It’s been 2 years now since my Breast Cancer diagnosis but I am still adjusting. I feel well but my running has left me disappointed. I had a great run at the Lamington Classic easily managing to run a technical trail half marathon on both days and managing to remain on my feet while many tripped on the terrain. However the fatigue, muscle tightness and soreness, sore knees and depression seem to plague me. I find it hard to accept that I am so tired as I have trained harder and currently sleep better but find recovery from the hard sessions indeed recovery at all much slower.
I have attempted to reason why, reflected on my past training and concluded that I shouldn’t feel this way. I checked again the side effects of my medication. I have been taking Tamoxifen for over 18 months now. My Breast Cancer had very strong hormone receptors so taking Tamoxifen to block estrogen is a preventative measure. I believe it is this medication that is holding me back, leaving me depressed and I am starting to question whether it is worth it. I an now seeking more information and assessment of the risks with my Medical Team. I am hopeful of a solution soon.
I am physically very fit but mentally unwell. This is compounded when given my past ability and current training there is an expectation that I will continue to perform. I expect it for myself but I can’t physically do it. Mostly my mind lets me down but the body is also affected. I know what I am capable of I have to believe this is simply a roadblock temporarily in my way. I instinctively know that it is possible and I have evidence in a wide number of ultra running friends who continue to challenge the concept that age is just a number.
When I wrote about my diagnosis two years ago I considered it a speed bump and at that time it simply was. At the time I was in peak physical and mental health. I underwent surgery and quickly recovered and was able to race competitively afterwards. I finished the 6 Foot Track Marathon 2016 in a time good enough to secure a Women’s Team Trophy for the UP Coaching team. I went on to race in a 24 hour race in China finishing 3rd and secured a Boston Qualifier at the Sunshine Coast Marathon and ran the Boston Marathon in 2017 under 4 hours. But I know under different circumstances I could do better. In 2013 I ran the Boston Marathon in 3 hours 16 minutes. Since I ran Boston in 2013 I have become a better runner and achieved some amazing results. I’m not done yet.
I still very much enjoy my running and the people it connects me with. I want to run, I want to be able to push myself in my training but the side effects of the drug I take to prolong my life is limiting me. I need a solution. I don’t want to accept that this is how it will be for me. My treatment options centred around returning to running. I ran through Radiation treatment but running is practically my life. While I can accept that I won’t always be competitive that I will slow down I am not willing to accept at this time that I can’t do better. I am determined to prove that I can produce an outstanding result after Breast Cancer to provide inspiration for those who find themselves in my situation.
The last two years have been all about acceptance. Accepting I had Breast Cancer, accepting I needed treatment, accepting help and accepting that my running would be affected but it has also been frustrating. Especially now that I have recovered from the surgery and Radiation Treatment I expect to be able to resume my training. So at this time I accept that maintaining consistency in my training in the hope of building on that in the near future is my best option. I fight on. Always. There are always other amazing opportunities often hidden just around the corner.
I previously wore, reviewed and loved the Salming Trail 2. It’s safe to say they never let me down but shoes wear out and their integrity is compromised with use so it’s inevitable they will need to be replaced. In comes the Salming Trail 5. There are lots of modifications on it’s predecessors but it felt comfortable when I put it on and I was keen to try it out.
I’ve now really worn the Salming Trail 5 in, taking them for a ride at the South East Queensland Trail Running Series at Enoggera where it rained and conditions were wet and muddy. To the Sunshine Coast Hinterland where it was wet muddy and raining and a long run at Mt Cootha in dry humid conditions.
At the SEQ Trail Series at Enoggera I was sure footed and comfortable charging up the hills, splashing through the puddles and bombing down the descents often overtaking others as I sure footedly bounded the short steep technical down sections.
On the Sunshine Coast I ran from Mapleton past the falls through rainforest, picked my way through the slippery mud and then made my way via the Leafy Lane Track to the Ubajee Workers Camp and negotiated the switchbacks down to the Gheerulla Falls which were flowing fast. I ran in the rain on muddy, rocky and leafy trails, waded my way through several creeks and I always felt I had good grip but wet feet.
