|I stole this beautiful picture from her twitter feed|
I met Michelle when I randomly joined her #earthathon team, #uponeaglewings, a few weeks ago. At the time, I had NO idea that she is currently battling breast cancer. She is not just battling breast cancer, she is FIGHTING it. She is tenaciously, aggressively giving it hell. She has chosen life, chosen to #FightLikeaGirl, and to #runwithcancer.
Her commitment to running and to living life is awe inspiring. Her twitter feed, @lutherungirl, can make you smile even on your worst day. I knew I needed to share her story, to profile another amazing woman who, despite everything, still laces up her sneakers and does her thing.
I asked her a few questions and she kindly agreed to answer them...
When did you start running? What drew you to the sport in the first place? How many races have you run? Any running moments you are especially proud of?
I ran for fun in grade school and competitively in middle/high school and for two years in college at the division I level. I ran mid distance and distance. I ran my first marathon in high school. Our coach made us sign up and I wasn't happy about it at first but after I finished, I was hooked. I took a hiatus from running competitively after college because life happened. I started training for my second marathon when my youngest child was in third grade with a friend, his teacher. I have run 13 marathons, 4 half marathons, 2 15Ks, and a handful of 5Ks. I would love to qualify for Boston and perhaps that will be my goal after I win my fight with stage III Breast Cancer.
When were you diagnosed with cancer? What are some of your symptoms related to treatment? How do they affect your day to day life?
I have a history of breast cancer on my mother's side of the family so I have always been proactive about getting my yearly mammograms. Because I have dense breast tissue my family practice doctor decided that I should consider a breast MRI which I did in August of 2014. The report came back with suspicious areas of concern. Unfortunately, my doctor retired and no one followed up with me about further tests. I should have called to ask for results. My BIG mistake. In February I noticed a small lump (about the size of a pea) with a bruise around it. The bruise would come and go which I thought was weird so I decided to call the new family practice doctor. He had no idea about my August MRI and was very apologetic that no one followed up with me. He ordered a breast ultra sound with possible biopsy. The radiologist decided not to do the biopsy (even after I pleaded my history, case and concern) and just sent me on my way saying it was probably a hematoma and would go away in several months. My family doctor was furious and sent me to another radiologist in the Fort Wayne, IN area. By the time I had my first biopsy the tumor had grown to the size of a walnut (about a two week time frame) and had a red rash outside the bruised area. He took 7 biopsies and my worst fear was confirmed. My biopsies were positive for breast cancer. My family practice doctor did some research over the weekend and decided I would be best served to meet with a breast surgeon and oncologist at Indiana University Simon Breast Cancer Center in Indianapolis.
When I met with both doctors in Indy, the breast surgeon did an immediate biopsy of the rash and confirmed that it was cancerous. I was diagnosed with level III Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a very race and aggressive form of breast cancer. This is the same form of cancer my aunt was diagnosed with 3 years earlier. She is doing well but continues to have some related medical issues.
I have tolerated my treatments pretty well but my oncologist had to dial back the amount of chemo because my white blood cell count has been almost wiped out. He is baffled and amazed that I haven't had many side effects and attributes that to my healthy lifestyle. He has asked that I dial back my running miles so I remain healthy during my treatments. I was running about 50 miles a week and now average about 20*, some of which is walking per my doctors orders.
*just to put this in perspective: I, Lauren, run 20-30 miles while training for a MARATHON. Michelle is basically running the same amount while going through CHEMOTHERAPY. #mostawesomewomanever*
The plan is to shrink my tumor before surgery if my white cell count isn't compromised then I will undergo radiation after surgery. I will be having a radical mastectomy due to my type of breast cancer. I remain full of hope. I am strong, positive, and a fighter! I absolutely love my doctors and that is huge. I don't think I could get through this without the support of family, friends and my running community. I continue to teach but do take a few days off during treatments. I'm off for the summer thankfully as chemo is once a week now. I will be facing my surgery in the Fall and will of course take some time off.
How did you get involved in #earthathon? What kind of impact do you see this type of relay having on the community?
I discovered Earthathon in early December and logged miles for the "race before the 1st race". I was asked to be a team leader for the first race that started in January. We were asked to name our teams and my quote below reflects the name #uponeaglewings
"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and
not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." Isaiah 40:31
We were one of 10 teams. I enjoy leading our team in the 2nd race as well! I think Earthathon brings runners from all over the planet together and is so encouraging.
Many of you know that my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Because we live so far away, I often feel at a loss as how to help or encourage her and my father-in-law. Through her strength and resolve, Michelle reminds me that hope is the greatest gift I can give them and myself.
Do yourself a favor and follow Michelle on Twitter @lutherungirl. She will help your spirit soar. (oh! and join us on team #uponeaglewings at earthathonrelay.com - Michelle will send you awesome, encouraging, supportive tweets!)