WOOD-RIDGE, NJ -- This Sunday is the 48th running of the New York City Marathon, pitting runners strength and stamina against a course that takes participants through the five boroughs of New York. This year, among the 50 thousand plus runners, will be Wood-Ridge resident Mallory Garvin, who’s using the her run to raise money and awareness for the Tomorrows Children’s Fund.
Finishing a marathon is certainly an accomplishment for any athlete. But considering Garvin is a two-time cancer survivor who lost her ability to walk as a child, makes her achievement that much more inspiring.
Garvin, a teacher at Wood-Ridge High School, was diagnosed at the age of four with leukemia, and that’s when “our family’s story began with Tomorrows Children’s Fund.”
“Typically when a patient is being treated for cancer or serious blood disorders, the social workers will let Tomorrows Children’s Fund know so that they can reach out to parents for anything the parents, or patient might need. They start assisting you in any way, shape or form,” she explained.
She endured a year of chemotherapy, and routinely went back to the clinic for checkups and treatments. Spinal taps were needed every six months
She was comforted through the ordeal with therapy groups.
“I had Play Therapy and Music Therapy with other children that were being treated and survivors who were just entering remission, including myself,” she said.
“When I was first treated, I lost the ability to walk,” she said. “Because I was so young, the pain really started in my legs.
“I relearned how to walk,” she continued. “You’re a kid so you re-learn these things quickly.”
She returned to a routine childhood, attending Catherine E. Doyle School and Ostrovsky School in Wood-Ridge. Then at 12, she was again diagnosed with cancer. Garvin found a small lump on her tongue. After it didn’t heal, her mother took her to the dentist.
“He knew right away, “ she said. “This doesn’t look right,” she recalled.
A biopsy revealed a squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue, “completely separate, with no connection to the leukemia.” she said.
It is a rare cancer for a pre-teen, since it’s found in smokers and older adults. She had two surgeries, one to remove the tumor from the tongue and one to remove the lymph nodes. No radiation or chemotherapy was needed.
Garvin went on to the graduate the Class of 2004 from Wood-Ridge High School and Purdue University with a B.A. in Education.
She returned home to Wood-Ridge and landed a teaching job at Wood-Ridge High School, where she’s been for 11 years. Today she is the Track and Field Coach for the Winter and Spring teams, National Honor Society Advisor, and Senior Class Advisor.
Sunday will be Garvin’s second New York City Marathon. She started training four months ago. She’s completed eight other marathons, including the Boston Marathon, New Jersey Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC.
“It’s going to be my eighth one and New York is the hardest one,” she said. “Boston felt like the course was easier than New York.”
“People don’t realize it’s surprisingly hilly. It’s not an easy course.”
“I feel better going into it this time knowing,” she noted. “I was painfully unaware last time. So I know how i’m going to approach it."
“I went out way too fast last time,” she said. “I know I need to scale back because you’ve got 26 whole miles.”
Even though her training now is in the taper phase, she ran every day before school. She gets up at 3:45 am to put in the miles. (She’s been recently joined by a running partner from Rutherford.) Bed time is around 8:30 p.m.
Garvin keeps a healthy diet.
“I eat very healthy foods year round,” she said. “I don’t eat pasta, unless it’s the night before a race and then it’s whole wheat pasta.”
She eats “a lot of quinoa, and just started eating meat again, lean meats.”
Garvin is reflective when looking back on the challenges and obstacles she encountered at a young age.
“I always say I’m blessed for having this experience because it’s given me two things,” she said. “It’s given me my strength and it’s given me my optimism and my ability to be grateful for everything. And that’s because I just never allow fear to stop me from doing things. I’ve spent most of my life in fear. I get and cold and think ‘that’s it...it’s back.’”
"I’ve learned over the year to just push that and not let that stifle my life experience. And knowing that everyday is a blessing and just the fact that I’m here and able to run 26 miles.”
“It could have gone a different way. My story could have ended many many years ago,” she reflected. “I’m making sure I’m doing the most with my life and living my best life every day.”
What is her message for her students?
“There’s nothing you can’t accomplish, and everyday is a gift.”
“Use your time wisely and accomplish the things you want to in life.”
Garvin has established a gofundme page to accept donations for Tomorrows Children's Fund.