Don Wright, who hails from Stillwater, Minnesota, will run his 90th marathon since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma — an incurable blood cancer — 12 years ago. It’s an even more astounding feat because Wright is 74.
At an age when most runners have long given up the chase, Wright is still out on the marathon course, completing races in all 50 states and D.C. while delivering a powerful message.
“When I was diagnosed, the standard prognosis was three to five years and out (you will die), and that was 12 years ago,” he says with a slight chuckle.
He says he is still alive and running in large part because of innovative targeted drugs which haven’t cured his cancer but have kept it in check.
One new medication after another is needed because multiple myeloma has a tendency to outsmart cancer drugs over time. A promising treatment that worked for seven years lost its effectiveness last spring, and now Wright’s doctors are looking for another that can keep him alive for seven more.
And so he is running this marathon to put a face on the need for more cancer research and greater access for patients to innovative treatment.
“We just need more and more of that,” says Wright. “We need people to care about the development of new medications.”
To that end, he will be completing the 26.2-mile Marine Corps Marathon course through Northern Virginia and the nation’s capital on behalf of a new organization called Patients Rising, which is fighting for faster regulatory approvals for new cancer drugs and greater insurance coverage to help terminal patients and their families handle the cost.
Patients Rising will be there to record the moment Sunday when Wright completes his 90th marathon. But the faces Wright will really be looking for in the crowd will be those of his wife, Ardis, and daughter, Sarah.
Both now travel with him full-time from one marathon to the next, sometimes running a race of their own. But it’s clear that they relish the moments when he crosses each finish line the most.
Ardis Wright, who lost her father to acute leukemia in his late 60s, says she’s proud of her husband, but other emotions are at play too.
She says she is grateful for the medications that keep him alive, and filled with joy because he has been able to accomplish such a feat.
“I am always amazed because he looks like he is having fun at the end of 26 miles,” Ardis says. “It’s amazing, and he just loves it!”