In Memoriam: Sheila Hernandez

In Memoriam: Sheila Hernandez
Ken Levy
Sheila Hernandez was a frequent runner during the spring and summer months with the PPTC. My darling wife passed away from inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and fatal variant of the disease that strikes quickly and aggressively. IBC is frequently misdiagnosed and often impossible to detect with mammograms - and sonograms until it has already spread. The time from her diagnosis to passing was just four short months. During this time Sheila exhibited extraordinary courage and never once questioned 'why me?’ Her biggest complaint throughout her all too brief treatment was that she could not run.

A native of Medellin, Colombia, Sheila became a competitive runner, a real New Yorker and a proud employee of the Visiting Nurse Service. Running was her passion and she came by it instinctively. Medellin is located in part on the slopes of the Andes and Sheila would use the steep hills surrounding her home as a training ground to run to school and race her brothers. Her first-ever competitive race was a PPTC Summer Speed Series - a spontaneous decision we made when returning from Key Food and saw the runners warming up. She ran in her street clothes and jewelry and despite the insecurities she had about running with others, came in second place. Sheila's first NYC Marathon was the post 9/11 2001 race. Two months after that watershed event in her life she was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer. The news was devastating, of course, but the prognosis given Sheila's general health and tumor markers seemed excellent. Although she couldn't make the 2002 marathon, she continued to run in the Park and for qualifying races despite two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments that year. Sheila enthusiastically rejoined the fray in 2003 and ran up until that awful day in July 2007 when she was told the cancer had returned and had spread into her lungs.

Sheila's hope was to run the 2008 Marathon and we had every expectation she would. Plotting our way through the troubled water of this disease became a metaphor for her running another marathon. We planned a sensational trip for the Paris Marathon as part of her 50th birthday celebration. It was our rallying point. To my horror, she suddenly took a very bad turn two weeks following her birthday and passed away from acute respiratory distress on Saturday morning, November 3, 2007 - exactly 24 hours before the NYC Marathon starting shot. Her best friend Jenny told me Sheila was determined to run the Marathon - and chose the time of her passing so she could run this event that she was so passionate about, in spirit.

I miss so much the sight of Sheila running. Few things brought her such joy and peace. It has been difficult to return to the Park since. I've viewed it from a distance, still imagining her striding down the path while I pace her on my bicycle. I am grateful to Al Goldstein and all of you at the PPTC who knew her and encouraged her.