How Running Has Helped Cancer Survivor Danielia Cotton Cope During Tough Times

The six-time marathoner shares why her most recent race was the most special.

The 2022 New York City Marathon may have been marathon number six for Danielia Cotton, 55, but it was her most meaningful race yet, she says. That's because Cotton, who lives in New York City with her daughter and partner, ran for a cause that was near and dear to her heart. As a member of Fred's Team, she set out to raise money for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and requested that all donations be put toward lymphoma research as her partner has a rare form of the cancer called mantle cell lymphoma. Running allowed her to give back, but she credits the sport — and the people she's met because of it — for helping her cope with her own battle with cancer as well.

"Training for [a marathon] is so intense," says Cotton, "and each marathon [I ran], there was something intense happening in life." About a decade ago, she learned she had thyroid cancer. Ultimately, she had to have her entire thyroid removed and now takes medication to replace the hormone that the thyroid gland would typically produce naturally. Thankfully, she's now cancer-free and goes in for blood work twice a year to make sure nothing has come back.

Cotton, who ran often even before her diagnosis, says she turned to the sport to deal with her physical and mental health. "[Running] was definitely a place to go to not think about the stresses of life," she says, adding that running for her is a form of therapy. "Even if I was angry, I would come back [from a run] and be in a better mood," she says.

A mix of running, breathing, and music is the winning combination for the professional singer, she adds. "It's a great place for me, and I just work things out when I run," says Cotton.

She even goes so far as to describe running as almost meditative. "It's the one place I breathe correctly," she says. If you are breathing right, it's quite similar to the steady, patterned breathing that you can use to calm your body and mind, she says.

Of her six marathons, four have been in NYC, so it's naturally been meaningful for Cotton to run 26.2 miles in the city where she lives; it's even more special when you're doing it for someone you love.

"This [TCS New York City Marathon], in particular, was incredibly important for me," she says. "Not only just to do it to feel like I was doing something [for my partner], but it was also a place where I could go where it helped me so I didn't cry nine times a day," Cotton says about training for the marathon. "It was so physically challenging that it just did a lot for me emotionally."

Cotton and her partner have a 4-year-old daughter, and thinking about staying healthy and fit for her is part of what powers her. Maintaining her own health (especially after her past with cancer) for her daughter's sake feels even more crucial while her partner is sick.

So when things got tough, she turned to her Fred's Team teammates to push through.

"When I got to just about in between miles 12 and 13 […] I thought I was having a heat stroke," says Cotton. "My cheeks were so hot and my hands were completely swollen. And then I saw her," she says of one of her teammates who had cancer as a child and has since run 48 marathons. Cotton caught up to her, and began to run together. "It just was great," she says. "It's such a rare situation for there to be another human being who understands your journey because they've been there. They're empathetic in a way that's really good and productive. You can ask questions and [know] they're speaking from experience. That's the beauty of Fred's Team: You will find pieces of your story in somebody else."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles