Sunday, December 6, 2015

Breast Cancer and Triathlon

A Really Bad Picture of Our MSA Swim Group
My friend Kelly had breast cancer.  Yeah "had".  She doesn't anymore.  She's been cancer free for 3 years today.  December 6th is like another birthday for her.  I know Kelly because I swim with her.  Well, near her.  OK fine, behind her.  But that's not important right now.  I know Kelly because she does Triathlons.  She is an Ironman, or woman.  Maybe they should rename the whole race because of her amazing story:

S'mores are for Winners
She was diagnosed June 6, 2012 after finding a lump.  She had 2 types of breast cancer, Ductal Carcinoma (this was the lump she found) and is a slow growing cancer.  On the other side of her left breast was HER2+ (positive human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) breast cancer which is a very aggressive cancer. For that she had no idea it was there: no symptoms, lumps, etc. If she hadn't found the lump her story would be much different. She was 39 years old and only 7 weeks from her 40th birthday. Also,  she was training for her 2nd Half Ironman. Her family history does not include cancer.  They do have a history of heart attacks and strokes, which is why she has been so active. 

Once diagnosed, her surgeon, Dr. Richard White, recommended chemo then a mastectomy and referred her to Dr. Gary Frenette, an Oncologist.  He recommended she participate in a study to increase the chances of the HER2+ not to return. This cancer has a high reoccurrence rate in the lungs, brain and liver. Once Kelly and her husband researched the study they thought it was the best way to go. It was going to mean more side effects than just having chemo but it would be worth it. It was the TDM-1 study. Every 3 weeks, a total of 6 infusions, plus a bag of Taxotere, which was the chemotherapy. 

She was at the doctors office for 12+ hours because they had to take blood at different times of the day. She learned a lot, and over the next 3 weeks she would go back to Levine hospital and have blood taken several times. She became great friends with her nurse, Deloise.  Deloise became someone who she laughed and cried with, and will always be thankful for. 

She lost her hair (shaved it one day before her 40th bithday), finger nails, and had hives all over her chest and back for 6 months (and a number of other side effects).   She just kept telling herself this was only temporary. On November 28th, 2012, Three weeks after her last chemo, she had a bilateral mastectomy and lymph node removal and "immediate" reconstruction, which really takes over a year to complete. They removed both breasts (even though she only had cancer in the left breast).  She elected to do that as a precaution. 

Kelly (2nd from left) with the Epoch Performance Therapy Team

From November 2012 to March of 2014, Kelly went though the 4 steps of reconstruction and had to have 12 infusions, every 3 weeks of Herceptin. Herceptin is a chemo drug that has really been proven to fight the HER2+ cancer.  Herceptin side effects are minimal compared to the Chemo. After each infusion, she would be tired and have a headache for a few days. Herceptin does lessen one's heart function.  It did Kelly's as well.  But since she is a triathlete, her heart function was very high to begin with. It only brought her heart function down to the "high" range! 
Kelly with her Husband
While going through treatment Kelly wasn't able to train for triathlons.  She still taught classes at the Y and took some strength classes. After getting the green light from her oncologist, she hired a coach, Kelly Fillnow, affectionately known as one of "The Fillnows".  She started back training in March 2013. That season she just did some local sprints.  Her long term goal was to complete another half and possible a Full 140.6 Mile Ironman.  In June 2014 she completed Ironman Raleigh 70.3 with a PR!  That was to her complete shock, after all she had been through.  She gives a lot of credit to her coach to achieve that.  Then Kelly Fillnow encouraged her to start thinking about a full Ironman. She took a leap of faith and signed up for Ironman Louisville in October of 2015. 

Ironman Louisville Pre Race

Ironman Louisville
For 9 months Kelly trained for Ironman Louisville.  On October 11th, it was time to complete the comeback . She  went into the race knowing it was going to painful.  But she was alive and blessed to be at the starting line.  If anyone was prepared to go to the 'deep, dark, place of pain', it was Kelly.   Throughout the day, when she started to feel tired, she would think about how great it was just to be there. After what her family, friends and herself went through, this felt easy!!! After 13 hours, 24 minutes and 6 seconds she strutted across the finish line and heard "Kelly Sherin you are an IRONMAN"!!!!!! It was a feeling she will never forget. 
Ironman Louisville Finish
Kelly says taking care of herself and being vigilant about her self exams, literally saved her life! She faced death but made a decision that she would never be a victim to cancer. She has become an advocate, reminding anyone that will listen to take care of themselves. She spreads this message at the Y and through being in the Triathlon community. God brings good out of a bad situation. If you're going through a hard time, always look for the blessing. Kelly has said many times since being diagnosed, "I would have never chosen this path but cancer blessed my life!"

Ladies, get your mammograms EVERY YEAR after 40 and perform a self breast exam every month, no matter your age!!! Early detection saves lives!!!!!

I'd like to thank BHG360 Bankers Healthcare Group for providing the above graphic and encouraging me to take an active roll in Breast Cancer Awareness.  They provide financial solutions to healthcare professionals.  My contribution may not be much, but every little bit helps.

Be sure to check out the National Breast Cancer Foundation's Early Detection Plan!  Also check out the "Aiming for the Cure" golf tournament that the Bankers Healthcare Group sponsors.

Everyone knows someone who has been affected.  Everyone can also help reduce the number of those affected.