When Lexington's John Samson runs Sunday, he'll have plenty of reason to smile.
Samson, 45, will be running in the TCS NYC Marathon — aka the New York City Marathon — as a way to celebrate his comeback from stage IV colon cancer.
"I've been through a lot. I'm lucky to even be alive," Samson said. "The survival rate when you get to stage IV cancer of any kind isn't real good. So I'm lucky to be here."
In addition to running, the Eastern Kentucky University graduate likes to scuba dive and ski.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"Live like you're dying approach," he said.
Samson didn't start running until his late thirties, when he decided he needed to get active in his life.
He worked his way up from a 5K to The Bourbon Chase long-distance relay race.
Then, in March 2011, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.
He had been in training for a marathon in Washington, D.C., but had to withdraw. He needed immediate surgery and chemotherapy. Running became his means to a recovery.
He has since had surgery on his liver and abdomen. He says about 75 percent of his colon was removed, and about a third of his liver.
"After a couple of surgeries and chemo, I was in pretty bad shape after going through all that," he said. "So I started running. The first day I could stand, just to take a step or take a bounce. And it took me five months when I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon.
"I felt a big sense of accomplishment after all I'd been through, to get myself back to that level. And that was the first marathon I'd ever run. I'd done some running but had never run a marathon before. That would have been fall of 2012. And then last year I ran the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati."
Coming up on three years cancer-free, Samson will use the TCS NYC Marathon as a way to celebrate his health. This will be his first marathon when he's not coming off a major surgery.
"I've been so blessed that, with a second chance here, I just want to do it to take care of myself," said Samson, who works as quality manager at Trane Co. "And I want to inspire other people that have strong adversity in their life. You can overcome it. You can go back and do stuff you've never done before."
While training for New York, Samson has done one long run — as many as 20 miles — a week, with shorter runs during the week.
He's fought through knee pain and shin splints, focused on New York.
He feels fortunate to be in the field. He's not fast enough to have qualified, so he had to gain entry through a lottery. He had just about given up hope on the lottery when the good news arrived.
"It was real late in the day. I didn't think I was going to get in," he said. "I said a quick little prayer and, about two minutes later, boom, I got an email that I was in the New York Marathon. So I was excited about the trip and excited about the race."
He'd like to finish the 26-mile-plus distance in 4½ hours, about 20 minutes faster than his personal best.
"Just finishing is the first goal," Samson said. "Then, just try to do better than you did the last time."