Matt Cleaveland: A Plan to Run a Marathon, Interrupted by Cancer

Matt Cleaveland was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 25 as he trained for his first marathon. Successful surgery put him back on track to running.

I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 25. Despite knowing at that time that it is one of the most treatable cancers (often considered curable), the diagnosis still shook me to my core. After all, 25 is not an age when you even consider the possibility of having cancer.

At that time, I was just two weeks away from running my first marathon, which I’d spent the past four months diligently training for; to that point, I had logged 503 miles in training.

Following standard procedure, I was scheduled for surgery … just four days before the race. Being young and naïve, I asked the surgeon if I would be able to run in the race that soon after the operation. Of course, his response was, “Absolutely not.” (For the record, on the day of the race I was only able to walk half a mile, which took 15 minutes.)

With my planned marathon now off-limits, I ended up running a marathon of my own the week before the race; the first 18 miles were by myself, then friends showed up at various points over the final 8 miles.

The moment my watch read 26.2 miles, I knew I was going to run an official marathon the next year. Cancer had tried to steal that from me, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.

Thankfully, my cancer showed no signs of spreading post-surgery and I didn’t need further treatment, allowing me to immediately jump back into running, which was the perfect outlet. With every mile, I could feel myself owning my battle. It was a huge victory when I crossed the finish line of the 2023 Philly Marathon.