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CrossFit and Cancer

A blog to keep family and friends informed and to help anyone else who may have a similar diagnosis!

I am a 37 year old woman, mother of 2/stepmom of 3, wife of an incredible man, owner of Kinetic Grit CrossFit, and army veteran of 9 years. I am a daughter, a sister, a mother, a friend, a wife, a business owner....and I am an open book. I have found guidance and hope from the brave women before me who have shared their stories, and I hope I can pay it forward.

I always joke that I am never healthy for the CrossFit Open. 2016 and 2019 was a low back injury. 2021 was a terrible case of Montezuma's revenge after a trip to Mexico. Coming in to 2022, I was feeling like it might be my year (knock on wood). My body had another plan for me. Every week of the open signified a new step towards finding out I had cancer.

22.1 - Two weeks prior, I found a lump about the size of a peanut on my left breast. I thought that I had perhaps pissed off some tissue bench pressing. It was still there the Monday of the open and could not wait any longer. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37 - so I was not willing to take any chances - it just so happens that I am 37 right now. I made the call. Because of my family history, a mammogram and ultrasound was scheduled immediately - for 1PM that Friday. Thursday afternoon 22.1 was announced:

AMRAP15 - 3 wall walks, 12 alternating dumbbell snatches, 15 box jump over

Friday afternoon, at 1PM, I reported for my mammogram. It wasn't my first. I had a baseline when I was 30. I knew that I had dense breast tissue that not only makes it harder to read the images but also makes you at higher risk for breast cancer.

I was then shuffled to the next room for my ultrasound. I laid there trying to get a read on the technician, but I am sure they are trained to have a good poker face. She showed me the lump on the screen. I stared at it, almost expecting it to have a heartbeat. I tried to remember everything I saw so that I google the images later to try to find any clues about what the results may be.

The technician left the room and when she came back, she had me lay back down to image my lymph nodes, per the doctor's request. This was the first time I had a negative feeling about it all. I got dressed and was led down the hall....

...and into a consultation room. This is the point that I texted my sister, "well fuck." The nurse came in and something like "how are you, other than having to sit here and talk to me?" She was sweet. She had to deliver the news. There was a cluster of varying shaped microcalcifications in the left retroareolar region suggesting a suspicious abnormality. It is a heterogeneous ill-defined and irregularly marginated mass. BI-RADS category 4. A stereotactic core breast biopsy is recommended.

I went straight to the gym. We had Friday Night Lights to get ready for - for week one of the CrossFit Open 2022. My husband and I coached our 3PM CrossFit Kids class and I decided to run the workout next before all the festivities began. About 3 rounds into the workout, I could here one of my CrossFit kids yell, "Good job, got this." And it hit me like a train. My throat closed up, the type of closure when you are fighting back tears. The type of tightness that you cannot work through. I was suffocating. You know what's not fun to do while suffocating? Box jumps.

I managed to make it through the night holding my shit together. Having a full gym was a blessing. It distracted me from playing the "what if" game. The rest of the weekend was just as busy. Saturday, my husband and I set up for wrestling regionals - a huge tournament we run for our local club. Sunday was spent running the tournament and then going home to celebrate our youngest's 10th birthday! I did not have a chance to even connect with my husband about any of Friday's tests until Sunday night. We did play some "what ifs" together. Maybe that's not healthy, maybe it is, I don't know....but we had to at least address the elephant in the room.

22.2 - I had to wait 5 days for a biopsy. The more I researched what to expect the more fear set it. They would put my breast into the mammogram machine for 30-45 minutes to make sure it did not move. I'd have lidocaine, locally, before they would make a small incision and remove tissue samples from the lump. I would not be able to work out for three days after but should be back to fighting shape by Tuesday. So, I decided to do 22.2 on Thursday - after it was announced - without a crowd. Perhaps I could breathe better than way!

