Helping EVERYONE touched by cancer live healthy and strong, using fitness – physical, nutritional and emotional – as the foundation for every day.
Life was good. It was very good. Great husband. Nice house. Left a hugely successful career to be a stay at home mom to a pretty, precocious little girl. It was time to expand the family, but something just wasn’t right. One morning I found a lump but the doctor said let’s watch it, you are young, crazy hormones from trying to get pregnant, let’s see if it is there in three cycles. Almost three months later I hurt my shoulder. Not sure how but all of a sudden it was swollen, stiff and hurt to move. The next week I had a follow-up with my doctor, the first lump was still there, and now I had just found a second, and still couldn’t move my shoulder. A week later I sat in the radiology room, crying hysterically because it just had to be something else, anything else. A few days later I met with the surgeon but she was already certain. There was no turning back – I had cancer and it had spread beyond the tumor site and it was also my 31st birthday.
So began a new chapter in my life, a path I never expected to take and was not prepared for. But like everything, it all starts with baby steps. I went through surgery, a chest port installation that nurses never could access with one stick, chemo, and daily radiation. I threw up, looked awful, and shaved my own head. The light at the end of the tunnel seemed so dim and far away.
Early on, a friend sent me a copy of a book about exercising through cancer and chemotherapy. I had exercised previously, better than most, but not like I should. My gym was awesome and froze my membership but still allowed me to use the facilities when I could. So there I was in my baseball cap sweating on the elliptical or panting in a spin class. And in those moments I felt more normal than I would have ever imagined and I left feeling stronger than I thought possible.
Just a month after finishing treatment - unsure about the future, my incredibly high recurrence odds, my chemo induced menopause - the impossible happened. I kept the news to myself for days not knowing what to think: I was pregnant! I met with my medical team, consulted other oncologists and neonatal specialists and was met with mixed responses and a world of unknowns. But in that moment, I knew. I knew that there was more to life, to my life. My whole cancer journey started when I couldn’t get pregnant, and now here I was…this was meant to happen.
Around the same time I gave birth to my second child I got a flyer about doing a beginner friendly triathlon. Why not? I never was a runner, but I could swim and I had a mountain bike. I loosely trained for a few months but crossed the finish line at the NY Metro Danskin Women’s Triathlon and felt amazing, empowered, and strong. I want every cancer survivor to feel that strong and in that moment there was the inspiration.
It's almost been 8 years since this story all started. I am now a certified personal trainer, certified group exercise instructor, accomplished athlete and triathlete. And proudly, I am also the founder of Surviving Strong, a non-profit focused on helping not just cancer survivors, but everyone who has been or might be touched by cancer, live healthy and strong using fitness as the foundation of everyday. While a triathlon may not be realistic for everyone, daily fitness can be. And the links between fitness and primary cancer prevention and recurrence are clear. Taking control over your body, a body that betrayed you by growing a cancer, can be a reality so that you live every moment to the fullest.
My crazy family now - and still the reason to do all of this!