Thursday, June 16, 2011

Finishing a Triathlon Three Years after TNBC

This is one of the short profiles from the book I am writing on TNBC:

Here’s one way to get over the worries about cancer treatment and the fears of its return: Run a triathlon or two. That’s the approach Julie Desloge took—she completed her first sprint triathlon in June 2010, a little more than two years after she was diagnosed with triple-negative. She did two additional races that summer—and her radiation oncologist was her teammate on the final one.

On that race, her doctor swam 1.5 kilometers, another friend ran 10 kilometers, and Julie biked 40 kilometers. That translates to slightly less than a mile swim, a 24.8-mile bike ride, and a 6.2-mile run.


And a year later, in June 2011, just one week shy of her third cancerversary, Julie finished another race, this time the entire sprint triathlon: Swimming. Biking. And running.

Julie is thoroughly enjoying her healthy new pursuit and enjoying life, period. It took some doing and a serious commitment—eight months of training that was far from easy. Running, she writes on her wonderful blog, is the most difficult for her—she has trouble getting enough air. But she keeps at it and each time it is a little easier.

Julie was diagnosed with a 2.6-centimeter triple-negative tumor in February 2008 when she was 41. She had neoadjuvant chemotherapy—four rounds of Taxotere and Cytoxan—that got rid of all but .3 centimeters of the tumor, a nearly 90 percent reduction.

Easily speaking the jargon on cancer, she says, “No pathologically complete response for me.” And, while her response was only partial, it nevertheless was significant, offering her a positive prognosis that she is making the most of.

A lumpectomy followed chemo, with radiation after that.

Risk factors? She’s negative for the BRCA mutation, but wonders about her reproductive history—she started her periods young, at age 11. And she’s the mother of three children, who were 11, 9, and 6 at the time of diagnosis, although she breastfed all three for nine to ten months.

She was about 15 pounds overweight when she was diagnosed; Taxol added another 8 pounds or so. Her weight continues to be a challenge, even with her high level of exercise. She now weighs more than she did at diagnosis, although much of that is probably muscle, which weighs more than fat. I haven't really found the key to unlocking much weight loss,” she says. Still, we’re talking about being only slightly beyond her ideal—Julie says her BMI is a healthy 24.8.

She had been exercising regularly before cancer, doing cardio and resistance exercises four to five days a week. But she upped the ante after treatment and hit the triathlon circuit with her husband Denis near their Portland, Oregon home.

Cancer, she says, not only gave her motivation to maintain a healthy lifestlye, but it provided a chance to look outside herself at what others are going through. She’s bothered when friends protest that they should not complain about any problems they encounter, given what she faced in cancer treatment. “Pain is pain,” she says.

The one effect she could do without is the constant anxiety that comes from follow-up doctor visits. “While my doctors are incredible people and I enjoy them personally, I still don't like the reason I have to see them,” she says.

By making her radiation oncologist her racing partner, she’s turning at least one medical relationship into a fun one, helping her move on with her life at a pretty good clip.

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