AUBURN — Despite two surgeries and the loss of a kidney, the description of “cancer survivor” unsettles Kevin Bellefleur.
Cancer frightened him, but it never threatened his life.
“I know people who have gone through so much more,” said Bellefleur, 41. Since his diagnosis three years ago, cancer killed two close friends.
“I just want to be as healthy as I can,” he said.
Bellefleur has undergone a modest transformation. He has fought both cancer and nicotine addiction to make himself healthier than ever.
In 2009, he completed the Dempsey Challenge run and Lewiston-Auburn’s so-called Triple Crown of 5K races — Ellen’s Run, the YMCA Fitfest and the Bridge Run. This year, he plans to pick up the pace, aiming to finish each of the four in under 30 minutes.
“A few years ago, if you told me I’d be running 5Ks, I would have said you were crazy,” he said.
He had battled his weight for most of his life. And though he’d tried to quit smoking, he’d failed.
The failure was particularly tough, since both of his parents battled lung cancer. The cancer took his dad 12 years ago, and his mom is currently in remission, he said.
When he was 37, Bellefleur woke one day and decided to end his 17-year cigarette habit.
“I went out and bought some no-name-brand nicotine patches,” he said.
He never smoked again.
About a year later, he was working at losing weight and had began a training regimen when he found himself facing a cancer of his own.
“I had renal cancer,” he said. His first thought went to his nieces and nephews.
“I wanted to see them grow up,” he said.
On his second visit with his doctor, he learned that his cancer spread slowly and would likely be contained by surgery.
“If you had to have a cancer, you couldn’t have a better one,” he said. He escaped chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Friends at the YMCA, where he worked with the pre-kindergarten kids, and family helped.
“I was surrounded by love and support,” he said.
Some family members also teased him, saying he’d quit smoking and contracted cancer anyway.
“I know I could be hit by a bus when I walk out this door,” he said.
That’s the wrong message, Bellefleur said.
Rather, he learned to value his life in a new way.
About a year ago, after his surgeries and his recovery, he returned to his exercise. He began with the YMCA’s “Couch to 5K” program. The eight-week course gets people moving in a combination of running and walking within each person’s fitness level.
“I’ll be honest, I’ve never experienced a runner’s high,” he said. The reward comes when the running is done.
“I’ve never run and not felt better,” he said. “I love how I feel when it’s over.”