“Getting Better with Every Mile of the Journey,” with Jamie Crespo
Amanda Stubbert: Welcome to the SPU Voices Podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert, and today we sat down with Jamie Crespo. Class of 2012 Applied Human Biology major, she was already a healthcare worker when she suddenly found herself caring for not one, but both of her parents. Her newfound passion for running provided her escape and a new community of support when she needed it the most. She is now using that passion to raise money and awareness for the prevention of colon cancer. Jamie, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jamie Crespo: Thanks for having me.
Amanda: Well, let’s start back in 2017. I personally know what it’s like when your parent gets a bad diagnosis, but your story started even before that. It took you a while to get your dad to even go to the doctor, right?
Jamie: Yes, yeah. He was showing signs of significant weight loss and his skin was very pale, and he even had a few faint spells, so I realized it was bad, there was something wrong. So I had him go to see the doctor.
Amanda: Some people can hear that and say, “He was losing weight, skin changes, fainting spells, why anyone would go to the doctor.” I feel like some people are saying that in their brain. But isn’t it a cultural thing sometimes that people just don’t feel like they should go to the doctor?
Jamie: Yes, it’s definitely you go when you’re feeling something other than preventive care.
Amanda: Yeah. So tell us a little bit about your cultural background so we’ll understand that piece.
Jamie: So I’m Filipino, I was born and raised here but both my parents were born in Manila, Philippines. I actually do know how to speak the dialect because my grandparents babysat me and both my parents were able to speak to me throughout the years and I was able to pick it up. But culturally, yeah, the checkups are only just because you are feeling something.
Amanda: Awesome. How do you say, “Go to the doctor” in Tagalog?
Jamie: [Tagalog language]
Amanda: Thank you for that, my aunt and cousins are all Filipino, so that’s good. I love the sound of Tagalog. Okay, so your dad finally goes to the doctor because you’re in healthcare and you know that this is what he needs, and it’s not good news. Tell us about that day.
Jamie: I had no idea because cancer didn’t run in the family, we didn’t know what was going on. I was in healthcare but just briefly for five years and I was still brand new, basically, as a college graduate. And then it was tough realizing that my dad had colon cancer.
Amanda: Yeah. I love that you said that it doesn’t run in your family because I feel like there’s this idea that if that doesn’t run in your family then that’s not something you have to worry about. But that was not the case for him.
Amanda: So now, your dad is in the middle of treatment and from what I understand you just keep getting bad news after bad news and not sure if he’s going to make it through. And then while he’s in surgery your mom goes and gets a test as well?
Jamie: Yes. It was probably in the fall, so my dad already was doing chemo. So I was the one taking my mom to get her colonoscopy. Her gastroenterologist came up to me and was like, “I’m sorry to say that your mom also has colon cancer.” But it was not as extensive as my dad’s.
Amanda: I can’t even imagine. Do you mind taking us through? You must just be thinking, “This isn’t possible.”
Jamie: Yeah. I was like, “How is this happening right now?” I’m an only child so it was very difficult. And all my family is still in the Philippines, my immediate family. So it was just me and my parents and my two aunts on my mom’s side that are living with us.
Amanda: So what do you do, did you break the news to your mom?
Jamie: Yeah. She still had nausea and vomiting from the anesthesia, but she was also in shock. We were all in shock because my dad was going through it already.
Amanda: Yeah. So now your dad is deep into treatment, your mom starts going to treatment, and what are you doing to take care of yourself? You’re still working, now you’re taking care of both parents. What are you doing to take care of yourself?
Jamie: I still continued to train for a marathon that year. I was running previously. In 2016 I got into the Nike Run Club and met a lot of friends there that has encouraged me to sign up for aces, half marathons. But my big goal for 2017 was a full marathon.
Amanda: And you did it.
Amanda: Yeah. And what did that feel like?
Jamie: An accomplishment. It was definitely hard because my parents were at home and I went to San Diego to run my race. But they were encouraging enough to take the time for myself and to hang out with my friends, just to take a breather, yeah, stress relief.
“An accomplishment. It was definitely hard because my parents were at home and I went to San Diego to run my race. But they were encouraging enough to take the time for myself and to hang out with my friends, just to take a breather, yeah, stress relief.”
Amanda: So you’ve talked about running helping you get through that time. And I can absolutely understand getting out of the house, using your body, getting some of that stress out of your body. But you also talk about how your running community really came alongside of you. What does that look like?
Jamie: Yeah. Well, they were very encouraging for signing up races and we would train together. And they would get me out to do these long runs, speed runs, but then also visited my parents at the hospital throughout.
Amanda: Yeah, that’s wonderful. What does that feel like for you? What does running do for you?
Jamie: It makes me happy and once you do one and complete one you feel like you’re on a running high and then you sign up for another one.
Amanda: That’s how you signed up for another one.
Jamie: Yes. Well, the pandemic happened so New York City was on the top of my list when I found out about the World Majors. I’ve been wanting to go to New York, I haven’t been back since I was six, so I vaguely remember the city. So a running friend of mine decided, and I, to do New York. We would only get bid through a charity because we didn’t get into the lottery and time qualified. So we decided to do different charities.
Amanda: Okay, so let me just be clear. So you’re trying to get into one of these big races that there’s way more people that want to run it than can get in. So either you can be a really fast runner and time qualify, you can win a lottery ticket, or if you raise enough money for charity you can buy your way in. Is that right?
Amanda: Yeah. Okay, so you decided to raise money, and then how did that become your gateway into running for colon cancer awareness?
Jamie: So I was looking through the charity list online, on the New York City Marathon website and two spoke out to me. One was Make A Wish Foundation, I am a current Make A Wish granter, volunteer, and the Colon Cancer Foundation. I had to do phone interviews for both. And unfortunately, Make A Wish filled up, the spots filled up and I ended up getting a bid with the Colon Cancer Foundation.
