SALT LAKE CITY — On an evening in late May, Amanda Catano and Jason Dorais made their way to the track at East High School and ran a couple of laps.
“It wasn’t anything,” she said Thursday. “But it was pretty momentous because it was the first time I’d run in a really long time and it felt great in a really horrible way.
“It just felt good to not only feel well enough to do that, but to still have the ability to do that.”
When Dorais and Catano married in December, Catano was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. It was the best day she had had in weeks and she didn’t have to use a walker or wheelchair to support her then-85-pound frame.
Before the wedding, she was on a feeding tube. Soon after, she had a round of chemotherapy that sent her to the hospital for a week and took her down to 75 pounds. She won her race to the altar. Perhaps surprisingly, it came without a finish line.
Run for your life
Earlier this month, the couple completed a 5K — together.
“I shuffled along,” Catano said.
"You finished though," her husband said.
Not stopping has defined this couple, who were engaged and wed last year in spite of Catano’s diagnosis. They have only good things to say about their eight months of marriage, each other and those who have helped and supported them along the way.
“We can’t say enough about how people have been so kind and generous and this is a good opportunity to express gratitude for even the smallest things that people have done that have meant so much to us,” she said.
Catano, 33, was training for the Ogden Marathon when she first experienced the symptoms that would eventually lead her to a gastroenterologist and the diagnosis of colon cancer. She and Dorais had been dating for over a year when she was diagnosed and he said it made everything more clear, proposing within a couple of months.
As a medical resident at University Hospital, Dorais was especially qualified and willing to help Catano in her fight against cancer and their closeness is evident. Marriage has only further deepened that relationship.
“We’re even closer now than we were before,” she said. “We talk about how we like marriage so much more than we thought we would. ... I feel like marriage has been pretty easy aside from the fact that my health problems have been pretty crazy at times. But we’re definitely committed ... and enjoy each other’s company.”
He said they “enjoy it more every day” and that they keep each other motivated as Amanda continues to battle cancer.
“We’ve just been doing this together and staying as happy as we can,” he said. “We’re in a committed relationship and we just do what we need to do. We have no other options. It’s not like being sad or pouty makes any difference at all, so it’s just stay happy and kind of deal with it.”
Catano said Dorais is always happy and even-keeled and that has made a world of difference.
“He’s so good about that,” she explained. “So good about being strong and supportive and positive and happy all the time and that honestly helps out a ton, because it would be hard to see other people breaking down and having a hard time with this.”
In February, Catano said her hair was thinning to the point that her nephew compared her to Smeagol, or Gollum, from "The Lord of the Rings" and she knew it was time to shave it off. The couple decided to make it a party, ordered pizza and invited a number of family members and friends to join them.
Dorais went bald with his new bride, as did others, including some who he said didn’t even know Catano that well, but agreed to go under the clippers without hesitation. It was just one of many times when they were buoyed up by those around them.
“We’ve had incredible support from my family, Jason’s family, friends, strangers, and I think that has really made a huge difference in this whole process is having people who are there to care about you,” Catano said.
Her family and friends set up a Fighting with Amanda page on Facebook where they post updates about her progress and people leave words of support and encouragement.
“We’re not the best at getting back to people when they comment, but it’s so appreciated,” she said. “The fact that people take the time to stay updated on what’s going on in our life and take the time to leave messages...”
Catano said one post was about a girl who cut her hair for Locks of Love in her honor. At the Corner Canyon Ultra Trail Run 50K in June, people turned out to run for Catano.
“The support has been completely mind-blowing,” Catano said. “People are so nice and so cool. It’s been great.”
Sharing their story
A fourth-grade teacher at Alianza Academy when diagnosed, Catono said her students at the school held a jump-a-thon for her. Deseret News and KSL-TV stories about the couple’s engagement in the face of her diagnosis led to an almost overwhelming response for the couple.
“We kind of felt a little bit embarrassed almost, because we’re like, ‘It’s just us, we’re nothing special,’” Catano said. “But if people can be inspired by that, then that’s great. Our lives will have not been in vain.”
She is earnest in her hope that others going through struggles or trials have the help and love and support that they need. She knows how much good that can do.
“I think it’s easy to stay hopeful when you have that support system and you want to keep trying,” she said. “You have all these people that you love and care about and you really want to keep trying for them and you want to put a smile on for them and, not to say the past eight months have been easy because it’s been horrible, but that’s what we have each other for — to get through the really horrible times.
“I don't know what I would do without our families or friends or even the strangers who put messages up on Facebook. Like Jason said, it’s meant the world to us.”
The couple continues to look forward. Radiation eliminated cancer that had spread to Catano’s hip and her cancer markers were hovering near the normal range despite some nodules on her lungs.
She is currently undergoing chemotherapy in an effort to shrink those nodules, but said the only side effects she notices is fatigue. Still, she is practicing yoga, hiking and continuing to run.
“Now I’m great,” she said “I can finally run and hike and do all those things that I used to love to do. Not as well and not as fast, but (I’m) getting stronger, I think, a little bit every day.”
She hopes to one day return to teaching and is trying to do some volunteer work. Dorais will finish his residency in a year and start applying for jobs. The couple is currently looking for a dog: “A lazy dog on the inside and one that will have fun when you take it outside — those are our requirements,” she said.
Next June, when that Corner Canyon 50K comes around again, Catano hopes she will be able to run it herself.
“I’ve gone through some pretty low lows to, now, a really high high,” she said. “In order to get through those low points, you have to have a positive attitude. ... You just have to keep going.
She then motions to the man who shares her life.
“I don't know what I would do without this guy and everybody else I have in my life. We’re hanging in there pretty well.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company