embrace your strengths
stasi t. hilliard, oh
I was diagnosed with Stage II A invasive ductile breast cancer in July, 2011. My doctor noticed a small mass during a routine exam (just 6 weeks after a normal mammogram). We were shocked with the diagnosis. Having turned 43, I was in great physical shape as a group fitness instructor and multi-sport enthusiast. I had, and still do have, endless energy and couldn't believe cancer was lurking inside me. A mom to two young, amazing children, and the daughter of a breast cancer survivor (my mom was diagnosed at age 77) I knew I had to be proactive for my family. I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Cancer had affected one lymph node (out of the 18 removed) so I also endured 4 months of chemotherapy treatments. I was surrounded by strength at the health club where I teach. My 'groupies' loved me unconditionally as I continued to teach kickboxing, body attack, spinning and core through it all. Physical activity has always been my emotional, physical, and spiritual therapy. I knew I had to maintain my 'therapy' during the cancer experience for my physical and mental wellbeing. My team of awesome oncologists agreed that being 'ridiculously' active helped me endure the cancer drugs and recover emotionally. My husband supported my 'fighting' initiative, he even found a 'hat with hair' so I could teach my classes and some members still do not know the journey I traveled. A chronic side effect that I manage daily is lymphedema; I must wear a medical compression sleeve and glove when training and running. Ten months following my diagnosis, the club sponsored me in the Komen Race for the Cure. We had over 120 team members raise $4,000. I came in 4th place in the survivor category. This year, May 2013, as a 22-month survivor, we again raised almost $4,000 and I took first place in the survivor's masters category! My children and I were featured on the local news the week prior to the race; the segment was 'children coping with cancer'. The continual fight however, has been my constant talking with other women who've recently been diagnosed; sharing my story, my 'what worked for me', and offering sparks of inspiration. It would be easy to not share my story, to let the memory's fade and embrace the beauty and joy in my life now; but I feel compelled to help other women smile during their own unique breast cancer journeys.
cancer couldn’t keep me down
KristIn b. new york, ny
Growing up, I had been a competitive figure skater, nationally ranked and a picture of fitness. After college, I joined the military and it was there, where my life really changed. In January 2009, six days before I was to lead my platoon in the Presidential Inauguration Parade, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At age 26. With no family history. The diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks. I was so shocked, as my doctors had previously told me that the biopsy had shown some abnormal cells, but no cancer. Apparently, the test had been sent to another lab, where it was properly read. At the time of my diagnosis, I had no time to absorb it, as I was the Training Officer of my military unit and in charge of training over 200 people to march in front of an audience of millions in only six days. After the Inauguration, I jumped right into fighter mode. I had completed my first marathon just three months before and I had an idea that I was the type of person that would fight no matter what I was faced with, but I had no idea how calm and collected I could be, until this. For me, my options were a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy. I had no doubt that, for me, a bilateral mastectomy was the right option. All told, I had five surgeries to complete my reconstruction after my mastectomy and I could not be happier about the results. My scars are a daily reminder of what I am capable of. I now know that in the face of adversity, I can and will make it through, no matter what. After my mastectomy, I completed a 5K only five weeks later. I remember crying as I came across the finish line, so happy that I had the ability to be there, cancer cut from my body and on the road to being healthy as ever. Now, four and a half years later, I’ve completed another four marathons and a half Ironman. My ultimate goal has always been to complete a full Ironman and now, that goal means so much more to me, as I feel that I help to show that you CAN be healthy and live a full life after breast cancer.
Pregnancy and pink ribbons
Jenny D. Fayetteville, GA
It was March of 2009 and I was pregnant, breast-feeding, and 27 years young. I noticed a smallish, painless lump. Breast cancer. Aggressive, triple-negative, breast cancer. I am a BRCA1+ mutation carrier. My Mom passed away from ovarian cancer when I was 11. I grew up wondering if I would get sick, too. I had to have my entire right breast removed while 7 months pregnant. The tumor was 2 cm’s in size, the lymph node test came back positive, and I was stage 1. I had a port placed in my chest a week after the first mastectomy. Our unborn daughter went through 4 rounds of chemo in utero. Prior to our starting chemo she was diagnosed with 2 birth defects, bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate. The little girl inside of me was counting on my strength to get through the chemo, to make sure she could grow and to stay as healthy as she could. Waiting for chemo with having triple negative breast cancer was not an option, “It has to be done. At least 4 rounds, maybe 6.” It would be 6. Radiation was out, it’s not an option while pregnant. I can tell you about the dozen surgeries, the staph infection from expanders, and the pain of expanding and reconstruction, twice! We decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy later on the left side due to my BRCA1 status. I’d also later have my ovaries removed and almost total hysterectomy as another cancer preventative measure. I’ve always struggled with wanting to watch my weight, dieting, and wishing I looked good in a bathing suit. I was always self-conscious about my legs, stomach, and figure in general. However, such concerns were never quite enough to motivate me to whip myself into top physical condition. Two years to the month after the diagnosis, I started getting some hair back, feeling pre-cancer normal, and knew that exercising and eating right would be my best preventative medicine. Now I wear a bikini. I have never been in better physical shape. I have friends tell me they “want to know what butt exercises I do.” I can wear a bandeau top & no one is the wiser of what toll my body has taken. I have biceps, abs, and tons of energy! In the past two years, I have gone from walking a mile a day, to two, to three and now I exceed a 5K run on a daily basis (I’ve been wearing the same Under Armour Heat Gear shoes for over 2 years now averaging 5K a day x 365. They still fit like a glove and are in awesome condition.). I love my daily run, lifting weights (kids included), lunges, calf raises, crunches, bicep/tricep reps, eating healthy, and living life to the fullest. I have many scars, but they are scars of healing, not sickness. I have a tough body, not vulnerable. Cancer taught me what I could do. I will stand beside my Husband as we watch all 3 of our kids grow knowing that I’m doing all in my power to keep myself healthy and cancer-free. Every day feels like a blessed second chance. Come March of 2014, I will be in remission 5 years. Jenny-1, Cancer-0. My hope is that my story, my life, may help inspire, give support, and encouragement to breast cancer survivors, BRCA mutation carriers, and co-survivors. All of us can fight breast cancer. All of us make a difference. Fitness is my medicine of choice, and I take it every day. I’ve got my “Armour.” Do you have yours?
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