I recently just “met” Kerry through another friend of mine, Michele, who has had breast cancer and runs races. I am meeting a lot of women who’ve had breast cancer and who are also runners – awesome! Anyway, here’s Kerry’s story.
Type of cancer and treatment:
Dx Oct 2008 @ 42 yrs, IDC, Stage IIIa, Grade 3 [ed note: breast cancer, for those who don’t know what IDC means – invasive ductal carcinoma]
Right Mx, no recon
FEC-T x 6
Arimidex (still taking)
3 years of Zometa, 2 x a year
Were you a runner before cancer?
No. I was always really active; I walked everywhere, hiked, canoed, gardened, etc, but hadn’t run since high school.
While I was in the middle of chemo, I decided I wanted to work hard at getting physically strong after I was done. Running seemed like an obvious choice. Chemo hit me quite hard. FEC made me throw up, and Taxotere gave me terrible bone pain, from which I was basically bedridden for a couple of days each round. I remember lying in bed feeling so terrible, so weak, and just wishing that I could feel strong again. I ended up hospitalized after my 5th round of Chemo (febrile neutropenia) and remember being taken from the ER up to a ward. There I was in a hospital gown, bald, IV pole, in a wheelchair, and I’ll never forget the look of pity and fear on the faces of people we passed. I never wanted people to look at me that way again.
I also did a lot of research about what I could do to increase my odds of survival, and time and time again I read that exercise would lower my risk of recurrence. It seemed like a no – brainer to prioritize exercise after active treatment ended.
I am also on an AI, one of the most common side effects is joint pain. I read one of the best ways to prevent this is, again, exercise. I do feel a difference in my body if I go a couple of days without running. I went through early menopause right after radiation, when I had my ovaries removed. I hope that running helps counter some of the negative long term cardiac effects of that, and some of the long term effects of chemo.
Did you run during treatment? How long after did you take it up?
I didn’t start running until after treatment ended. I walked during chemo, as much as I could, which towards the end was often just walking my kids to school and back. After chemo I started walking longer distances, and about 6 months after I finished up everything I started running a bit. (I live in Canada and had to wait for the snow to melt) I started off running small distances during my walks, and slowly increased how much I ran, until I was comfortably running 3 miles at a time. On a whim I decided to try and run 6 miles, which I did! Not long after that I decided to train for a half marathon, and about 7 months after starting running, (about 2 years after diagnosis) I ran my first half marathon. I have since run 2 more half marathons, and next month will run my 4th full marathon.
How has running helped you during and/or after treatment, both physically and mentally.
Physically and mentally it has made me so much stronger. I truly think running is saving my life, and my sanity. I came out of treatment with some extra steroid weight, feeling pretty weak and hammered by everything. Emotionally I felt quite vulnerable, it is such a shocking thing to happen, and I was not particularly hopeful about my long term survival. I think that when you are in the midst of active treatment you are in fight mode, but afterwards I think running gave me something positive to focus on, like I was still doing something to fight the cancer.
I also think that having gone through some pretty aggressive treatment, that cancer has helped me as a runner. I have often thought during a hard run, if I can get through chemo, I can get through this. I think it has given me the strength to not quit when the going gets tough.
What did your doctor say about your running?
My onc says it’s the reason I am doing so well. He is totally supportive.
What is your biggest challenge running after cancer?
Ha, well, I didn’t have recon, and sweat and a silicone prosthesis don’t mix! I had a couple of near embarrassing situations before switching to a foam prosthesis. It makes me look a bit lopsided if you looked closely, but I really don’t care.
I have had bursitis twice in my heels which I blame (possibly unfairly) on Arimidex.
I also have had occasional hand lymphedema after very long runs.
What would you say to someone just out of treatment who may be intimidated to take up running?
Well, I would say to start slow. You don’t have to be out running marathons. There is a huge benefit of just exercising for 30 minutes a day. Consistency is the most important thing. Start out with an easy, non-threatening plan, something like couch to 5k. Don’t worry about speed, don’t be afraid to walk. Just get out there and do something. Think of exercise as a key part of your treatment plan, the survival benefit is similar to chemo. And it’s far more fun 😉