“I’m not fast, I’m not there to win any races,” says Boyd Dunleavey of the multiple running events he’s participated in over the last year. “I’m just happy to finish.”

While he’s a successful endurance runner today, the London, Ontario-based father of three nearly lost his life just three short years ago.

In July 2011, Boyd was in the prime of his life. He and his wife, Denise, had recently welcomed their third child, Abigail, and the family — along with sons, Stephen and Nathan — were preparing for a summer getaway to Chicago.

When a string of mysterious ailments — fatigue, night sweats, and nosebleeds — took over Boyd’s body in the week before his trip, he reluctantly squeezed in a quick visit to an after-hours medical clinic before heading across the border.

Blood work revealed devastating news: a sudden onset of cancer, known as acute myeloid leukemia.

“We received a phone call that changed our lives quite drastically,” Boyd says. “They told me, ‘We think you have blood cancer, you need to get down to the hospital right now.’”

Boyd started an aggressive treatment plan of heavy chemotherapy immediately. While the chemo and regular blood transfusions helped slow the cancer over the summer, his illness persisted.

“In September, I developed a fever; we went back into the hospital and were told, ‘This isn’t good; this is the worst possible case scenario,’” Boyd recalls.

He needed a stem cell transplant to save his life and fast. Because no family members were found to be matches, Boyd was added to Canada’s growing list of patients seeking stem cells from unrelated donors. Luckily, he found a match from an American soldier stationed in Japan.

He underwent the transplant at Hamilton’s Juravinski Cancer Centre, and while the initial transplant procedure went well, the recovery was rough, says Boyd.

“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” he notes, recalling the endless vomiting, bleeding and fevers.

Further complications arose when Boyd contracted three separate viruses within six weeks, including transverse myelitis, a neurological condition caused by inflammation of the spinal cord.

While Boyd focused on recovering from a year of treatments and procedures that, while life-saving, had ravaged his body, friends offered support in a variety of ways, which included running races all over North America in his honour.

“Different people had run marathons for me with ‘Team in Training’ for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society,” says Boyd, who connected with supporters through social media. “There’s a huge community of runners and they were a huge support.”

As more people around him took up running, and as he continued to heal, Boyd decided that despite the constant pain he felt, he wanted to take up the sport too. Miraculously, running seems to agree with him.

“My body has been through the absolute wringer. I still get fatigued going up and down the stairs, I have trouble doing up my shoes, I still have nerve pain from my spinal cord injury, but for whatever reason, I can run.

“I want to raise awareness and get people registered,” he adds. “If my running can get the attention of the media and get someone to sign up on the registry, then I’m going to save someone else’s life. This is me giving back.”

With so many partners to thank for their role in saving his life — Hamilton’s Juravinski Cancer Centre, Canadian Blood Services and its OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network, and the Canadian Cancer Society, among others — Boyd dedicates his runs to those who have given him his second chance at life.