I grew up in the South at a time when women were not encouraged to participate in sports. After moving to Colorado, I did a little climbing and hiking but had to put that on hold when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. My year long treatment included chemotherapy and radiation, followed by another year of getting my energy back.
Because of the lymphoma treatment, I knew I was at a higher risk for secondary cancers, especially breast cancer, so it was no great surprise, when ten years later I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. As a result of my previous treatment, my options were limited; I chose a bilateral mastectomy with an immediate TRAM flap reconstruction even though I knew it might limit me in some activities.
Several weeks into treatment, a good friend who was also recently diagnosed with breast cancer, asked if I wanted to do the Danskin with her. When I realized it was a triathlon, I questioned whether it was possible or even a good idea. After all, we were both still in treatment. Nonetheless, I started preparing by taking slow walks around the block, progressing to run/walks that eventually totaled a mile. I pulled out an old mountain bike and started riding a little. My white blood cell count was too low to swim so I just hoped for the best with the swim. My friend and I had lots of encouragement, support, and help with training from many of our friends. When August came along, we were as ready as possible. When I think about my friends cheering me on at certain locations on the bike and run and at the transitions, and getting their hugs and congratulations at the finish line, it brings tears to my eyes.
That first triathlon gave me a goal during my darkest days that winter. It gave me some sense of control over what I was going through. It made me feel stronger like I was doing something to improve my odds. Now we know for a fact that exercise and the right diet reduce the risk of recurrence in breast cancer. So for me, triathlons are an important part of my life now as they are connected to staying healthy. Now I have new goals. I am determined to increase my strength and speed and to do longer races. My goal is a half Ironman and a half marathon, something I never thought I would do. My first triathlon was a turning point in my life. Not only did it help me in my recovery, it also helped me find my love of multisport and changed my sense of who I am.