This article was written by a customer of IF and a good friend of mine. There is nothing I can add to this so I will just post it as is. This is a true story of Challenge Adversity and Victory.
‘So it looks like there was some cancer in there’. It was December 30, 2005, I was 33 years old and was told this by the surgeon who removed a lump from my left breast 10 days earlier. He continued on by saying another surgery was needed to determine if the cancer had spread into the lymph nodes. They would also be doing a partial mastectomy because there wasn’t enough tissue without cancer cells present from what was already removed (known as a clear margin). At that moment, life as I knew it ceased to exist. There were so many emotions running through me and I was in shock – how could this be happening to me? I kept waiting for someone to call and tell me there was a mistake and mostly, I just wanted someone to tell me I was going to be ok. Those first few weeks after being diagnosed were difficult as there were so many unknowns and I didn’t know what was in store for me.
After the second surgery, the news was both good and bad. The cancer hadn’t spread, however there still wasn’t a clear enough margin and they were now recommending a full mastectomy. I was so relieved the cancer hadn’t spread and was strangely ok with knowing that I was going to lose my breast. At that point my thinking was, I would rather lose my breast than lose my life. Despite that thought, three weeks prior to the surgery I was in the mall and remember looking at the shirts on display in one of the stores and thinking, ‘why bother buying any new shirts, you are just going to look like a freak in them’. That set off a grieving process as the full realization of what was about to happen hit me and it lasted until the day of the surgery. After the surgery was over, there was nothing more I could do about it but move on and get used to what was now my new ‘normal’. At the end of May, I continued on with six weeks of radiation treatments. In September I had breast reconstruction surgery, a surgery that had to be redone in 2008 due to my body rejecting the first implant.
Since 1999, fitness has played a role in my life in one form or another and in 2003 I took up running. I was so thankful to have this because running became an outlet for me to cope with all that was going on. It was important for me to continue on with life as usual and as long as I was able to be active, I would continue doing so. Whether consciously or not, at some point I had decided that I wasn’t going to let cancer run my life – it had to fit into mine. I remember days walking into the radiation treatment room, dropping my running bag in the chair, getting treated, changing into my running clothes after and rushing out the Cancer Agency door to meet up with my running friends.
Prior to being diagnosed, I wanted to do a marathon and signed up for the 2006 Vancouver Marathon. I had to withdraw as I didn’t know at that point how bad it was and what my course of treatment would be. As the weeks went on and my treatment path became clear, I found that I was fortunate enough to be able to continue on with running and other physical activities with just brief periods of down time. Throughout that year I would assess where I was at physically, sign up for various events and continue on with my training. Just 2 weeks before my mastectomy I managed to place first in my age group at a local half marathon and was thrilled. In October of that year, five weeks after the first reconstruction surgery, I finally ran my first marathon in Victoria and even managed to do it in less than 4 hours.
2006 started off as one of the worst years of my life but it ended up being one of the best. I grew as a person and learned so much about myself and wouldn’t trade that for anything. One of the most important things I appreciated is that you don’t know what life has in store for you. As much as you like to think you are in control, you really aren’t and it only takes one moment to take that all away. My takeaway from that was – you better do the things you want to do now and don’t wait because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
It was during this time that another friend of mine and I got talking about taking up triathlons and we both expressed a desire to participate in an Ironman. I never thought I would ever see the day where participating in an Ironman would be something I could do. I started watching it on TV in the 90’s and was in awe of those people thinking, ‘I’ll never do anything like that’. Now, having been given the proverbial ‘wakeup call’, I figured, why not…you want to do this, you are in a place in your life where you are able so just go for it.
In January of 2007 I started down the road of triathlon with the goal being to participate in Ironman Canada in Penticton in 2008. After a 3.8 km swim, a 180 km bike ride and a 42.2 km run, on August 24, 2008, I got to hear the best words ever – Wanita Van Leeuwen – you are an Ironman! Since then I have been fortunate enough to qualify for and run in the 2011 Boston Marathon. In August of 2011 I participated in my second Ironman in Penticton and finished 1.5 hours faster than the first time. In September of 2011 I joined Innovative Fitness and have thoroughly enjoyed the training. I look forward to every session and am so pleased with the results I am seeing.
I don’t want cancer to define who I am. Even though it will always be a part of my life, it is only one of the many things that make up who I am. I am an athlete. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt. I am an employee. I love shoes and wine and my fat cat. I have an amazing group of friends, a wonderful family and a husband who has stood by me through everything. Life is good and I feel blessed to have been able to do the things I have done and I look forward to accomplishing so much more
I leave you with a saying a very good friend of mine gave me as encouragement before having my mastectomy. Not only did it make me laugh but it also summed it all up for me and became my mantra…Courage, Sacrifice, Determination, Commitment, Toughness, Heart, Talent, Guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the hell with sugar and spice!