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Runner Battling Cancer for 4th Time Still Competing During Chemo: I Need to ‘Carry On’

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USATF

Not even chemotherapy can keep Gabe Grunewald off the track.

The 30-year-old from Minneapolis, Minnesota, is fighting cancer for the fourth time — but says that running is what keeps her going every day.

“I’ve always loved running and I never want cancer to take that away from me,” Grunewald tells PEOPLE. “Having the opportunity to be a professional runner was something that I never expected.”

Her battle began when she was first diagnosed in 2009 with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer. Surgery to remove the tumor from her salivary gland was successful, but two years later the cancer reappeared in her thyroid, which was also removed.

USATF

For five years she was healthy, living her life, traveling and competing. She finished fourth in the 1500 at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trails and won the 2014 USA Indoor 3,000 meter title.

It was in August 2016, that she discovered her cancer came back for the third time— but now in her liver.

“That was a huge bummer and it was tough,” says Grunewald, who married her college boyfriend in 2013. “I had a big surgery that removed half of my liver and the tumor. I couldn’t run for like three or four months.”

But as soon as she could, she got back to training until her first scan in March showed that small tumors had returned.

“I’m running, but not fast because I’m going through chemo,” she says, which she started on June 6. “The most important thing for me has just been trying to stay involved in the sport that I love even though it’s been hard to manage my health issues with running.”

She added: “It’s something that I felt like I really needed to do just to carry on and have something to look forward to.”

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On Thursday, Grunewald had a 4.31.18 run in the first round of the 1500m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Sacramento. She finished ninth her in section, and won’t be advancing to the weekend competition.

She’s now hoping that she’ll get through cancer once again and be back on the track professionally next year.

“I’ve traveling the world, raced some of the Americans and best runners in the world,” she says. “It’s been an awesome opportunity. As a cancer survivor you don’t take that for granted.”