Amanda: Okay, I just have to take a quick pause, because Make A Wish, everybody knows what that is and it’s so wonderful. As a volunteer have you been a part of a wish?
Jamie: No, we send them off. So if they do a Wish trip we would go to the airport and we would meet a TSA agent and we would help them, basically, go to their gate. I just had one recently who went to L.A. to meet his favorite rapper, so we got to send him off a couple weeks ago.
Amanda: How fun, how fun. Okay, so you’re running the New York Marathon, or you can’t run because it’s COVID, but you start raising money for colon cancer.
Jamie: Yes. So it was, I think, in early spring or March when we found out COVID happened. So my fundraising got pushed back, I ended up fundraising in July for my birthday. I had the Colon Cancer Foundation Go Fund Me page. I put it out and my whole personal story with my parents, and a lot of people, friends and family and even random donations ended up raising $3,200 before December, which was our goal.
Amanda: And how does that feel to have that many people basically give money to support you and your story?
Jamie: Just amazing, people are great, they’re so kind. I didn’t even know how to raise money; it was just word-of-mouth. And one of our friends, a photographer that I met at Nike Run Club, took photos of me and my friend and then I posted it through my social media and had colon cancer facts, and also my personal stories with my parents.
“Just amazing, people are great, they’re so kind. I didn’t even know how to raise money; it was just word-of-mouth.”
Amanda: Fabulous. So that New York City marathon that was the dream of a lifetime, and you’ve been taking care of your parents, but you still get to go. Finally COVID is lifting, you still get to go on this trip. Tell us about the race.
Jamie: I was very nervous. I hadn’t run a marathon for three years; I think 2018 was my last. And 2020 I didn’t really run as much. So training, I did a six-month training plan. And long runs, they just felt longer than what it was. But yeah, it was amazing, the race. The entire city of New York came out throughout the 26.2 miles; it was a party even though the course is very tough with five bridges that we crossed, since we did the five boroughs of New York.
Amanda: Were there moments where it was the crowd’s energy that kept you going?
Jamie: Yeah. And then I had a good friend, and her fiancé now, come and support me. So I would see them four times on the course. And then my friend that ran with me, friends also were there, so I them throughout the course, which was great.
Amanda: So you had these little mile markers …
Amanda: … like, “I can’t not be there, I can’t not run past them.”
Jamie: Or I need to look happy.
Amanda: “Put on my happy face, they’re around the corner,” I love that. So speaking of putting on your happy face, so you go to New York, you run this race, you come home, you’re still taking care of your parents, but you have some pretty amazing news about your parents. Because colon cancer can be very disruptive, especially late, it was stage four. But both your mom and your dad, tell us how they’re doing.
Jamie: Yeah, they’re in remission. They got their colonoscopies earlier this year and everything was good.
Amanda: Oh, praise the Lord. You had such a tsunami of things to take care of and to have everything turn out okay, that’s just fabulous. And now, here you are continuing on with that work. Jamie is now a Colon Cancer Foundation ambassador. And you take on the role of raising money yearly, but also letting people know about colon cancer and the fact that, one, you still need to get tested even if it’s not in your family. What are the other facts that you want all of our listeners to know?
Jamie: Colonoscopy is lowered down to 45 years instead of 50, because they are finding more and more people get diagnosed earlier.
Amanda: So everyone who is eligible, go get that colonoscopy. Do not wait.
Amanda: Don’t wait for symptoms, go get tested now. And what’s next for you? You are off to Chicago, are you not?
Jamie: Yes, I have been training for that. I have two months, I’m done. I’ve been training and then I have two months left to train. So one of my friends is currently coaching me because I want to try to beat my personal record from 2018. So I’ve been doing a lot of long runs and interval training, and then also cross-training with Lagree, which is a form of Pilates.
Amanda: Wow. And now you’ve entered this journey and now there’s no going back. So most people probably don’t know, there’s something called The six Majors that are major marathons around the globe that are hard to get into. And so Chicago, you will be two out of six. Is your goal for all six?
Jamie: Yes and no. To even get into one is an accomplishment in itself, and to run one is an accomplishment in itself. But maybe, I haven’t really decided, it’s just really hard to get into any of them. London, Berlin, Boston and Tokyo is left.
Amanda: Wow. Well we are supporting you from here, that’s for sure. In fact, I would be remiss if we didn’t backtrack a little bit. I feel like your story, it’s like a Disney movie. It looks like all hope is lost and then you had these amazing wins. Can you just take a minute and tell us how your faith played into the times when you found out your mom also has cancer, like “I’m trying to run, but I also have to go to work. I have to take care of both of my parents.” There are some pretty low lows in that story. Can you talk about how your faith helped you through that?
Jamie: Yeah. I was looking up to God a lot and praying more. And I believe that he wouldn’t have put us through this if we couldn’t handle it.
“I was looking up to God a lot and praying more. And I believe that he wouldn’t have put us through this if we couldn’t handle it.”
Amanda: Yeah, yeah, and it gave you all these unexpected supports like your running community and getting into the New York Marathon. Who thought an angel in the form of The New York Marathon?
Amanda: All right, Jamie, well I love talking to you, I love your story. Like I said, if Disney wants to produce it, please come see me. I will happily produce that for them. Let’s end with our famous last question. If you could have everyone in Seattle do one thing differently tomorrow that would make the world a better place, what would you have us all do?
Jamie: I would have let them go out and do an activity for 30 minutes to an hour a few times a week. It helps prevent these diseases.
Amanda: And get their colonoscopy.
Amanda: Thank you, Jamie.
Jamie: Thanks so much.