I have breast cancer.
It certainly hasn’t been easy to tell people this fact. I worry about people worrying about me and I am probably one of the last people you would expect it to happen to. I have no family history of Breast Cancer and the only real risk factor I have is being a woman. I have never questioned why me, more why now? Why now when I believe I still have my best ultra running performances in me? Why now when I’ve just signed up and have been training hard for the 6 Foot Track Marathon in the Blue Mountain? An event that has a limited field which fills within minutes of registrations opening.
This is something I have been managing since the 22nd January 2016 when I was officially diagnosed. I have experienced a range of emotions from fear, despair, anger and frustration. I have also found my predicament humorous at times because ultimately you have to make the most of a bad situation. I was envious of full breasted women when I was having my 5th mammogram for the year. It’s incredibly awkward having a mammogram when you have very little breast tissue to squeeze between two plates of cold glass. It also made breast preservation surgery to remove the cancerous tumour tricky but I am fortunate to have a great surgeon. Having nipples on a ribcage has its advantages of course, I doubt I would have found that small lump in a more generous bust and there’s certainly less bounce when it comes to running.
In the back of mind since my diagnosis was how would it affect my running. I have many big running plans. I was assured that being in such great physical shape would really help my recovery and then hopefully lessen the impact of any treatment. I joked initially that it would be great if I was prescribed performance enhancing drugs. I was devastated to discover via a quick check of the ASADA website that the hormone treatment I have been prescribed is in fact a prohibited substance. Just another hurdle which I have successfully negotiated. I will have a Therapeautic Use Exemption so will avoid an Anti Drug Ruling Violation if I am ever tested.
I’ve become accustomed to getting my breasts out to be examined, don’t be surprised if I whip my top off to show you my scares next time I see you. I love that at 44 that I am called ‘young’ and I have been told my breast look pretty good (coming from someone who looks at breasts as an occupation I will take that as a compliment.) My prognosis is very good. I have accepted that while at this time the cancer had been removed and the risk of it returning is very low I still in theory have breast cancer for now. It will be a while before I can call myself a Breast Cancer survivor.
I deliberately talk about managing rather than fighting breast cancer. All good managers surround themselves with the right people. For me that has been my extended family, and what I have come to call my ultra running sisterhood a close knit group of amazing women who I have come to know through running and I have been blessed with their unwavering support. Good managers also make informed decisions based on reliable information. I have had to assess the risks and make decisions in regards to my treatment that will impact not just me but my family and my running ambitions. I have consulted often and openly discussed things. I have learnt that a diagnosis of Breast Cancer is not the same from one person to the next and everyone has to make challenging decisions personal to them. Sometimes you do not have control and that is okay. I am prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Just like any ultra event there are times when things go a little awry and it just means accepting you have an issue, assessing it, managing it and moving on.
Running has always been my ‘me’ time, an escape and something I do for fun. After my diagnosis it also became my therapy. I had entered a trail marathon event on the Australia Day weekend well before my diagnosis and ran it the day after I was diagnosed. I thought about a lot on that run. It was an amazing experience anyway, a run for the soul, a night race starting at the base of Mount Beerwah, there was a full moon and at the highest point on the course the Glasshouse Mountains were silhouetted in the night sky with the bright lights of the Sunshine Coast twinkling in the distance, to the South a lightning storm lit up the clouds in the distance. It had been hot and humid and I tripped over a rock in the soft sand but I am no stranger to managing some discomfort and I know I will manage this effectively too. I mingled with those I had come to know over time at the start and finish and it was great to cross path with heaps more out on the course that night. It really lifted my spirits.
There is not a wrong or right way to respond to this news. I am simply grateful for the kindness I have received over the last weeks. I have withdrawn a little because there were so many unknowns in the initial stages. Since having surgery on the 8th and 18th of February things have become clearer. There are still many unknowns as my treatment is ongoing. We are all an experiment of one and the side affects vary.
I will continue to run, train hard and coach. I get a great deal of satisfaction from my coaching. A lot of the time I live vicariously through my athletes especially when they participate in events I have run and loved such as Ultra Trail Australia and the 6 Foot Track Marathon. It has been a welcome distraction for which I am also grateful. I still believe I have my best performances in me.
I will also continue to be inspired and inspire that amazing network of women as Ambassador for Running Mum’s Australia. I have connected with just a fraction of you personally but love how that community has brought many together and created another level of support and connection. I am sure there are many of you with a story similar to mine and totally get it.
I am off to Melbourne on the 7th April 2016 where I will join up just three of my amazing ultra running sisters Jo Brischetto, Nikki Wynd and Samantha Gash. We will run 100km together as part of Team She Science at Oxfam Trailwalker Melbourne. I committed to the team well before my diagnosis and despite the uncertainty about my fitness I was determined to participate no matter what. While the members of Team She Science are competitive runners there was never any doubt that I would be there whatever the outcome and I am again blessed to know such amazing women who think the same. We would love your support for such a worthy organisation just $10 will get a ticket into a raffle for a LOT of amazing prizes. Donate here.
The Finer Details.
I discovered my lump which was 13mm in diameter via self examination. I then made an appointment at Breastscreen Queensland for a Mammogram and was referred to the Breastscreen Clinic where I saw a Doctor and had a Mammogram, Ultrasound and Fine Needle Aspiration (biopsy). I had Breast Preservation Surgery and a Sentinel Node Biopsy and two lymph nodes were removed. I will now have Radiotherapy followed by Hormone Therapy and I plan to run and train through it all, adjusting my training when I need to.
I implore you if you are female to know your body and look for the signs and feel free to reach out if that is what you want to do.
Jodie is an Assistant Coach with Up Coaching and has represented Australia at the 100km World Championships in 2014 and 2015, and the 24 Hour World Championships in 2015 and automatically qualifies for the 24 Hour World Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland on the 1st – 2nd July 2017. She holds a number of Australian Ultra Running Age Records and is currently the fastest Australian Woman ever to run 100 miles (161km) with a time of 15 hours 33 minutes and 56 seconds.