I had never really been sick, nor had anyone close to me been sick, so when I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, I entered a completely new phase in my life experience. I was living in New Haven, CT and working at the Yale Art Gallery. I quickly found out who could rise to occasion and who couldn’t. Much to my surprise! Some family members and friends stepped up and others disappeared. My work place had 5 women going through cancer treatment and with some I forged an unbreakable bond. During my 6 months of chemo and 8 weeks of radiation my friends and colleagues made great accommodations to support me and my family with a dinner delivery chain, and head shaving party.
I found I was allergic to Adriamycin, which they simply administered intermittently with Benadryl, a drug that makes me silly and as I understand it quite entertaining. In fact, I guess I asked the oncology nurse if she hadn’t tried a round of chemo drugs, she really should; you know, so she would know what she was doing to us.
I gained 33 pounds in 6 weeks from the treatment, going to the thrift store each Saturday to buy new pants. Of course, I lost the obligatory hair on my head, eyebrows and eyelashes but wouldn’t you know it, my leg hair was just too stubborn! Needless to say, I was not a “pretty chemo patient”, you know the type you see on get well cards, the slightly gaunt runway model look with a beautiful bald head.
As an active woman, I was devastated both physically and psychologically by the treatments. I was fortunate to be part of the Yale clinical study of how exercise benefits patients during treatment. I got to be in the exercise group where we walked a min of 10,000 steps a day and recorded any additional physical activities. I hired a personal trainer, but was disgruntled as I found it harder and harder to walk on a treadmill more than 4-5 minutes. My muscle tissue had been greatly compromised by the drugs. My intestines were ripped to shreds, I developed a horrible case of plantar fasciitis and a weird chronic bout of hiccups and burbs simultaneously (I told you it wasn’t pretty!). The week after my last treatment I walked a Father’s Day 5K. It took almost two hours. But I was determined, there really was nowhere, but up from here!
Serendipitously in the 6th week of radiation my dream job fell in to my lap. It was a chance to start a new department at the Seattle Art Museum. I flew out for an interview with my tiny peach fuzz artsy hair style. The next thing I knew I was building a new life in the PNW.
After walking a 5K in West Seattle, a young volunteer gave me a TSNW brochure. Little did I know it would forever change my life. I immediately contacted the Operations Manager, Monica Strasen, and signed up for the annual retreat; my first TSNW experience. I carpooled with 3 Dragon Boaters, Jean Vye, Betty Woito and Ann Miller who to this day are still dear friends who constantly inspire me!
Joining in 2007, I went on to try, and chicken out of, many of the programs TSNW had to offer. Within two years after treatment, I had built my strength back up enough to run (ok, ankle shuffle) my first half marathon. I’ve gone on to do 1-2 half marathons a year since. Given the chance to give back, through fundraising I accepted the challenge to climb Mt Adams and all I can say is. “Sometimes you’ve got to sleep with the dog to know its got fleas”.
In addition, I found that triathlons really light my fire! I get to swim, run and ride my bike!
Team Survivor, its staff and coaches have not only given me the opportunity to try different activities but it has also built up my courage to see myself as an athlete, marathoner, a climber, a dragon boater, a triathlete. It has taught me to stay with it, to try harder when I can and slow down when I want to quit. It has also rubbed off on those around me. My husband now does half marathons and triathlons and my friends join me for 5Ks.
TSNW has become an integral part of my life and in large part has defined a significant part of who I am today; a survivor who lives life to its fullest!