Running is an inherently selfish pastime. As an ultra runner participating in 100km and 24 hour events preparation requires quite a bit of time on the feet running. While I structure my training so that the impact on my family and work commitments is minimal the need to get out for a run that is up to 5 hours in duration is going to cut into the weekend.
My family are used to this. When it came to considering treatment options for my Breast Cancer the impact on my running influenced my decisions. My husband agreed with me perhaps for different reasons that Breast Conservation Surgery was preferable to a Mastectomy. A mastectomy decreased the need for chemotherapy. I agreed to Radiotherapy as this appeared to be less invasive. Radiotherapy uses x-rays to destroy any cancer cells that may be left behind after breast cancer surgery and reduces the risk of breast cancer coming back in the breast. My risk as a result of these two treatments is pretty low. I could reduce it further if I had Chemotherapy. This is where I selfishly made the decision to accept some risk.
My proposed Chemotherapy treatment option would take 3 months and then I would also undergo Radiotherapy a further 6 1/2 weeks of treatment. I am extremely careful about what I eat and have an avid interest in nutrition. My preference is to use real food as medicine rather than rely on supplements in tablet form. So I was reluctant to have drugs injected into my body to treat something that might not even be there. Especially since chemotherapy works by killing not just cancer cells but any rapidly dividing cells. While these normal cells will repair themselves it takes time. I was at the time of my diagnosis in peak physical health, injury free and had the 100km in 2016 and 24 hour World Championships in 2017 firmly in sight. I decided selfishly that I wanted treatment options that would significantly reduce the risk but allow me to remain competitive in the short-term. I did not want to be in a situation where in the future I wondered ‘what if’ I had been able to compete at those World Championships. If the Breast Cancer returns in the near future I will deal with it then.
My husband and friends were supportive of my decision to avoid chemotherapy. Not everyone with early stage breast cancer will have chemotherapy, the decision is based on each persons risk of breast cancer coming back, the stage and grade of breast cancer, whether there are hormone receptors on the breast cancer cells, general health and personal preference. Others in my situation might choose to eliminate as much risk as they can I selfishly chose to accept some risk.
My breast cancer cells have strong hormone receptors. Hormone therapy should not to be confused with HRT. Hormone therapy stops the growth of cancer cells that may be left in the body after other breast cancer treatments but cannot be detected. So I accepted this form of treatment which is far less evasive than chemotherapy. Then came a stumbling block. A check of the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority check your substances link revealed that the hormone therapy I was prescribed is a prohibited substance. While I have never been tested and it is highly unlikely that I will the very fact that I represent my country and compete at International events means it’s possible that I will. I successfully applied for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) and can now compete knowing my treatment is completely legal.
During the process I tried to find examples or anyone who had a similar experience to me. My contact at the Anti Sports Drug Medical Advisory Committee advised that I was unique. A TUE had been issued for my particular treatment before but not for someone competing in athletics. I have tried to find ultra runners in my position with a similar condition in an effort to understand what I can expect. I have asked the members of my medical team and again nothing. It seems I am a trailblazer.
Yet, I still feel a little selfish. Every time a high-profile person dies as a result of cancer I can’t help thinking that this may be my fate well before I would like it to be. That be while I still had a lot of running left to do. My children are almost young adults, my work there practically done. BUT, my risk is low and my choices have been well-informed.
So I am off to Kaohsiung, Taiwan on the 19-20th November for the Asian 24 Hour Championships and will have the privilege of representing Australia for the 4th time. I will miss my daughter’s birthday for the third year in a row because I am somewhere else in the world running. I have the honour of being nominated Women’s Captain and I am excited because I have been able to do some of the harder sessions I did before I was diagnosed. For the most part I forget that I have cancer but it is never long before I am reminded of that fact. I live for now and will run my best and enjoy every opportunity as I always have.