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Racing To Help Others

After beating breast cancer, Centreville’s Vanessa Spiller is ready to take on the world. She runs and challenges herself in endurance events and, on March 23 at Fairfax Corner, she’ll be racing in the second annual Rev3 Run Rogue 5K.

In April 2011, Spiller was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. A tumor in her breast had metastasized and, after doctors removed it, she underwent six months of chemo, followed by radiation. She finished treatment that November.

“It was a rough ride for two years, but I’m feeling really good,” she said. “I have no more treatment, just medication, follow-ups and scans every six months for the next couple years.”

Spiller and her husband Michael, of the Confederate Ridge community, are the parents of son Cole, 13, a Rocky Run seventh-grader, and daughter Courtney, 11, a fifth-grader at Bull Run Elementary. And Spiller leads a free running club at Bull Run to prepare children to run in the Run Rogue.

They also learn about nutrition and the importance of raising money for a worthy cause. “We meet every Wednesday and have about 75 kids in first through sixth grades,” she said. “It’s really fun.”

Since the Rev3 Run Rogue was created in honor of Spiller and her friend BethAnn Telford of Fair Lakes, the two will split the proceeds equally between their two cancer charities. Telford, also a competitive athlete, is still waging her own war against brain cancer, but will participate in the March 23 event, too.

Telford’s money will go to Accelerated Brain Cancer Cure, and Spiller’s will go to Life with Cancer, INOVA Health System’s nonprofit program for cancer patients and their families.

“My main motivation is to raise money for an organization that provides free services — yoga, art and cooking classes, support for family members, etc. — to people going through cancer treatment,” said Spiller. “They get the services I got when I was going through it. And the cool thing about BethAnn and I teaming up is that my charity does these things and hers deals with research and finding a cure.”

Spiller also gives healthy-cooking demonstrations, Tuesday afternoons, for Life with Cancer. They’re geared to people who’ve had cancer, are going through it now or are helping someone else deal with it. Said Spiller: “I love what I do and it just feels right.”

She also did the Boston Marathon last April, as did Telford. Spiller also ran her own marathon in Central Park after Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the New York Marathon in November. But her biggest challenge came last June.

“A few months earlier, my husband told me about an organization called Project Athena, which sends women who’ve been through adversity on some sort of adventure,” said Spiller. “So I applied for a scholarship to hike the Grand Canyon, rim to rim to rim. They only award one scholarship per adventure, and I got that one.”

She also successfully completed the hike. “My training from March to June was pretty rigorous,” she said. “And the hike was about 45 miles over two days. I told them at the end, it was tougher than chemo — the hardest thing I’d ever done physically, but the most rewarding Twenty-two people started and just seven finished.”

“But I did it, and it was life-changing,” continued Spiller. “I realized what I was made of, out there. It humbled me and also made me feel how strong I am. I understood what it meant to feel alive and be suffering, vs. the suffering I went through with chemo. It made me believe in myself again because it was me getting through that canyon with every ounce of my body. So 2012 was the coolest year of my life.”

She also enjoyed being part of a team during the hike and making lifelong friends along the way. And Spiller now works for Athena as a coach, training others for this hike. In addition, she’s a personal trainer and a nutritionist with her own business, Get Healthy with Vanessa.com, working with individuals and corporations.

Now, she said, “I’m preparing for Run Rogue to raise money and spread the word about this terrible illness. I’m running a couple days a week and lifting weights.” She’s also running in honor of Sunnee Kidd, a Navy wife and mother who’s a thyroid-cancer survivor she met on the hike and who works for Project Athena.

“Even if people don’t want to run the race, they can still donate online,” said Spiller. The Web sites are: Life with Cancer www.http://lifewithcancer.org/ and the National Brain Tumor Society http://www.braintumor.org/. She’s also the race’s volunteer coordinator, so anyone wanting to help may e-mail her at vkspiller@gmail.com.

Basically, she said, “I want to raise awareness that these are really serious diseases and we’ve got to find a cure.” Besides that, said Spiller, running or walking in this race are good ways to get people moving, which is also important. “Kids who are 10 now are expected to live five years less than their parents,” she said. “And this is the first generation in history with that prediction because of poor nutrition and inactivity.”