During this week, our Motherlode of Miles week that benefits the Donna Foundation, we are profiling four #motherrunners whose lives have been changed by breast cancer; hopefully the perspective and ideas they share will benefit others who are going through similar situations.
We're starting with Heidi Gillenwater from Charlottesville, Virginia, who has four kids (ages 23, 20, 15, and 13.)
These posts are in their own words; they will also be guests on the AMR podcast at the end of this week.
Date of diagnosis: March 4, 2019
Type of breast cancer: Stage 2, invasive infiltrating ductal carcinoma, ER/PR positive, HER2 negative
Running through it: My treatment started with surgery: lumpectomy on April 4, 2019. I took 2 weeks off from running completely after surgery. I eased back into running again after this 2-week break but then had to take another little break when I got my porta cath.
I did my first post-chemo run two days after my first chemo. I continued to run throughout my chemotherapy treatment which started May 8 and ended Aug 14. (I received dose-dense adriamycin and cytoxan every 2 weeks for 4 cycles, then taxol every 2 weeks x 4 cycles.)
The thing that I noticed most with running while on receiving chemotherapy was that my heart rate became elevated out of proportion to my perceived level of exertion. For example, the run felt easy, but before I knew it, my heart rate was in the high 160's or 170's. This was very unusual for me.
Because of this, I used heart rate as my guide rather than perceived effort. I completely forgot about pace. I managed this by running until I noticed my heart rate drift into the high 150's or low 160's and then I would take a walk break until I recovered into the 130's again.
I noticed that later in the cycle (when I was getting closer to being due for another cycle of chemo) I was able to run for longer stretches without walking.
I know that there are probably a lot of reasons for these observations with my running. Some are likely just deconditioning due to the break required after surgery. But I also got progressively more anemic with each cycle of chemo. And I know that the chemo was messing with all of my cells, not just the potential cancer cells that may be trying to lurk in the corners.
I started radiation on Sept 9. I am now able run continuously without my heart rate elevating into the 160's. I am starting to gradually increase my mileage again and this feels so good.
Throughout all of this time, I have been going to a local treadmill studio where are there are different workouts that incorporate running and strength. After recovering completely from surgery, I felt that I had no limitations with strength work, and because of that, I feel that I have never been stronger. I have some serious strong glutes now.
How breast cancer changed her running perspective: Although I have been running for a long time, probably over 30 years, I have been laser-focused on trying to qualify for Boston for the past six years. Through this process of trying to be the best runner I could be I learned a lot of things.
I learned that to get the most out of training, there must be a careful balance of focused high quality running, easy running, good nutrition, and self-care that includes quality sleep and general stress management. I needed every bit of these past six years to learn this.
I was registered to run the Sugarloaf Marathon in May of this year when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I could feel deep in my soul that my body was finally really responding to all of the training and I was getting faster. My initial reaction to the timing of my breast cancer diagnosis was that it seems so unfair. I was very angry.
When I got over those emotions though I realized that these skills—nutrition, sleep, stress management, listening to my body—that took me six years to learn were exactly the skills that I needed to put my body in the best state to benefit from my treatment.
Who knew that I was not really training to be a better runner, but actually to be the best patient I could be?
Best thing she did for herself during treatment: Meditation has become a daily ritual. I have been using Headspace mostly, but occasionally I am able to meditate without guidance. Today my headspace app told me that I have meditated 100 days in a row. But I have really only missed probably 5-6 days since my diagnosis.
Best thing her friends/family did during treatment: Honestly, my biggest fear around having this diagnosis was being perceived by others as being sick. I don't feel sick, and don't want to be treated as if I am not well. I have appreciated every who treats me the same that they always did.
I just started publishing a public blog. This is something that has been sitting on my laptop until I had more courage (and time) to get it out there. I plan to include more details about my experience with exercise while on treatment as well as summarizing data from studies that have studied exercise in cancer patients while on treatment.