Carol Dellinger
Carol Dellinger

Nothing makes Carol Dellinger cringe like a "pity party."

She'll tell you flat-out: No one will ever hold one on her behalf. No matter how tempting.

Carol comes from a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father who predicted she'd never amount to a "hill of beans." Her mother died of breast cancer when she was in high school.

In October Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had her right breast removed and decided not to have reconstructive surgery because she wanted the fastest recovery possible.

She speaks proudly of the 10-inch scar across her chest. The 48-year-old dental assistant from Spokane is candid about every step of life's sojourn because she believes things happen for a reason.

Hers is to deliver a message. One that's as powerful as her inner drive, which is enough to make us all feel like slackers.

On Sunday, Dellinger will run in the Missoula Marathon for the first time. It will be her 241st marathon, a number that boggles the mind and screams overkill.

Not to Carol, who looks more like a softball player and didn't even take up running until her late 20s. She views her long-distance endeavors - only two women in the United States have had more - as living life to its fullest. She savors the scenery and sees each challenge as a microcosm of life.

"Each marathon is a journey for me," she said. "The people I see and the places I visit, I'm giving myself a 26.2-mile tour.

"Then there's the finish line. You see the banner, crossing it and having people cheer for you and the feeling of wow. Every time I finish I just feel so blessed."

Living proof cancer doesn't discriminate based on eating or exercise habits, Dellinger believes her attitude keyed her quick recovery from surgery. Two days after her mastectomy she was walking for an hour. Nine weeks later she ran a marathon in Phoenix.

It was brutal. But she made it to the finish line and gave her finisher medal to her surgeon, who has it on display at Cancer Care Northwest.

"Cancer picked the wrong woman to mess with," she insists. "I can still remember sitting with my surgeon after having the biopsy, figuring out the extent of the cancer.

"I shook her hand and said a few words and I looked at her and said, ‘Doc, am I going to die?' She said, ‘Yes you are, but not from breast cancer.' I was not going to let it define me."

Saturday's marathon will be Dellinger's ninth since her mastectomy. She's become a regional legend, delivering motivational speeches and drawing sponsorship.

She had planned to run in Missoula's marathon last year but backed out when a friend was killed in a car accident. She's looking forward to the experience.

"I'll be sucking wind a little with the elevation, but not near as bad as those flatlanders," she said. "My worst spot is usually 16-17 miles in because you know you're over halfway but have 10 miles to go.

"More than anything I think having breast cancer really made me realize how precious my experiences are to me. Instead of just everyday surviving I try to live life to its fullest, try to appreciate every friend and acquaintance."

Dellinger is a big believer in annual mammograms, which she has scheduled every year since age 35. Had she skipped her exam in 2009, she's sure her cancer would have been invasive.

Instead she's looking toward next Sunday, vibrant as ever with her spiked hair and fancy Saucony singlet provided by her sponsor. The singlet is red, which is said to convey power, energy and boldness.

Seems appropriate.

Learn more about Dellinger at warrior

Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or bill.speltz@lee.net.


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