I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 37 years old. I was single with no children. I did my best to smile through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy but it was a challenge. At the same time both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer. My mother and I had overlapping radiation cycles. My father and I had overlapping chemotherapy cycles; he died while I was still undergoing radiation therapy. This six months in 2011 was truly my crucible moment. Crucible moments, I came to learn later, are defining moments, severe tests that we all will have at some point in our lives.
I got by — day to day. It was the best I could do in the moment. After I was done with treatment and my life started to settle, I joined a mindfulness class led by my therapist. Little did I know it would change my life.
I embraced the practice of mindfulness and started to challenge myself and live in the moment. I studied. I read. I listened. I practiced at home. I practiced at work. I even practiced in the car! Every night I wrote in a journal what I was grateful for that day — I could always find at least one thing.
I decided to test the limits of my comfort zones by joining a triathlon team. I didn’t know how to swim or clip into a bike. But I learned. I worked hard. I smiled during the tough times. I celebrated every practice and every race; I was smelling my surroundings and enjoying nature around me. I was persistent. I was resilient. I felt the strength inside of me that I had never tapped into before.
Less than 2 years after joining my triathlon team, to celebrate my 5 year “cancerversary”, I completed Ironman Lake Placid.
An Ironman triathlon includes 2.4 miles of open water swimming, followed by a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run. 140.6 miles in all. Something I would have never even attempted — had I not been challenged 5 years ago. I struggled during the bike portion of the race — but what I remember most during the day was how I was focused on my surroundings, and that I was able to enjoy the (challenging) present moment. I took deep breaths. I smiled. I cheered for the people around me. Without the practice of mindfulness, this would not have been possible — and I’m not sure I would have finished.
I’m a young cancer survivor but more importantly, I’m an Ironman. With the practice of mindfulness and the resilience I learned during my crucible moment, I came to realize anything is possible.