Regular readers of my blog will have noticed long gaps between posts and my brief mention of surgeries and other medical issues. For a long time I have kept the news about what has been going on limited to a small group of people but I’m finally at a point where I can share with a broader audience.
Back on August 4, 2017 I heard the words that people never want hear, “it’s cancer.”
This phone call followed my yearly mammogram where something was found and then something else was found on the ultrasound. That of course led to the biopsy and my diagnosis.
It’s hard to put everything that I have been through in the past year into words but I hope to try.
If you are going to be diagnosed with cancer mine may have been one of the better ones to be diagnosed with. It was discovered the way it was supposed to be, during my mammogram. It was found at one of the earliest stages that it could have been found and my prognosis was promising.
My grandmother had breast cancer and with my diagnosis at age 45 my surgeon immediately had me do the genetic testing to see if I had the BRCA genetic mutation. Of course, with the way my luck was going I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation.
This left me with some serious decisions to make about my treatment. I could just get a lumpectomy or get a bilateral mastectomy. The lumpectomy would mean frequent check-ups and mammograms and who knows how many biopsies if something else were to be found. Given my age and just not wanting to live in fear I chose to get the bilateral mastectomy. That procedure was performed in late October.
Running with cancer and knowing I would be having surgery in a few weeks. (c) DY
Before the procedure my doctor allowed me to go to Virginia Beach to run in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach 5k, Mile on the Sand, and Half Marathon. I wrote about that whole weekend before but it still was such a wonderful weekend and one of the a happiest times of my life.
The procedure went well and the additional testing on the tumor again came back with the kind of numbers you would want to have in this situation. Perhaps the one surprising thing from surgery was that my surgeon told me that they found a pre-cancerous tumor in the other breast. It wasn’t there in August and who knows at what point we would have found it had I not chosen the route that I did. It really does mean something when your doctor says, “You made the right decision.”
In fact, I had the most amazing team of doctors who supported each decision I made about my treatment and made sure that I was always in the best position possible to make those decisions, to proceed with those decisions, and to recover from the procedures.
Of course, one of my first questions to all of my doctors was how soon I would be able to run after the surgery. For the first few weeks I was only cleared to walk so walk I did. It became my daily routine and my lifeline to feeling healthy in some sort of way. I was finally cleared to run the weekend before Thanksgiving and yes, I signed up for all of the turkey trots that I could. I did one virtual 5k and one 5k near my apartment. I had to stop myself several times from not bursting into tears the whole time. Being able to run again felt so freeing and like I was meant to do this.
My post-surgery recovery and treatment was even more promising. Again, all of my numbers were on the low end which is where you want to be if you have breast cancer. My Oncotype number was in the range where I did not need to have chemotherapy so yay on that front. However, the type of studies that have been completed on tumors and chemo have not been completed in the area tumors and radiation treatment.
That meant that given my age and that my type of cancer was invasive I decided to go through with the radiation therapy. Five days a week for six weeks I had my treatment. The good thing about this is that my doctor’s offices are located a little over a mile from my home so I was able to walk to and from the appointment every day. The downside, besides it being that I was going to radiation everyday, was that this was all happening during January and February — in New York. We had a lot of snow this winter so I would walk to and from my appointments in snow boots. It wasn’t always comfortable but that was the one thing I could guarantee that would get me active for 30 minutes a day.
I ran and rode my bike (on the indoor trainer) when I could. Between work and going to my treatments this wasn’t always easy to squeeze in. It was probably a month in to the treatments when my skin began to really start feeling the effects of the treatment and it was just uncomfortable to do any activity where my skin would be sore from the activity. So I kept walking and crossing off the days until my treatment ended. I was so excited to get this treatment done that I started planning for my future running endeavors and goals that I signed up for the Philly Broad Street 10 Mile Run and, sticking with the Philly theme, the Philadelphia Marathon. I was so anxious to start training for these events!
With these goal races in mind I started to plot my training schedule into my calendar and then wham, my radiation treatments got put on hold with only five treatments left. My skin just became too red and sore to continue. This process delayed me by a couple of weeks until I could complete those treatments and really start looking forward again.
My first runs after the treatment took place in Houston while I was on a business trip. I had one good day of running outdoors and hitting the treadmill. My conditioning took a hit during the time off but I wasn’t at all discouraged. I was able to do something that others couldn’t. I was cancer free and doing everything I could do to remain that way.
I poured my heart and soul into training for the Broad Street Run. I was determined to not only get a course PR but to get a PR in the 10 mile distance. I felt so healthy and grateful for every step I was able to take. My conditioning was improving every week and I felt so strong as the race neared, something I never really felt the previous two times that I ran this race.
In the starting corral for BSR. (c) Stacey Cooper
On race day, almost everything worked according to plan. I ran solid and consistent for most of the race but started to feel tired the last mile and half. I did hit my first goal of getting a course PR but did miss my second goal of an overall PR by three minutes. I was ecstatic.
My running would be put on hold once again as I planned my final breast reconstruction surgery. I tried to time this as best I could between Broad Street and starting my training for the Philadelphia Marathon. By now, all of my doctors are used to me scheduling all of these procedures around my running and race schedule so they did not bat an eye and we got to work scheduling the surgery.
The surgery went well and my recovery went well. In fact the day after the surgery I went for a four mile walk and would continue to walk on most of my recovery days. This kept me sane and also allowed me to start planning my training.
I got cleared to run while only missing a week of training. It couldn’t have worked out
First long run completed for the Philadelphia Marathon! (c) Stacey Cooper
better! The only challenge I would have was to schedule my training while I was on a business trip to London. My first long run was supposed to be six miles and yay, I found a 10k race on my long run day and I was close enough to do my other training runs along the Thames River. That was the perfect way to kick off my marathon training.
It was also during this time that I got an email from AACR (American Association for Cancer Research), the primary sponsor for the Philadelphia Marathon. The email was asking for those people who had already registered to consider running for their team. I’ve run for other charity groups before that always felt personal but this one hit me harder.
I’m cancer free and the only way I got to this point was because of organizations like AACR. I signed up without hesitation.
This is where I come to you. Help me run for a purpose. Help me raise money for AACR so that we can find a cure for cancer and in that time fund research that will help us find better treatments. We can do this! Please consider making a donation to my AACR page.