Creek crossing Leafy Lane Track
Gheerulla Falls in full flow
I can spend several hours over the weekend on the trails so a shoe that is comfortable hour after hour is a must. When I first ran and raced long trail events one thing that troubled me later in races was sore feet, really feeling the rocks on the souls of my feet. These shoes gave me comfort and responsiveness to the ground as a traveled across it for the duration of my run and on this occasion we were out and about at Mt Coot-Tha, the Brisbane Forest Park and the Enoggera Reservoir for 4 hours or so. The Recoil Midsole a super lightweight cushioning compound gave me good rebound energy or essentially a spring in my step.
The toe box is also roomier, easily accommodating my broad forefoot and also allowing for expansion and swelling after many hours on the feet.
And finally the Vibram megagrip on the soul which had me confidently picking my way across wet, muddy and loose gravel and stay on my feet and upright. In the image above I launched off a rock sticking up out of the creek ensuring my feet and shoes didn’t get wet on this occasion.
I am sure to enjoy many more hours on the trails over summer in this bright comfortable pair of shoes. I plan to run most of the upcoming SEQ Trail Series Events and a number of Run Queensland events, Beerwah @ Daybreak and the Aus’Trail’ia Day Trail Marathon or Beerwah @ Night.
Steve and Lisa Walton and the team at Slaming Australia supported the Brisbane Track Ultra an event at which I was co Race Director. I also wear the Salming Distance 5 for my road running recently taking them for a tough but enjoyable road run at the World 50km Championships Trial event in China.
I was lucky enough to win a pair of Salming Shoes through Running Heroes and since I was on the lookout for a new trail shoe I opted for the Salming Trail. If you are a member of the RMA Member Benefit program you can get 20% off. Check out the awesome range here.
Out of the box I loved the styling, bright and colourful. I know they are going to get dirty and mine certainly did but when your sweating it out on tough terrain you might not feel and smell all that great but at least you look good and let’s face it there’s nothing cooler than a great trail selfie.
I live in Brisbane and I spend a bit of time running the trails in the Toohey Forest, composed of a variety of surfaces and after a rain event those trail can get slippery and muddy. I also spend quite a bit of time at Mt Coot-tha and with the Salming Trail shoes on my feet I feel confident bombing down the Jacksonia Trail, tackling the Pinnacles route
and churning through the kilometres somewhere in the Brisbane Forest Park.
I’ve tested these out on leafy trails, rocky trails, muddy trains and everything in between. These shoes are designed with natural running in mind and with a low heel to toe drop of 5mm. I find I run more naturally and respond better to what’s underfoot. After several hundred kilometres on the trails these shoes aren’t showing much wear proving they are well suited to rugged conditions and should serve you well right throughout the trail running season or even the year.
I wore these all day when I was sweeping the trail at the Blackall 100 in 2016 and not one blister. Althought that might have been the Steigen Socks which I have found to be awesome with colours that match these shoes perfectly. The Salming Trail Shoes were perfect for fast descents on leafy trails, picking my way through the rocky creek beds and then opening up the legs on the short road sections and open fire trails.
If trails aren’t you thing I have recently bought the Salming Distance D5 which is a road shoe built to go the distance. I have it if Diva Pink for all those running diva’s. Look out for my review on this option soon.
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.
Life as an Ultra Runner and Breast Cancer Survivor
I literally had to consider this year whether or not I would have a mastectomy. It was an option I seriously considered one of a few explained to me by my surgeon. As an ultra distance athlete in the best form ever I certainly wanted to keep running at the International/elite level. At 44 as a female ultra distance athlete I certainly have a few good years in me but I don’t have time on my side. I wanted or perhaps needed to be back competing as soon as possible. Ultimately I elected to have Breast Preservation Surgery for now I still have two boobs.
In April I completed a virtual run around Australia. I was the 1st female and 2nd person ever on Run Down Under to do so. Travis the founder of Run Down Under joined me for a run over those final kilometres that completed that lap of Australia. On that run he asked me a question that gave me pause to think. He asked me what or how I motivated myself to run. On reflection I realise that running for me has become a habit. I have a training schedule, it includes 6 runs a week, my schedule doesn’t vary much and I rarely miss a session.
When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in January 2016 I knew I would still be able to run I just wasn’t sure exactly what it would mean for my running and the opportunity to represent Australia as an ultra runner in the future.
My training was scheduled to make the most of the period leading up until I had surgery to remove the cancer and some lymph nodes. I trained through the fatigue knowing I would be forced to rest after surgery. I kept active and returned to running as soon as it was comfortable. I saw no reason to stop and I had the blessing of my surgeon and Oncologist.
