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Marathon just another challenge for Rep. Deborah Mell

ChristBaker (left) trains Tuesday for Sunday’s marathwith her wife Rep. Deborah Mell (right) who underwent double mastectomy two months ago

Christin Baker (left) trains on Tuesday for Sunday’s marathon with her wife, Rep. Deborah Mell (right), who underwent a double mastectomy two months ago after being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. | Photo by Don Moseley

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Updated: November 8, 2012 11:56AM

Sometimes we run for fun.

Sometimes we do it to help a cause.

But sometimes, in difficult times, we run as a declaration that nothing will stop us.

So it is with state Rep. Deborah Mell of Chicago, who is running in Sunday’s Chicago Marathon despite the fact that just two months ago, diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, she underwent a double mastectomy and has been slowly recovering ever since.

At 44, she is slim, athletic and determined. Even so, going 26.2 miles is a grueling test for the healthiest among us. Going that distance only eight weeks after having both breasts removed is another matter.

In the beginning of her training, before this summer’s devastating diagnosis, she was doing it for the joy of the challenge. And as a vehicle to raise funds for her church, All Saints Episcopal in Lake View.

It was in that church a year ago that Mell and her longtime partner, Christin Baker, had their wedding in a ceremony attended by family and friends.

That gathering, as I look back at it now, offered up a visual list of the immense challenges Mell has already confronted in her life.

There was her father, Dick Mell, the powerful alderman of the 33rd Ward, who, in 2004, tearfully told reporters — just after Deborah’s arrest in a demonstration outside City Hall — how proud he was of his daughter for fighting for gay rights. And how he wished he had come to the fight sooner himself.

Also in church that day was her uncharacteristically subdued brother-in-law, former governor Rod Blagojevich, with his wife, Patti, and their daughters. He had not yet been sentenced to federal prison. Deborah and her brother, Rich, had been in court for both of his trials, often with their arms around their sister.

And remembered on that wedding day was the late Margaret Mell, Deborah’s mother, who had battled breast cancer twice before a rare brain disease claimed her life.

On Tuesday morning, along the running path where she and Christin train, Deborah talked about how she could hear her mother’s voice in the decision to go directly to a double mastectomy rather than choose a less radical course.

“My Mom, she was giving me advice, really,” she said.

Deborah Mell and Christin Baker have been together across all of the calamities the Mell clan has faced, affirming the old saying that what doesn’t kill you can actually make you stronger.

“This latest thing that happened to me . . . it was really interesting because I think it made me a better person,” Deborah said. “Because you don’t know what people are going through day-to-day when you see them. You don’t know. Like I had like these tubes coming out and I was walking around in the grocery store. And everywhere you go, you don’t know what people’s experiences are. Or where they are at in their stage of life. So it gives me a little more compassion.”

Will she finish Sunday’s race? Mell hopes so. But she understands that equal parts of persistence and hope will carry every runner along what is always an uncertain path.

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