometimes you are unsure of how much money goes to a charity but it was very evident to us while at Our Lady’s Hospital.
“My own daughter Shannon is 15 now and is upset about Róisín’s illness as we all are, so for her, for Róisín and the family, I just want to do something positive.”
Despite her ongoing pain and with Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital as her chosen charity, Lisa is looking forward to this year’s mini marathon more than ever.
“Trying not to make a holy show of myself on the day is great motivation!” she laughs.
“I would encourage people even just to watch the mini-marathon. When you see that there is so much good in people, it’s infectious!
“Cork, on the day of the mini marathon, is one of the most special places on the planet.”
The Evening Echo Women’s Mini Marathon takes place in Cork city on Sunday, September 24 at 1pm. Visit http://minimarathon.eveningecho.ie/
For further info on endometriosis, visit www.endometriosis.ie