For many people, turning 50 is an unappreciated milestone that they would rather not acknowledge, but I feel differently. Some people find themselves going through a midlife crisis; me, I’m facing 50 by signing up and training for my first marathon!
Like most of us I’ve undergone many transformations in my life. Some have been intentional while others resulted from circumstances beyond my control. Recently while
looking for old photos, I ran across some pictures of myself when I was in my 20s and 30s. I was not fit then, and I didn’t resemble the person I am now. At 50 I am the healthiest, most physically active, and most content that I have ever been in my life. Many people who have known me only in the last few years have commented that they can’t imagine me when I was not active, energetic, and happy. So running across photos of a younger me was a sobering reminder of the effort and motivation that it took for me to be where I am today.
Much of my motivation for becoming more fit was my breast cancer diagnosis at age 33 and a recurrence the following year. Both prompted me to advocate for myself and do everything I could to improve my chances of survival (increasingly, research validates the benefit of a healthy diet and active lifestyle for surviving cancer). My other motivation was my family. I lost my mother at a young age. Her weight and lack of fitness contributed to her young demise. I was determined not to repeat the same mistake; I wanted to be around as long as possible for my son!
Transforming myself to a marathon runner won’t be easy, but I’ve faced harder challenges and become stronger because of them. My most difficult transition came when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33. All my life cancer had been a subject avoided or treated with dread. As I went through treatment I felt the stigma and isolation of cancer. Strangers approached me when I was out with my son, my face without eyebrows or lashes, my head without hair wrapped with a scarf that tipped them off that I was someone with cancer. Some people offered advice or encouragement, but others treated me with pity. I didn’t like this negative attention, which left me feeling uncomfortable and devalued.
Almost as difficult was the transition to my post-cancer life. Even after treatment ended, I felt different from my friends and peers. Dealing with uncertainty about my future and post-treatment depression, I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer them. The transformation that allowed me to re-enter life, find a “new normal,” and make new friends post-cancer didn’t happen overnight. It was almost a decade before I was emotionally ready to make friends outside of the cancer survivor and previvor community.
My transformation from veterinarian to patient advocate was also gradual and not entirely voluntary. I wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember. Once I achieved my dream, I loved my practice and the work. I loved helping animals and people. But my motivation for founding FORCE and transitioning to director was more powerful than my love of veterinary medicine. There were many great practicing veterinarians but there was only one organization devoted to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. My own isolation, confusion, and loneliness during my hereditary cancer journey led me to found FORCE so no one else would have to face the hereditary cancer journey alone.
Now, as a 50-year-old—an age I never thought I would reach—I am ready to face a new challenge: entering the Marine Corps Marathon. My motivation is two-fold. Although I now love exercise and being fit, the demands of a marathon reach beyond fitness. It also requires commitment, discipline, perseverance, endurance, and focus. Training to run a marathon at age 50 is my way of choosing how I transition to middle age and being able to face the next half-century on my own terms. My other motivation is to benefit the community and organization that I have dedicated my life to serving. I hope that my marathon quest motivates others to try to achieve their goals. And importantly, I hope to raise funds for FORCE and encourage others to sign up for Team FORCE for the Marine Corps Marathon.
I am not a natural athlete; the photo of a younger me confirms this. If after a half-century this formerly sedentary survivor can transform herself into an athlete, anyone can do the same. I hope my efforts inspire others to pick their own goals, find their personal motivation, and pursue their own transformation.Tags: brca, BRCA 1, brca research, brca testing, BRCA1, breast cancer, breast cancer early detection, breast cancer prevention, cancer prevention, exercise, FORCE, gene testing, genetic testing, HBOC, survivor, young survivor