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Running to give back

[Kyla Tozer]
Kyla Tozer has organized the Neuro Half Marathon and 5 Kilometer Race, to be held May 7, to raise funds for the neurosurgery program at Kingston General Hospital. (Supplied Photo)

Running played a key role in Kyla Tozer’s recovery from a brain tumour. Now, things are coming full circle for the Kingston native – she’s giving back to the hospital that helped save her life by launching an ambitious charity run for Kingston General Hospital’s neurosurgery unit.

Before her own surgery, Ms. Tozer describes her life choices as being "reckless." After the surgery that removed a softball-sized tumour from her brain, she continued to inhabit a dark place, despite letting go of most of her careless lifestyle. When a cousin suggested running, she quickly realized its life-changing abilities.

“Every day, every week I would try to go just a little bit further,” she says. “I started to feel like I’m completely in control of this; for once in my life, I control my mind. I can go out and run and I can go any direction as fast as I want, as slow as I want, however long I want – and nothing can stop me. There’s nobody telling me not to do it.”

Ms. Tozer ran on her own for months before she decided to join the Running Room. There, she met a Queen’s student doing her PhD in exercise physiology.

“I was able to totally open up to her about everything and she would explain things to me,” Ms. Tozer says. “It was a big part of my rehabilitation.”

Ms. Tozer traces her symptoms back to when she was 16. She experienced headaches on a daily basis and it got to the point where she could barely tolerate fluorescent lighting.

“I remember saying, ‘If I could just take my eyeball out, I could poke it – I could tell you exactly where it is,’” she says.

After years of chronic headaches and trembling hands, Ms. Tozer got fed up and ‘Googled’ her symptoms (which she doesn’t endorse), only to realize there was a single diagnosis: brain tumor. She instantly contacted her family physician, who booked an MRI. Within 24 hours, she got a call from her doctor saying she had a brain tumor.

Ms. Tozer’s family physician referred her to KGH’s neurosurgery unit, where she met Dr. Ronald Pokrupa and his team. Ms. Tozer describes the care she received at the hospital as nothing short of phenomenal. The team had a ton of patience with her, answering every little question and supporting her in both the lead-up to the surgery and the lengthy recovery.

“Where the tumour was located has a lot to do with intelligence, rational thinking and all of that,” she says. “I was never ever good in high school; my marks were horrible and I had a difficult time staying on task.”

In hindsight, she knows part of the reason why.

Ms. Tozer managed to turn her life around; she has a job, a family of her own and is a student at Queen’s. She’s taking health sciences courses, with hopes of migrating to neuroscience.

She is excited to give back to the hospital that helped her by launching the Neuro Half Marathon and 5 Kilometer Race. Kicking off May 7, all of the proceeds will go directly to KGH and more specifically, the neurosurgery program.

“Neurology and neurosurgery is one of the most underfunded departments in the hospital, and it’s by far one of the most important,” she says.

Ms. Tozer hopes Queen’s students will join the run, adding that many from the Faculty of Health Sciences are involved in the hospital already through clinical placements and residencies.

“Someone who has a brain injury has a really hard time understanding long-term plans; they get stuck in a way and that’s the way it goes,” she says. “It’s kind of the same with students; you get overwhelmed, bombarded with work and you’re just stuck. Not giving up on exercise and any sort of physical activity that’s going to make you feel balanced again – it’s just super important.”

Students who register for the run have a chance to win a year’s supply of pizza from Boston Pizza.

She’s hoping that her run will be around for years to come.

“I think it’s going to be something Kingston really needs – something that will pull everybody together,” she says.

For more information visit the Neuro Half & 5K page on Facebook.

This article was first published on Dr. Richard Reznick’s Dean on Campus blog.