Like most people, I got into racing triathlons because of a friend, I had never even heard about the sport prior to that. If I am being honest, in 2008 I thought I was a “badass” and I was looking for my breaking point. How far could I push myself before I gave up, before I quit? So a 70.3 Ironman was right in my lane. I did a sprint, then the Olympic, then hit the 70.3 distance. I found I was stronger than I ever thought and never found my breaking point.
At the age of 33, I was married, had three amazing kids, owned my own business with my wonderful husband, and was taking on the world. For years, I trained more than I raced, I usually became injured and then could not compete. In fact, in 2013 I quit the sport. I hated putting in all the training and never making it to the starting line. 2014 brought my fourth child and I was content, for a while.
Triathlon Came Calling Again
In 2015, that inner voice started up again. The one that said triathlon was for me. This time I wanted things to be different and I wanted to know everything I could about training. To prevent injury, I became a Certified Ironman Coach and added that to my certifications as a Pilates Reformer Instructor and Yoga Instructor. I also went back to college to get a Bachelor’s in Science and Health.
Originally, I wanted to help women who were juggling every aspect of their life (training, family, spouse, career) while chasing an Ironman finish. Let’s face it, as women we wear a lot of hats but we still have our own dreams and aspirations. If I could help one woman, then my Certification would be worth it. At that time I couldn’t have predicted what the future would hold.
I Was Diagnosed With Cancer
Two years later, in October of 2017, I knew something was not quite right with my body. My right hand would swell when I ran, I had a low-grade fever that lasted nearly a month, and I was more tired than usual, but I ignored the signs. Thankfully, I had my yearly exam at the end of the month and that is when my doctor “found a lump.” Yes, THE lump. I knew right then it was breast cancer. All of the signs my body had been giving me made sense.
I did all the scans needed: a mammogram, a biopsy, a PET Scan, a CT Scan, and BRCA genetic testing. You name it and I had the test. In December my Oncologist told me the words no one ever wants to hear; “you have cancer.” I, of course, asked why? My BRCA was negative, I have no family history, I nursed four kids, I am an athlete, and yet my doctor told me “I have no answers for you, you should not have this disease.” We set up an aggressive treatment plan in an attempt to save my lymph nodes. I asked him, “When do we begin?”
In turn, he asked when I wanted to start treatment and I replied, “No time like the present.” I had my 1st bout of chemo hand pumped directly into my vein because waiting for a port to be placed would have taken too long. I was ready to get going. I remember that day very clearly because my son had a basketball game and he had just earned the starting point guard position. You can bet your butt, I finished chemo, went straight to his game and he was awesome!
Everyone faces life’s battles how they see fit, and I faced my cancer battle the best way I could. I faced it alone and never allowed my family or friends to attend chemo with me. I didn’t want my husband and kids to see me go through that. I chose to protect them as much as I could and prevent those images from their memories. I am not going to lie, there was crying, a lot, and in fact I found my breaking point.
After my second dose of the “Red Devil” (chemo), I came home that night feeling miserable. I sat in my bathtub in the dark and cried and cried. I swore I was never going back to the hospital for another treatment, I was broken. I did what most do, I prayed, I asked “Why me?” I heard “to be an example” and from that moment on I was the best example I could be.
I did not hide at home, I went out, never covering my head unless I was cold. I was not ashamed of myself nor what I was going through. and I was not about to make others feel better about having to look at my bald head.
I finished chemo on July 3, 2018 and on July 4th, I walked in a 4 mile race, a race I had previously run. Next was an 11-hour surgery, then 30 rounds of radiation. All I kept thinking about was finishing so I could start training again. My body now looked like an 80-year-old man. No breasts, bald, all my muscles had turned soft and saggy, and I was as white as a ghost. For this Latina, that was devastating.
Let’s Start At The Bottom
At the end of 2018 my energy levels started coming back and so I did what I had always done, I got dressed and went for a run. I was not planning anything great, no PR’s, just to run a mile. Oh man, I was not prepared for what happened. It was awful. I had not realized just how badly my body had been treated, how damaged it was; I was horrified. I went home, climbed in the shower and had an Oscar award winning cry. When I was done, I told myself let’s start at the bottom. I am lucky, I have all this knowledge, I know what to do. That is when it dawned on me, this is why I had cancer. This is why I got my certifications and my degree. This is what I was being led to do. That day I created SheStrong, an Arizona Non-For Profit Corporation focused on getting women who have faced a cancer diagnosis back into fitness, namely triathlons.
A Rebellion I Was Born To Lead
I am supposed to help other women who have gone through these struggles. Women who like me, who had tried to regain some sense of fitness, only to initially fail miserably. How many women have gone through this and did what I did only to give up? Cancer is not the end of my Ironman career. It is the beginning of the rebellion that I was born to lead. I will not back down, I will not be a victim to my disease. Most importantly, I will lead by example and let other women know that we can do this. We are Strong, we are Smart, we are Brave, we are Kind, we are Beautiful, we are SHESTRONG!