But running after surgery to remove the cancer and while undergoing treatment is different. I had a very good base fitness and I saw no reason why I shouldn’t race. After surgery but before I underwent Radiation treatment I ran the 6 Foot Track Marathon a 45 km trail event in the Blue Mountains in March (15th female, fastest female team -UP Coaching), then a 55km trail race at Easter (2nd female) and then I joined three other amazing women athletes, Samantha Gash, Jo Brischetto and Marita Eisler for Oxfam Trailwalker Melbourne in April (Team She Science), we were the fastest female team and 2nd overall. Recovery from two lots of surgery seemed to be fairly quick and didn’t stop me running. Radiation Therapy was another matter.
During the 6 weeks I underwent Radiation therapy the fatigue gradually accumulated. Despite this I maintained my training until it got to the stage where the fatigue was overwhelming and the body really started to breakdown. I could still run but it felt different. I went out for a long run one Saturday prepared to run for 3 hours or so and after 1 hour things weren’t right. My pace had slowed and I felt overwhelming fatigue. I got to a point where I felt ‘stuck’. I am used to fatigue it is something you become accustomed to as an ultra runner where it is not uncommon to run all-day and then through the night. But this was different. I had a long run scheduled the next day; I elected to sleep in and go to Yoga instead. I had a niggle and I couldn’t do the speed work that is a regular part of my training. However I had been invited to a 24 hour event in China and it was an experience I didn’t want to miss out on. My reasons for running that 24 hour event were two-fold.
My medical team was very supportive of my desire to participate in the 24-hour event in China, clinically there was no reason why I shouldn’t participate. In fact it was the trip to China that helped me focus on getting through the Radiation Treatment. Every working day for 6 ½ weeks I fronted up at hospital for treatment it was a tedious process and to top it off the Oncology Unit was undergoing renovations. So an all expenses paid trip to China was something to look forward to. I also wanted to prove to the Australian Selection Committee that I still had the capacity to compete Internationally.
One week after finishing my treatment I was on a plane to China to run for 24 hours. I was certainly not in my best form but I was confident that I could run out the 24 hours and prove that I still had the ability to be competitive for selection at upcoming World Championships. The conditions were extreme the temperature did not drop much below 30 degrees C and the humidity was 80% plus. But I did it. I suffered, I wasn’t happy with the conditions but I persevered and finished 3rd. Under different circumstances I would have challenged for 1st place. I was happy to have fought for 3rd and to run out the 24 hours.
When I got back to Australia it was time to start Hormone Therapy to reduce the risk of reoccurence and Secondary Breast Cancer. This treatment brings another set of challenges that are only just starting to emerge.
I submitted my application to represent Australia at the 100km World Championships which will be held in Spain on the 27th November. I was excited to be selected for the 3rd time for the 100km and grateful of the faith the committee had placed in my ability to work through my Breast Cancer diagnosis. Then a spanner in the works. Another opportunity to represent Australia emerged the Asian/Oceania 24 hour Championships were announced. The 24 hour event will be held in Taiwan on the 19-20th November one week before the 100km World Championships. I qualified to participate in both but it is impossible to do both. I deliberated at length over my choice but finally made my decision.
Stay tuned for more crazy stuff where I share my experience with Breast Cancer and ultra running in the lead up to the Asian 24 Hour Championships. Go Team Australia.
I was given the opportunity to travel to China as an invited athlete for a 24 hour event. It was an experience I grabbed with both hands and I am so glad I did. I had met Race Director Tony Chu on a couple of occasions at International Events and he and his team did a magnificent job getting the support of Chinese officials to create a World Class Ultra Running event. I was one of several invited International Runners that included British athletes Dan Lawson and Ali Young, 24 hour World Champion Katalin Nagy and Hungarian athlete Anita Vajda, South African Johan van der Merwe, and fellow Soochow Champion Italian, Ivan Cudin.
We were accommodated at the National Arts Hotel in Foshan, Guangdong in Southern China which was an easy walk from the race precinct. The International team and other invited officials were treated to a tour of the local sights the day before the race. It was hot and humid and gave a good idea of what to expect on race day. Otherwise it was a great way to pass the morning and the sights and experience around Xiaqio Mountain were amazing. Thankfully our tour bus was air conditioned.