1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 deadlifts @ 155 pounds and bar facing burpees

Friday morning, at 9:30, my husband brought me in for my biopsy. It was as they had explained. The kind, CrossFit-friendly, nurses distracted me with a friendly debate about NoBulls vs Nanos. They weren't lying, it was uncomfortable being smashed into a mammogram machine for a half hour, but honestly - it was like laying on a lacrosse ball on a spicy knot. At first, you can't even breathe, but then eventually your body releases and you can breath again. I was advised to look away the whole time. The noises were a lot like being at the dentist. After taking 12 samples, they x-ray the tissue to make sure they got what they were looking for. Once they confirm that, they put a titanium marker in to ensure they could find the same spot again if they needed to go back in. At first, I was against using it. I don't want anything foreign in my body. After speaking with a lot of women who have gone through the procedure I decided that I felt the gain outweighed the risk. The incision was not large enough to require a stitch. I was told to wear two sports bras so I could tuck an ice pack between them. I was told to not do any strenuous exercise for 3 days so I don't create a hematoma. When I asked about the assault bike, the nurse said, "yes, I would consider that strenuous." She had a fair point. Unfortunately, I would have to wait until Monday for the results.

Just as the Friday before, we would go to the gym and run week 2 of Friday Night Lights. While it was a good distraction, the thought of my biopsy never left my mind. I tried to stay engaged coaching, judging and feeling all the love and support in the room - all with an ice packed shoved in my shirt!

It was a long weekend. I kept refreshing the MyChart app, full knowing that nobody was working over the weekend. When I wasn't refreshing MyChart, I was sleeping. My body must have needed it. A three hour nap on Saturday followed by 12 hours of sleep Saturday night. My husband and I were able to sneak away for a lunch together Sunday. This would be our last date before our world changed forever.

22.3 - Monday morning, I got up and coached the 5:30AM and 8AM classes as normal. I worked out a little bit. I know, I know...a day early. I scaled the workout and listened to my body and it felt good to move!

10AM - the phone rings. "Amber, I am sorry to tell you this. You have breast cancer. Your questions can be answered when you meet with the surgeon." And that is that. My husband and I hugged. We cried. We hugged and cried some more. And then we went to the gym to coach the noon class.

It was the next 48 hours that were the worst. Telling your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, and all the people that care about you the most that you have cancer is awful. I know it is not my fault, but in a way I felt guilty for making them hurt. My husband and I decided we believe in transparency and our kids should know immediately, our family should know, our closest friends should know and our gym family should know. Telling the kids was THE WORST.

Kids hear the word "cancer" and think it is a death sentence. Or they think that I will have to lose my hair. Or that it hurts. While we have a lot more questions than answers, we do know that I caught this early. We know that I am healthy otherwise and that I have a wonderful support system. We know that I am going to be ok.

I finally heard from my nurse coordinator Tuesday. She answered all of my questions and broke down my report line by line. It is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), high grade, no definite microinvasion. This means that while we will not know for sure until after surgery, we believe the cancer is localized in the ducts and has not "invaded" anywhere else. DCIS does not normally create a lump, so there is concern there could be more disease or it could be a little more invasive than what the biopsy samples showed. The tumor tested positive for estrogen and progesterone receptors - which means the cancer is feeding off my hormones. Typically, treatment options for DCIS, starts with two surgical options 1.) a lumpectomy followed by radiation with hormone suppression therapy or 2.) a more aggressive approach with a mastectomy. So this is where I am now. Collecting information, meeting with experts and trying to come up with a plan forward.

While the open announcement usually gives me anxiety, this week feels different. There is nothing they can throw at me that I can't handle.

For Time: 21 pullups, 42 double unders, 21 thrusters, 18 chest to bar pull ups, 36 double unders, 18 thrusters, 15 bar muscle ups, 30 double unders, 15 thrusters

So as we wait - there's a lot I don't know. But here is what I DO know:

  1. Ladies - touch yourself early and often! I would not have caught this this early had I not been in a habit of checking myself. Ask your husbands for a second opinion - I promise you, they will be willing.

  2. I had cancer last week, I have it today and I will have it tomorrow. I am living my life inside and outside of the gym the same as always. I won't have it always. There will be a time that I will have to "scale" life inside and outside of the gym. But that time is not right now. The gym is my therapy and it will continue to be.

  3. The fear of the unknown is real.

  4. The women before me who have been brave enough to make their stories public have already helped me immensely.

  5. I hate the word "sick." I am not sick. I am a very healthy human. I just happen to have a disease right now. It's a disease that I can beat.

  6. Little did I know that opening Kinetic Grit CrossFit in 2020 would have such an impact on my personal life. I have spent the last year and a half building an army around me. That army is ready to go to battle along side of me. That army will be led my be amazingly strong husband. I love all of you.

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