Motivated By Butterflies

The last few days of my mom’s battle with lung cancer were a blur, but one image stuck with me long after the dust settled. There was a picture of a butterfly on the back of my mom’s hospital door that I noticed the day before she passed away. I didn’t think about it until I saw a butterfly on one of my runs after her death.

I was never a runner, but found a motivation inside of me I didn’t know existed when I signed up for Race for Breath in Virginia Beach, a 5K run raising awareness for lung cancer. I trained for that and never looked back, later running in my first marathon with LCA’s Team Lung Love. All through my training, I continued to see butterflies, making me feel even closer to my mom. I knew she was there, pushing me forward and supporting me.

In addition to running, I love to draw. In 2012, I came across the Lilly Oncology on Canvas, a competition that gives those touched by lung cancer an opportunity to tell their story through art, and submitted a pastel drawing and narrative (below) that symbolized my journey through my mom’s passing, my ongoing connection with her and my love of running. I was shocked when I won the contest (allowing me to donate $1,000 to LCA) and even more stunned when they decided to display the drawing as a mural in Indianapolis and Washington, DC! On August 23rd my family and I participated in the DC Hope Mural Project, sponsored by Lilly Oncology On Canvas and the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS), and joined the public in painting the mural of the butterfly pastel drawing in Washington DC to raise awareness, and to honor and give hope to those touched by cancer.  I feel grateful to do my small part to raise awareness for lung cancer in honor of my mom.


When a picture of a butterfly appeared
On my mom’s hospital room door, I knew.
The next day,
My mom, a never-smoker,
Passed away from lung cancer.
Months later, I became a runner. I ran away from the grief.
One day, I ran through a path that released butterflies.
From that moment,
I started running through the grief, sometimes melting into tears.
Now I run
So I can feel my mom around me,
In every mile,
In every step,
With every breath.
I draw strength from her to keep going.
The pastel drawing reflects how running transformed me, Freed me from the grief.
I like to think that the butterflies
Crossing my path
Are my mom,
Who is always with me— Especially when I run.

Marie Sarmiento is a lung cancer advocate and based in Virginia.