Skip to Content

Take me to St. Mark’s Hospital: They provided ultra healing, so I could return to ultra running

With positivity, pacing and the right medical professionals, Aaron outran colon cancer and continues to run the best races of his life.

March 01, 2024
Aaron Jensen running on a path with a mountain behind him.

For Aaron Jensen, running is a way of living his best life. After work, he heads to the mountains to hit the trails for a few hours, and throughout the year, he completes marathons and 50-mile and 100-mile races. As an avid ultrarunner, Aaron often says, “You’re tougher than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.” During the last couple of years, he’s proven that statement repeatedly – regarding running and cancer.

Aaron first noticed blood in his stool while running a 100-miler in Colorado back in 2018.

“I chalked it up to hammering my body by running lots of miles … then I ignored it. I shouldn’t have ignored it,” Aaron said.

The bloody stool continued intermittently for the next year or so but eventually became an everyday occurrence. Aaron also felt slower, weaker, and more easily fatigued than ever before, but he told himself that those symptoms came with growing older, and he reasoned that he couldn’t be too sick since he continued crossing finish lines. But his symptoms persisted and intensified until Aaron finally told his wife about them. She (wisely) persuaded Aaron to get a colonoscopy. 

Pacing, people, and positivity: Key finds along the colon cancer course

Aaron Jensen flexing his biceps in front of a mountain.

“After my colonoscopy, the doctor said, ‘I’ve seen enough of these to know it’s cancer.’ We waited a few days for the biopsies to return from the lab, and sure enough – it was confirmed as cancer. Based on where the tumor was located, the doctor also said I’d most likely need a permanent colostomy,” Aaron said. “That’s the part that shattered me. That shook me to the core. I thought, ‘This ruins everything!’”

During a colostomy procedure, a skilled surgeon diverts the intestines to an artificial opening in the abdominal wall. Waste can then bypass the damaged part of the colon, instead passing through the surgically created artificial opening and into an ostomy bag on the outside of the body.

Aaron despised the thought of an ostomy bag until an oncologist recommended Dr. Joseph Melvin, a surgeon at St. Mark’s Hospital specializing in colon and rectal surgery.

“Dr. Melvin was so positive. He told me I could do whatever I wanted with an ostomy bag,” Aaron said. “He told me I’d be able to run again. When I shared that I had a 100-miler scheduled about nine months after the potential surgery, Dr. Melvin encouraged me and said, ‘I’m not going to be the one who holds you back! You can do this!’”

Aaron left Dr. Melvin’s office hopeful and determined but ready to pace himself for the tough times ahead. Before surgery, Aaron received several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments to shrink the tumor as much as possible. Both forms of treatment knocked Aaron’s energy to all-time lows. After a few weeks of healing, he then needed the life-altering colostomy surgery to learn how to function and thrive with an ostomy bag.

“I showed up to St. Mark’s Hospital nervous and second-guessing the decision,” Aaron said. “The last thing I said before the operation was, ‘Is this the right thing to do, doctor?’ and I remember Dr. Melvin saying, ‘Absolutely.’ With that reassurance, I went under.”

Dr. Melvin removed a 3cm x 3cm sized tumor from Aaron’s colon and rectum area; he also sent off biopsies to see if the cancer had spread or been removed completely. Then, for the next six days, Aaron recovered from the major surgery at St. Mark’s. Nurses helped him start walking the very first day, and a specialized ostomy nurse provided personalized training and education.

“The care was so good, I didn’t want to go home to do it by myself,” Aaron joked.

When Aaron transitioned to life at home, he received happy news: The results of the surgery’s biopsies came back, and Aaron was cancer-free!

Aaron’s ultra-recovery included ultra-running

Aaron Jensen flexing his biceps on a paved road.

Following Dr. Melvin’s orders, Aaron took it easy the first couple weeks after surgery, and then he began walking more and more each day.

“Dr. Melvin told me I could walk as much as I wanted to after the first couple weeks. I figured if I’m an ultra-runner, I’d become an ultra-walker. I walked 70 miles in my seventh week of recovery. Then I started picking a point to jog to – just four houses down or so. I wasn’t fast, but I was moving. This gave me a chance to see how the bag worked as I bounced along,” Aaron said.

Incrementally, Aaron jogged further and faster. Along the way, he’d troubleshoot and adjust his ostomy system. He found that he could solve any issue. After 11 weeks post-surgery, Aaron laced up his running shoes and completed a half marathon. At nine months post-surgery, he completed the 100-mile race at Bryce Canyon – finishing in fourth place!

“That was the best race of my life – and I did it after cancer and with a colostomy!” Aaron said. “I was just smiling from ear to ear because I was back. I was having so much fun!”

Today, Aaron runs full speed ahead but with a new outlook from his cancer journey.

“I have an increased sympathy for anyone fighting something and for those who can’t do everything they want to. I’ve also learned to never give up.”

For those who find themselves or their loved ones needing medical attention, Aaron has a singular piece of advice.

“I’d say, ‘Take me to St. Mark’s Hospital’ because they genuinely want to see you recovered and back to your normal life. They care and will help you do whatever it is you want to do. I love them for that!”

Aaron says St. Mark’s team members gave him the tools and guidance needed so that he can always finish strong.

At St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, our oncology experts are experienced in providing an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan for cancer. To learn more about our Cancer Support Services team, visit us online or call us at (801) 268-7013.

To schedule a colonoscopy or find a provider, call (801) 715-4152.

March 01, 2024
St. Mark's Hospital

Related Stories

Take me to St. Mark’s Hospital: Compassionate care for colon cancer 

March 13, 2024
St. Mark's Hospital
At 36 years old, Gentry focused on his career, his wife and their much-anticipated baby girl – colon cancer was nowhere on the radar.

Take me to St. Mark’s Hospital: Compassionate care for colon cancer 

March 13, 2024
St. Mark's Hospital
At 36 years old, Gentry focused on his career, his wife and their much-anticipated baby girl – colon cancer was nowhere on the radar.

Take me to St. Mark’s Hospital: Exceptional cancer care 

February 27, 2024
St. Mark's Hospital
Somewhere along the drive from Salt Lake City to St. George, Brook Mitchell's mindset did a 180: He would not succumb to the devastating diagnosis of colon cancer. He would fight; he would win.

A revolutionary robotic hysterectomy 

April 30, 2019
St. Mark's Hospital
An ensuing CT scan and biopsy revealed cancer cells growing in Carol's uterus, and it was then that her journey with cancer began.