Chapter One: Breast Cancer ACTION Month
Catching the Tri Bug
Starting in 1989, I was basically pregnant for four years straight. I stayed active during this period mostly by swimming, and always had my future sights set on triathlon. Finally, when my youngest daughter was six months old (my oldest daughter was three and a half, my middle daughter two and a half), I finished my first Olympic distance triathlon.
Like many endurance athletes, I slowly and methodically built on my triathlon training over time. By 2008, I had completed seven Half-Ironman’s: one of my training buddies confirmed it was time to “level up” and go for a full.
I remember talking to my three daughters (who were at that point high-school aged) about a year before signing up. I told them: “Girls, I’m thinking about doing this Ironman next fall- is that OK with you guys?"
I needed them to understand that my free time would be prioritized around my training goals, and not them. They were so supportive: "Yeah mom! Go ahead! That's awesome!"
While my training that year ate into time I normally spent with my husband and daughters, they gave me the space I needed to chase after my goal. At the time I didn't realize I was setting an example for my daughters to prioritize their own goals and aspirations, but I can see now that it did!
I think it was important for them to watch their mom commit to something deeply challenging, work for it, and ultimately succeed.
An Active Start
I grew up as an active kid. Name a sport and chances are I played it. Swimming was the first sport I truly loved. I swam all through school and competed collegiately at the University of Pittsburgh.
Now in my fifties, I compete as a Master’s Athlete and I’m proud to say I have been a top-ten ranked swimmer for the 400IM in my age group. In beautiful full-circle fashion, the 400IM was the same event I was most competitive in during high school and college; you can take the girl out of the pool, but never the pool out of the girl!
Exercise has been, and always will be, woven into the fabric of my daily life.
In 2009, at the age of 49, I finished my full Ironman in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s impossible to describe the emotion of crossing under the Ironman arch finish line, but suffice it to say I was forever changed. I wish I could’ve done another Ironman, but a nagging back injury gave me pause.
And, unbeknownst to me, I was about to embark on a nearly decade-long period of my life that involved two separate breast cancer diagnoses, back surgery, and a brain tumor in my youngest daughter that took precedence above all else.
Two Years Changed Everything
One year after my Ironman, in October 2010, my youngest daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 17. Seven months later in May of 2011, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
My life was on hold.
When I got that breast cancer diagnosis, I was pissed. I was so angry because I felt I had done everything ‘right’: I was extremely active, I ate well, I managed my stress, etc.
Now here I was, 50 years old and caring for my daughter following multiple brain surgeries that left her with permanent deficits. And I had breast cancer.
What happened next is something I plan to share over the course of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
If you take anything from my story, please know this: breast cancer ‘awareness’ is good, but ‘action’ is better. My first bout of breast cancer was found during a routine mammogram. It was caught early, and I underwent a lumpectomy and seven weeks of radiation.
The ‘action’ I want to focus on this week is screening.
Allow yourself to take up the space and time for your recommended health screenings, including mammograms. Encourage the women in your life to do the same. Let’s be aware, but more importantly let’s take action.
Next week: Janine gets real about mentality during breast cancer, and the role exercise played in managing the most challenging years of her life.
PFW Breast Cancer ACTION Month Collection
Inspired by Janine's love of swimming, biking, and running.
Entire month of October: 10% off pieces in this collection.
5% of proceeds donated to Breast Cancer Alliance.