Our tour incorporated three contrasting experiences. We started with a drive up the nearby Xiqiao Mountain where seated at the summit is a 61.9m Bronze statue of Guanyin “Goddess of Mercy”. She sits imposingly 61.9m high atop the extinct volcano. We stopped often on the climb up the stairs for photos and it was a good opportunity to get to know the other athletes. Our next stop was the Wong Fei-hong Lion Dance and Martial Arts School. Wong Fei-hong was on of the greatest Kungfu masters and we were treated to a kungfu display and lion dance before being shepherded to the cool of the buses for a quick stop at a long waterfall that cascaded into a lake at the base of the mountain. This particular lake regularly hosts dragon boat regattas.
Our final destination was the Baiyun Cavern a blessed place for Confucianism, Buddihism and Taoism. It turned out to be a cool sanctuary from the oppressive heat and humidity and was a labyrinth of waterfalls, celestial halls, ancient temples, springs, lakes, forest, pavilions and terraces. Our cultural tour of the mountain complete we returned to the event hotel to rest up for the afternoon.
I collected my race pack and later attended the race briefing which was mostly in Chinese before heading to the welcome banquet. After a number of short speeches, the first course of our banquet was brought out with much ceremony and presented to us. It was a whole suckling (baby) pig presented on a platter with two red led lights where the eyes should be for great effect. We enjoyed many different Cantonese style dishes before heading to bed ready for race day.
All invited athletes congregated in the hotel foyer and were guided across the road to the race precinct to prepare for the long day ahead. The aim at this time was to stay cool. The heat was oppressive even at 8am and I draped a wet towel around my neck in an attempt to keep as cool as possible. I worried how all those crewing would fare throughout the day.
Before long we were called to the opening ceremony which included a spectacular lion dance. The important officials were called to the stage one by one and introduced and then it was the invited athletes turn. We all enjoyed a few moments of celebrity. Then finally it was time to start. We set off with most of us having no idea what to expect of the course. It was a 1.15km loop that wound its way through a movie set. The set was a purpose built permanent structure built purely for making movies, complete with a variety of quaint Chinese style shops and buildings. There were a few tight turns but we were afforded some shade and shelter. I quickly realised that I would need to adjust my pace and adopted a general run the sun, walk the shade strategy. It was only 9:30am in the morning and it was already hot and getting hotter. This event would be all about running to the conditions. Sponges and water were provided at a couple of points on the course and were well used. There was also a couple of volunteers who misted water over you as you passed and ice packs were offered throughout the day when available. I set myself targets for 6 hours and then 12 hours. Achieving my 6 hour goal easily but really struggling with the conditions after 12 hours. Despite the sun having gone down the night did not offer any relief from the heat and the heat radiated off the buildings. My entire running kit was soaking wet a combination of sweat and the water I had been throwing over myself in an effort to keep cool. I decided to take a short break and it was a relief to sit for a short period. I changed into dry clothes and attempted to take in food. I had at the time been able to regularly take in adequate nutrition regularly through a mixture of gels, watermelon, coke, fruit juice and sports drink. I felt well, just tired and the body was holding up. I really had no excuse to stop at this point. Yes the condition were tough but I had come a long way and had been through a lot this year and I appeared to be faring better than a lot of people. So I wobbled off from the crew tent limping a little with the discomfort but feeling a little better in a dry outfit. Before long I was running again and making up ground. I was over halfway now and it seemed like there was a long way to go, it was still hot but I am familiar with extreme conditions and adversity I was sure I could run this one out too.
So on and on I went around and around, running and walking and ticking of the laps. A few hours later my stomach decided it wasn’t happy with the balance and I heaved up quite a bit of what I think looked like coke and the black jelly beans I had enjoyed earlier. Again this was not something new for me and I have learnt that I feel better after a good chuck and if I take in a gel straight away I can continue without too much trouble. I am slower to learn that too much coke does not work for me in these situations so I had another throwing up incident on the side of the road in one little street of a movie set. At one point during the night race organisers brought out a heap of fresh towels and at least 15 runners could be seen lying down asleep on them on the paved area in front of the crew tents just off the course. It was a bizarre sight and I envied those who could simply lie down and sleep like that.
