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Cancer survivor runs for family, friends — and herself — in Tokyo Marathon

by Ryusei Takahashi

Staff Writer

Vanessa Oshima has been running every day since her friend was diagnosed with cancer six years ago, and she made a promise that she would finish a 5 km run daily until her friend no longer showed any evidence of the disease.

Then, two years ago, Oshima herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, after running in every major world marathon, she’s doing it all over again.

On Sunday, she braved the wind and rain alongside more than 30,000 runners taking part in the annual Tokyo Marathon.

“I started off just running every day for a friend who had cancer,” Oshima, a New Zealand native married to a Japanese man, said. “And then two years ago I got cancer myself, and so now I’m trying to run them all again as a cancer survivor.

“I’ve been actually running nonstop for six years without a break,” she laughed.

Oshima has lived in Japan since 2011 and this was the fifth time she has run in the Tokyo Marathon. Every year thousands of people — from serious athletes invited from abroad to local Tokyoites running in clumsy costumes — participate in the event.

This time, Oshima ran for a charity called ACE — Action against Child Exploitation — a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization working to spread awareness of child labor issues around the world.

Her involvement with ACE began after she happened to meet Yuka Iwatsuki, the organization’s founder, on a flight from London, and the two “got talking about what it takes to make the world a better place.”

Oshima and the aforementioned friend started a charity together called Outrun Cancer, which uses donations to promote good physical health among cancer patients and survivors. They want people to know that cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence, and that regular exercise — like running in a marathon — can lead to good results.

“When you leave hospital, you get all these things that remind you you’re sick. You get an invoice from the hospital, you get a catalog for wigs, you get your prescriptions,” Oshima said. “We would like to give people a box of stuff to remind them they’re alive. Give them some running shoes, give them a T-shirt, give them a training manual or something, and say, ‘Go out and put one foot in front of the other and be well.’ “