That Girl: Meet Cancer Survivor And Runner, Jacki Donaldson

This week on That Girl we are celebrating Jacki Donaldson who is an inspirational breast cancer survivor and runner. Jacki says running was never in her “line-up” until she got cancer, but after completing a half-marathon, she now knows that anything is possible.


Jacki Donaldson

Gainesville, Florida

Mom + writer + editor (

41 years old

My main sport is running. Although I dabble in other physical fitness activities (biking, swimming, P90X, and more), I always fall back on pounding the pavement. There’s just something about the constant motion, the sweat, the adrenaline, and the music in my ears that motivates me like nothing else.

Fitness/health accomplishment you are most proud of:

My biggest health accomplishment, which is tied to my biggest fitness accomplishment, is surviving breast cancer. I was diagnosed at age 34, and while I know I didn’t conquer the disease all on my own (surgery + chemo + radiation + more drug therapy played a big role), I believe my can-do attitude helped me defeat the dreadful disease. That, and my every attempt to stay active in the midst of sickness. The fitness accomplishment—accepting the challenge of a fitness trainer friend who told me that after treatment I could, and I would, run a 5K. She was right—I did. Then, I went on to run a half marathon. One day, I was bald and bloated and crashing in a hospital bed. Then, I was crushing 13.1 miles with my hair swinging the wind. Bonus: At a cancer follow-up just last week, my resting heart rate registered at 47. That makes me just plain happy.

What inspires you to get fit every day?

I exercise because it makes me feel good about myself, and it helps me maintain my weight (give or take—mostly take—a few pounds or more), and it brings me peace of mind knowing that five hours of vigorous exercise every week helps cut my chance of cancer recurrence by something like 50%. Now, that’s good medicine! I also strive to keep my heart rate low, and giving up on exercise means I’ll probably lose that low number.

What do you do when you don’t feel like working out?

I usually still work out, because I have never, ever regretted a workout, and when I feel like being lazy and slacking off, I am able to think forward and anticipate the regret I’ll feel later in the day. Now, of course, there are days when I don’t exercise, but it’s usually due to a crazy schedule, and I am able to get back on track in quick time. But if I just don’t feel like it, I know I’ve got to make it happen.

Favorite energizing meal:

Anything my mom makes because she cooks the most balanced and healthy meals —always a lean meat (nothing red, though), a veggie, sweet potato or rice, and maybe a homemade brownie to top things off (because brownies are way energizing—right?). My favorite snack is a mix of almonds and craisins, and I love a good fruit salad.

What’s your favorite way to chill post-workout?

I’m not real good at chillin’—I am always on the go and rarely just sit down and put my feet up (that would probably be a good idea, though). I do love a good post-workout hot shower, which makes me feel refreshed and alive.

What is your top kick-ass workout?

There was a time when I’d run and bike and swim, all events one right after the other—in no particular order or anything, but I’d take on all three activities on a weekend day, and I remember telling my mom (who would join me for one or two) that my ideal day would be one where I’d work out for hours on end. I mean, I’d take breaks and rest (I’m really not all that hard core), but wouldn’t it be cool if the only mission for the day was to work out and get fit? Life doesn’t afford me that option so much, and I’m typically not spunky enough to do this very often, but a kick-ass workout, for me, is one where I just keep going and going and going—then I take a hot shower!

Where is your favorite/most unique place you’ve ever exercised?

Probably Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. I went to this health and healing location on assignment to write about surviving and thriving after breast cancer. I learned to eat clean and exercise hard—I hiked up mountains, enjoyed a private and peaceful yoga session, experienced awesome fitness classes, and then got paid to document it all. Favorite. And unique. For sure.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned through sports?

That anything is possible, and the fact that I never was an athlete growing up doesn’t mean I can’t be athletic as an adult. Running was never in my line-up until I got cancer. I was sure I couldn’t even make it around the block, but I took it slow—”just run for 20 minutes straight, as slow as you want,” said my fitness trainer friend when I first started out. It wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined, and then I kept at it, adding time and distance, until the day came when I’d run for 2 hours and 12 minutes and collected a medal with the words “half marathon” on it—that’s when I realized that even a once-sick cancer girl can do anything. Do I want to run a full marathon? I think not. Do I think I can? Heck yea!

Photo: courtesy of Jacki Donaldson


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    • Erynn

      Wow..what a cool lady! My mother’s breast cancer inspired me to start running and taking good care of myself too..

      But I’d like to mention that giving the credit to chemo and drugs for recovery is way too modest. Maybe that was the science behind it, but I’m very aware of how hard the treatments for cancer are. Making it through feeling the way that stuff makes you feel is its own battle altogether, let alone winning it.

      Like I said, what a cool lady! :)

      • Jacki Donaldson

        Thank you for your nice comment, Erynn. Yes, chemo and such is tough stuff (it sent me to the hospital twice, once for a blood transfusion), but I do believe the treatment is saving my life. I know I could not have done it alone, and I am pretty sure not having accepted treatment could have resulted in something tragic. Thanks again for your words, and if you are ever bored and need some reading material, you can find my whole story at (the blog seven years long, be warned!)


    • Alley James

      I am very much inspired by you Jacki Donaldson a girl who fight for life having breast cancer and then fight for every moment smile and happiness. you are really really best women ever i have read about you first time adn jnow i know how to spend my life . breast cancer is nothing for a women.

    • Nancy’s Point

      Well, this post certainly inspires me to get moving today! I need to step up my exercise regime a bit. Thanks for the movtivation (kick in the pants), Jacki!

    • Linda

      Wanted to share an inspiration video and webseries for breast cancer survivors.

    • Evan Bartlett

      i was diagnosed with Leukemia when I was 4 months old. I am now 20 years old. I bring this up only because I am currently working on a documentary called, Discovering The Beating Path. We will be embarking on a journey across the West. Along the way we will be stopping at cancer camps, retreats, and support groups.

      My crew and I are currently raising money to make this documentary possible. We were wondering if you might be able to help promote our journey, and the donation page.

      I would love to talk to you more about this documentary. Feel free to ask any questions. I have provided a couple links to our documentary.

      My Story:

      Donation Page:


    • Erin

      I loved your story! I am an avid runner and have been for many years, but what is new to me is my breast cancer diagnosis. I will start chemo next week and hope to keep running (a least a little) during treatment.
      Thank you for your inspiring message!