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Family photo
Joshua Hansen with his mother. He was once nearly 400 pounds and has lost nearly 200 of those by running. He is also running to raise money for his mother, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
Realizing what your mother is going to have to go through with chemo, with radiation and with surgery. … Realizing that your own mother is going to have to go through that, emotionally it got to me. That's something no one should have to go through. Cancer just isn't fair. —Joshua Hansen

"It's easy to forget all that you have, when you forget who you are." — Joshua Snow Hansen

Joshua Hansen worked his way to 400 pounds by running from his problems. He lost nearly 200 of those pounds by running through his pain.

"I started, part of it, was because I was off my parent's insurance," he said.

He went to a community health clinic, and the news was grim. In addition to a thyroid condition, he just needed to lose weight — a lot of it.

"I needed a change," he said. "I figured the best way to take care of myself without insurance was to start losing weight. And running is free."

A friend who was a personal trainer helped him clean up his diet and change his lifestyle. That was two-and-a-half years and 175 pounds ago. He shed more than weight, as he discovered that happiness was something inside of him and not something he had to chase.

Eventually, Hansen signed up for a 5K, and something about struggling with other runners only fed his growing affection for the sport. He ran his first half marathon in July and said it changed his goals. In November, he decided he wanted to run 12 in 12 months.

"That quickly got out of hand," he said. "I just registered for my 20th five minutes ago."

Hansen's fitness goal took on new meaning when he got a phone call from his mom on March 2. He learned that his mother had breast cancer.

"It was a very difficult phone call," he said. "We kind of expected something after her mammogram. Still, even though that prepared me for it, it didn't prepare me for it."

It was the visceral understanding of the ordeal his mother — his hero — faced that broke his heart.

"Realizing what your mother is going to have to go through with chemo, with radiation and with surgery. … Realizing that your own mother is going to have to go through that, emotionally it got to me. That's something no one should have to go through. Cancer just isn't fair," he said.

So instead of hiding from pain, like he might have done three years ago, the 30-year-old ordered some pink Nike running shoes, a shirt that proclaimed he was running for his mom, and set about raising money for cancer research so that no other son has to watch his mother battle this insidious disease.

Hansen has already raised $1,000 and plans to raise $10,000 in his year of running half marathons. He has a blog at www.mejosher.com, which began as a way to chronicle his weight loss journey and running adventures but now includes updates about his mother's fight, where donations can be made. The name of the blog uses the nickname his mother gave him as a child. Donations can be made directly through a link on the blog.

Hansen said he changed the goal after the outpouring of support.

"I was just floored by the reception I got from family, friends and perfect strangers," he said. Hansen was one of those runners fearful that the Salt Lake Marathon would not be held when it changed owners about two months before race day, April 21. But after some tumultuous times, the race is on track with a new course and new T-shirts being unveiled this week.

"I was nervous, but I would have run it either way," he said. And he'll do it in denim jeans and a vest, as that was part of his fundraising effort. Running for his mother, Nanette, 62, is the least he can do, he said.

"She is the most giving person," Hansen said. "When I told her she just rolls her eyes. I'm her odd child. It doesn’t surprise her. … She loves giving of herself, and she'd do anything for anyone. I know that her having to go through what she is will be very tough. But it's also an opportunity for all of us kids to be there for her and serve her instead."

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