Running on that track

Running on that track
The author after completing the 2017 NYC Half Marathon —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

NEW YORK CITY—I played sikyo when I was growing up in the Philippines. Each time the captains of the opposing teams chose their players, I was the last to be called because apart from my small build I did not run fast enough. But I always insisted on joining the play, so that the captain had to put me in the game. Occasionally I was bullied because my team often lost due to my slow pace. But I kept at it and never abandoned sikyo when I was young. 

It’s said that life is not some walk in the park. This truism has never been more self-evident than in my nursing career and the life I built around it. It’s like running a marathon!

In April 2006 I started working at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Care Center in NYC. (I was inspired to join this institution by a good friend I had met while volunteering at Sta. Rosa Parish Church in Laguna in the Philippines, who was stricken with ovarian cancer at a young age.) Working in one of the top cancer care hospitals in the United States was demanding, complex and hazardous both physically and mentally. In October 2008 I added home care management as a second job, a practice that requires providing not just professional services but a lot of empathy and patience as well.  

In January 2014, seven months before she turned 82, my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I remember vividly when I got the call from my brother in California: “The doctor said mom has blood cancer,” he told me. I could not believe it. I never imagined that, beyond work, I would deal with the “C” word seven days a week in my personal life. I consulted with our bone marrow transplant department head, Dr. Sergio Giralt, on my mother’s case. 

I also found myself bargaining with my Divine Coach: “Hey, I’ve dedicated my life to cancer patients in the hospital and providing mostly end-of-life care at patients’ homes. The No. 1 person in my life should have been spared. Do something.” 

I considered my mother’s fight also my fight because she had been my No. 1 kakampi, my supporter in every difficulty I’ve had to overcome in my life. On March 19, 2017, I joined the NYC Half Marathon for the Multiple Myeloma Research Fund (MMRF) in her honor.

Just like running a marathon, my daily routine of work and family life, overseeing my mom’s oral chemotherapy, and monitoring for early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease were marked by tortuous thoughts and anxiety. 

One day I received a phone call from my dad: “It’s time. You can bring us home to the Philippines for good,” he said. I took them home, and thus began my life of frequent traveling to and from the Philippines to care for them, on top of the 24/7 home care provided by one of my siblings and her family, with the help of hired caregivers. 


I retired from nursing work in October 2019, when my dad died. Six months later, on Memorial Day 2020, my mother died of end-stage multiple myeloma and Alzheimer’s, with my sister and her family beside her. I was with her on FaceTime until she drew her last breath. 

My mother died at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown. As much as I wanted to get on a plane and fly to the Philippines to be with her, or even go to church and weep in anguish, I couldn’t. I could only light a candle in her memory on my altar at home. I accepted her comfortable death knowing that she would be with my dad, but I was devastated that I couldn’t personally mourn her passing because of the pandemic. 

To be stricken by multiple myeloma at almost 82… It’s very rare for someone that age to live a good six years without aggressive treatments or in-and-out hospital confinements. I looked up and said, “Hey, Coach, not bad, not bad. Thank you. I know I’m too angry right now because I can’t go home. Let me be angry for now.” 

My own family was distressed as well. My husband, my middle-schooler and my elder daughter, who was then on lockdown in Paris as a visiting jazz artist, could do nothing to temper my rage at the circumstances in which I found myself due to the lockdown. 

With her parents at the Grand Canyon in 1996

I asked a silly question for which I knew the answer: Did my mom die of grief six months after my dad passed away? It was my greatest fear that she would follow him into eternal paradise soon after he died. He was everything to her. In my book, she didn’t die of end-stage Alzheimer’s or end-stage multiple myeloma. She left us to be with her one and only love. 

So, in March 2017, I told myself that I’d run in the NYC Half Marathon for my mom and for the charity funding benefitting the MMRF. I told myself I’d run even if slowly, the way I insisted on joining sikyo even if I was always the last player chosen: Takbo lang kahit mabagal. Sikyo, sali lang nang sali kahit huli kang pinipili. 

“It’s the journey of not giving up. You just keep on keeping on.” But it was not like I had no reservations. I doubted whether I’d be able to make it to the end of the 13.1-mile run. I didn’t tell family and friends, much less ask them for donations. I didn’t want my husband and daughters to wait for me at the finish line. There was also my schedule to consider. How would I do my daily training if I had two demanding jobs as my priorities? 


The day of the run was quite cold for me, but the thought of just completing it gave me the sweats. I did not sleep well the night prior. I was also aware that I was not emotionally fit, just inspired and encouraged to go for it, for the cause and for my mom. 

Finally running that track, I often thought I could go no farther. My legs became heavy after 10 miles. I remember slowing down a few times, grabbing a protein bar, and doing slow hydration. I wanted to give up due to an aching foot and a fear of losing consciousness. 

But hearing the cheers getting louder enabled me to focus and get hold of myself.

Nearing my one last turn, I remember entering a state of joy. I told myself: Almost there, little feet! 

And then it was over. I did it despite the many times I saw the “wall.” I finished my first ever NYC Half Marathon in 3 hours, 25 minutes, and 18 seconds. A bunion in my left big toe and right plantar fasciitis did not stop me from finishing the race because I was seeing the doughnut and not the hole. The doughnut was the face of my mom. 

At the finish line, I was given a medal and hugged by people who were complete strangers to me before the marathon but who became comrades in the long, hard race. I hung back a bit, biting an apple from the goodie bag given to us finishers and cheering for others who were limping towards the finish line. 

My phone rang and I screamed to my husband and daughters: “I finished!” I called my mother when I reached home: “Mom, I finished my NYC Half for you!” (In my mind, I told her: Mom, we made it. Our journeys were long, sweet and sour, toughened by failures and triumphs, but we didn’t know when to quit. We just kept on giving this life a nice good kick!) 

Busy in retirement

At the 2022 Juneteenth run to mark the emancipation of enslaved people in America

These recent years have been the busiest in my life in retirement, spent volunteering for many causes to help people in the Philippines as well as in NYC. I was an official volunteer for the 2019 Democratic campaign, and for the 2022 presidential-election campaign in the Philippines. 

rallying, running
Rallying to guard the vote in the 2022 presidential election in the Philippines

I also serve in my own small way as a philanthropist, an ally for Black Lives Matter, an advocate against Asian hate, and an entrepreneur and a coach. 

I have never felt this good giving my time and labor for worthy causes. My life is just getting started.

Ami Domingo Keene is a 1992 nursing graduate of Concordia College. She also attended the Holy Infant Academy and Adriatico Memorial School in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro.

Read more: Finding our way to happiness amid life’s difficulties

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