Sometimes, life can throw you into a complete tailspin. When I was in my early 30s, I discovered a lump in one of my breasts. I alerted my doctor, and after a biopsy, I was told that I had breast cancer. At the time, my youngest daughter was around a year old. My other daughter had yet to start preschool.
Unfortunately, my prognosis was not great. I had Stage III breast cancer. The tumor was rather large, and I also had lymph node involvement. It was an extremely stressful and scary time, and the diagnosis brought about a real possibility that I may be leaving my husband to raise our two young daughters on his own.
To treat the cancer, I elected to have a mastectomy. The surgery was performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where I had given birth to my two daughters, and I was grateful to have a very caring and compassionate surgeon and medical team. Following the surgery, I underwent extensive chemotherapy to reduce the chances of a recurrence, but there remained a great deal of uncertainty about my future. I was constantly plagued with the recurring thought that I was going to die from my disease. It was overwhelming and began to consume me.
I was constantly plagued with the recurring thought that I was going to die from my disease. It was overwhelming and began to consume me.
I decided to try to use exercise to help me cope with my fears. Prior to my diagnosis, I would run outside as a way to relieve stress from my work. When I ran, I could put everything else out of mind and just focus on the physical exertion of running. I also loved the fresh air and being outside in all seasons. So, in between the chemo treatments, I would run as soon as I could do so.
Later on, I also began to play tennis. I had only played tennis a handful of times in high school, but I found that it felt really good to hit the ball! Tennis became my new outlet, and for the most part, I taught myself how to play. My in-laws, who lived in our neighborhood, had a homemade tennis court in their yard. I enlisted my husband as my tennis partner. As I improved, I also started to play with a friend who was a competitive player. In the summer, I often played every day, multiple hours each day! After my treatment was complete, tennis continued to be helpful as I approached anniversaries to my treatment, when I would undergo scans to check for any sign of cancer and fears were high. I continued to play tennis for roughly 20 years. Over this time, I went from being a novice tennis player to being a competitive club player.
In my mid-50s, I discovered a love for cycling. At the urging of a friend, I tried a triathlon and thrived on the challenge. I participated in my first Ironman at age 60 with one of my daughters as a way to celebrate being alive and surviving my cancer. I never thought that I would finish, never mind winning my age group! Triathlon training continues to be an excellent outlet for my stress, as well as a major source of accomplishment. When my coach proposed Race Across America, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to push my limits and demonstrate what women in their 60s can achieve.