Throughout October, we will be sharing She’s a Survivor stories: #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.

This week, we’re featuring Anne Tinklenberg, a familiar face in the AMR community and a  mom of two from Bloomington, Minnesota. Here, she offers her honest and raw reflections on healing from the emotional trauma of cancer and what she’s learned along the way. 

Date of Diagnosis: January, 2021

On her diagnosis and treatment : After a routine mammogram at the end of 2020, Anne received a letter informing her that she had to go back in. That, too, was routine for Anne, who has breast dense tissue, which often merits a second look. But this time was different: Her doctors saw something concerning on her scan, and ordered a biopsy. This led to her diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, hormone positive, stage 1A. From there, Anne was caught up in a whirlwind of appointments and big decisions. “I thought I’d go in to the surgeon and they’d tell me exactly what I needed to do,” she recalls. “But because of my particular type of cancer, they gave me options. That was hard to navigate.” 

Faced with the weighty decision of having a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, or a double mastectomy, Anne opted for the former, followed by nearly five weeks of radiation. She also started a dosage of Tamoxifen, which she’ll be on for at least five years.  

On her “rush to be fine” and processing the trauma: Eager to provide as much normalcy as possible for her children—one of whom was in her senior year of high school—Anne said she was in a “rush to be fine” throughout her treatment. “I didn’t want to spoil the fun of their lives, so I just put my head down and just focused on getting through it without too much disruption,” Anne shares. Looking back, Anne says she wished she took the time to process and discuss her feelings with her family, and with others. “It’s interesting: I never thought I was going to die. But my family had a different experience. My husband and my oldest daughter had a lot more fear.” 

Anne surrounded by her family, who stood by her side throughout her cancer journey.

Ultimately, Anne sought out therapy and also had personal virtual meditation sessions with Jean Vitrano (a gift from a fellow BAMR). Both allowed her to process some of the trauma—and made her more equipped to have deeper discussions with her family about their fears. “I was so heads down, so focused on getting through it,” she says. “Therapy helped me think through all of the emotional components, and realize the experience did have a huge impact on the entire family.” 

On cancer comparison: Anne also struggled with imposter syndrome when it came to what she jokingly referred to as “barely cancer.” “I didn’t have any symptoms, or chemo, or surgeries. It was caught early,” she says. Still, any cancer diagnosis can be profoundly traumatic, and Anne said she had to work past comparing her case to others to eventually feel validated. “The BAMR Breasties group was incredibly helpful for me in realizing that there’s no comparison in cancer,” she says. “Hearing other women share their experience, and being able to share mine with so much support and without judgment, that was really important.” 

On running again: True to her tenacious personality, Anne was eager to get back to running as soon as she could. “It was more for my mental health than anything else,” she says, adding that she finished Grandma’s Marathon last June in 4:48:48. “Movement is a powerful tool in helping me process the entire cancer experience.”

Anne admits she has been challenged by some side effects of her medication and radiation, including discomfort and limitation in her mobility, for which she’s seeing a PT. “It’s not a huge barrier,” Anne says of her physical challenges. “But it is a reminder that cancer leaves a longer lasting impact that lingers beyond recovery from the initial treatment.”

Anne running Grandma’s Marathon in June 2022, happy and cancer-free.

On identifying as a survivor: Anne’s fabulous news? She is cancer-free and has a very low chance of recurrence. And while she’s relishing in her return to normalcy, she’s still adjusting to her new identity as a cancer survivor. “The other day, I was at a corn maze wearing a ‘survivor’ t-shirt and a woman came up to me and said, ‘way to go, fellow survivor.’ It took me a minute to realize what she meant. At first, I thought she was congratulating me for being a corn maze survivor!” Anne shares with a laugh. “So yeah, there are periods of time when I forget it ever happened. And then something will happen like that, and I’ll remember that I’m part of the club. Cancer will always be there, but I’m stronger for it.” 

She’s a survivor: Anne proudly showing off her pink ribbon t-shirt.

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