I am Wally van Laarhoven, a 53 year old woman from the Netherlands. It all started in October 2020 when I first heard about chordoma and the Chordoma Foundation.
I had been a competitive runner for many years and really enjoyed running. Running outdoors, working my body physically and mentally, interacting with others, and just having fun was what I really enjoyed about running. It was just wonderful. I ran everything, distances up to 60 km, 36 full marathons (domestic and international), trail running and ultra marathons.
In the summer of 2020, things didn't feel quite right; lots of headaches and fatigue. My running was not what it used to be, I had to cut back to shorter distances and slow down my pace. I had many explanations for this sudden change, I had just changed jobs and was renovating my son's new house, etc. In October of 2020, I was admitted to the hospital because the pupil in my right eye had stopped functioning. It soon became apparent that there was "something" in my head that shouldn't be there. Surgery followed and the diagnosis at that time was a pituitary tumor.
I remember the neurosurgeon coming in to explain and asking me if I had any questions. Yes, one important question: "Will I be able to run a marathon after this?" He was not expecting this question, but he said it was possible. To me, his answer meant so much more. Because if you can run a marathon, it means so much more. It means that your body is okay, that you can handle the effort, but also that you can work, drive a car, etc.
After the first surgery it turned out that I did not have a benign tumor but a clival chordoma. This meant a second operation six months later. The recovery from the first surgery had gone smoothly. I was also able to walk again. The second surgery in March 2021 went well, a lot of tumor tissue was removed. Unfortunately, it affected the function of my pituitary gland and my eyes.
I had three goals: to drive, to run, and to go back to work. This was my goal for recovery and rehabilitation. With the support of my wonderful family and many friends, I began to work very hard. My husband's support in particular was and is so incredibly important.
I started to walk again. Unfortunately, I cannot work anymore because of the pituitary problems, but I can run and drive. I have a running buddy who has been training with me to get the routine and distances back. I had it in my head that I wanted to run another full marathon. Kind of to prove to myself that I could still do it. I ended up running one more marathon in May 2022, the Great Brewery Marathon in Belgium. It was an amazing running party and I was so proud of myself for doing it after everything that had happened.
In the meantime, I've been suffering more from pituitary dysfunction and can't run long distances anymore. But that does not matter, because now it is all about just running and that is what gives me so much joy.
Tell us your Uncommon Story
Telling your chordoma story in your own words can help others in our community feel more connected and prepared to take on whatever may lie ahead. We invite you share your experiences and insights with others, who can benefit from knowing they’re not alone.