Just Keep Smiling! (7/6/17)

Swim, Bike, Run…to Find a Cure for Breast Cancer
Just Keep Smiling!

“Just keep smiling!” has been my motto throughout the last two years of my life. I was 31 years old the first time cancer came into my life. On April 28, 2015 I was diagnosed with stage IIIC Triple Negative, Inflammatory, BRCA2+ Breast Cancer. At the time my career was in a stable place, I was happy, financially independent and I had aspiring goals of being a seasoned tri-athlete.

2015 was going to be my breakthrough year in my world of triathlons. The two years prior to my diagnosis, I raced in multiple sprint triathlons and I was ready to take my training to the next level. I met with Karen Smyers, a world-class tri-athlete, coach and cancer survivor herself. She created an extensive plan to help me achieve my goal that year of completing an IRONMAN 70.3 (The 70.3 refers to the total miles traveled; swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles). I had scheduled six races for the summer of 2015, four sprints (1/2 mile swim, 16 mile bike, 3.2 run), one Olympic (.93 mile swim, 25 mile bike and 6.2 mile run) and the IRONMAN 70.3. Not only did I feel confident in myself that I could complete these races, I convinced many of my fellow tri-athletes to conquer these quests with me. We trained rigorously together and became best of friends.

I started chemotherapy, in May 2015 leaving me unable to train anymore. The first race of the season was upon us and I was feeling so many emotions. I knew I couldn’t race, but nothing was going to get in my way of cheering on my teammates. As I arrived at the transition area, I was quickly greeted by many of my teammates. It took me a few minutes to realize that they all had on the same shirt. The shirts were white with a pink logo reading “We TRI 4 Aimee”.  Not only did they dedicate the 2015 season to me but they also held fundraisers, came to chemo infusions with me and kept my spirits high.

That year I went through nine months of treatment, which included 16 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, a right modified radical mastectomy with lymph node dissection and 33 rounds of radiation. I continued to work through the first 12 rounds of chemotherapy and then my body was hit with an infection landing me in the hospital for five days. A week later it was noted by my chemo-nurse, that the skin over my port was not healing and I needed to have my port removed and have a PICC line inserted.

Chemotherapy ended, and I was told that at that time I had no evidence of disease (NED). This was great news, but due to the aggressive nature of the cancer, I needed to complete the treatment plan. In November I had a right modified radical mastectomy that immediately caused a disease called lymphedema of my right arm and shoulder. Lymphedema is a chronic condition in which fluid collects in the body. This disease requires me to wear a compression sleeve and glove everyday as well as taking precautions to prevent infection of that limb.

I had radiation treatment every day. The process itself did not take more than 20 minutes; however the effects lingered throughout the day and made me very fatigued. A month after radiation ended, I returned to work full-time. There was still a lot of prophylactic care required because I have the BRCA2 gene mutation; mastectomy of left breast, reconstruction and hysterectomy. This was nothing compared to what I had already been through. For now I was ready to get my life back.