As the night wore on it did cool down but only a few degrees below 30 to 27 degrees at around 4am. I tried to make the most of the ‘cooler’ conditions to run more during this period but before long a new day dawned and the heat began to rise again. The sleeping brigade had risen and many returned to the course to walk out the final few hours. I had to maintain my run/walk strategy in an effort to maintain my 3rd place position. My feet had taken a battering on the concrete and paving and were very painful. I could feel the blisters that had formed but soldiered on. I had managed to keep my feet reasonably dry after changing shoes .
Finally were down to the finally 15 minutes and easy runner as handed a small tag with their number on it. I finished another complete loop and decided to run on until I found some shade where I would stop. As it happened I came across British athlete Dan Lawson who had held on to win after stepping off the course an hour earlier and collapsing and Italian athlete Ivan Cudin winner at Soochow 24 hour in Taiwan who had not handled the heat well but had come out with Dan to help him finish off the race. I stopped with them in the shade and waited for the final hooter to sound less than a minute later. We exchanged hugs and a few words enjoying the fact that we could stop before hobbling back to our crew area.
I had done enough to hold onto 3rd place. I was pleased. The winner was Shan Ying who finished 2nd to me at Soochow University. She is a great athlete and the Chinese Champion. I was pleased to see her again at this race and we exchanged a few words often throughout the day. She ran a really strong race from the start and was well prepared. She was a very worthy winner. I hope we get to race again soon. The 2nd place female was a Mongolian athlete. I had been in touch with her most of the day. Had I been better prepared I may have been able to run her down she was in touch with 2 hours to go but she was also still moving well and she was well aware of my position in the field. I did not have the fight left in me on this day. Full credit to British athlete Alison Young. For a British athlete these conditions would have been seriously tough and she kept me honest. I certainly fought for my 3rd place position.
British athlete Dan Lawson rallied from his ‘near death’ experience in the final hours of the event to get out on course and hold onto the win. Dan is headed to Badwater in just a few weeks time. I am sure this event will have him well prepared for Death Valley. The 2nd placed male Wu Chung-fai is an up and coming athlete from Hong Kong. I was delighted when he joined us at breakfast the next day. This was his second 24 hour event. When Dan stepped off the course in the final hours, finally succumbing to the oppressive conditions Chung-fai pushed hard continuing to run lap after lap in an effort to close the gap. When Dan was resurrected with a few firm but encouraging words from Robert Boyce Chung-fai seemed to accept his 2nd place position. It was an amazing race to experience.
It was a privilege to spend time with the current 24 hour World Champion Katalin Nagy. Katalin was one of several invited International athletes but succumbed to injury and had not been able to run in the six weeks leading up to the event. The Race Director Tony Chu encouraged her to attend the event anyway and did not pressure her to run. She was more than happy to travel to China and to support the event and participated in a number of media events. Katalin stepped in to crew for the British athletes who were unable to bring crew with them and despite having never crewed before. She was there the entire time helping out others while the air conditioned hotel room must have been a tempting prospect. I feel blessed to have been able to spend some time with her and to call her a friend.
The spectators, event volunteers and all participants were always encouraging and supportive. I did not understand much of the language but a smile is universal and everyone was eager to help where they could. It is another experience I will treasure, the memories of the extreme conditions and difficulty of the event already pushed to one side by the simple pleasures or connections with like minded people from all over the world.
When I received my Breast Cancer diagnosis earlier in the year I was hopeful that I could still participate in this event. I boarded my flight to China on the 16th June pushing any doubt to the back of my mind. My training in the month before my departure had been hampered not by my breast cancer and subsequent radiotherapy treatment but a hamstring/glute injury. I had relied on my physiotherapist Paul at Body Leadership to get me through the last few months. I am extremely grateful for his support.
Last but not least my coach Andy. Having an athlete with aggressive Early Breast Cancer diagnosis is far from usual and we were both working things out as we went. I was forced to schedule training to fit around Breast Conservation Surgery and recovery to remove the cancer and then later Radiotherapy. I completed my Radiation Therapy just 10 days before I was due to race. I continued to run through my treatment but succumbed to fatigue in the final weeks of my treatment. I traveled to China as I do for any event pushing aside any self doubt and trusting in my training base, good health and with a lot of determination. I was determined to do my best whatever that was. I was determined that I would prove that a Breast Cancer diagnosis was not going to affect my running ability. I was determined to make the most of this opportunity whatever the outcome. I am confident I have done just that.
I look forward to my next China experience. Gobi 100km International (Trail) Race taking place on September 25th 2016.
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.