No one survives life’s toughest challenges alone. Sometimes we have our family, friends and medical professionals by our side to help us. And sometimes, the most important thing we can do is learn from other stories of survival. When we meet people who have not only experienced something similar but actually came through it better and stronger, it provides hope and inspiration. We invite you to Share your Story of “Surviving & Thriving.” Your words could be just the thing someone needs to keep moving forward. Share the gift of hope.
Submitted by CJ Hartman:
In August 2001, at my yearly well-woman check up, I was feeling healthy, strong and confident. I told my PA that I was so delighted I had lost weight, did not have a cold or sinus infection that year and was no longer using an inhaler when I exercised.
The day before that appointment, I had completed a Sprint Triathlon with a personal record on a course I had done the previous four years. I was proud to be training for my first Olympic Distance race on exactly my 47th birthday the following month. I was going to race in my home state, 1,000 miles away, in front of my family for the first time.
The race turned out to be bittersweet.
A lump the PA felt in my neck began an unexpected cancer journey and adventure in surviving and thriving and living with cancer as a chronic condition. I raced in front of my family and friends on my birthday, knowing the first tests were indicating cancer and not knowing what was to come in the future. A few days later, I walked into an appointment for a scan, numb and in disbelief from the morning news. The profound horror at the loss of life on 9/11 has always been more significant than the cancer diagnosis I was facing at that time.
As for our country, it has been a long journey since then. I can say, I have survived and thrived by continuing to compete in triathlons, swimming longer open water distances, and celebrating my birthdays doing the physically challenging activities I enjoy.
There are constant challenges of living with thyroid cancer, especially balancing medications to ensure optimal energy for muscle contractions needed to train for endurance events. The brain fog and fatigue are frustrating lasting effects. I always have periods of uncertainty and anxiety around canciversaries. It is hard not to let the watchful waiting, aggressive following and unknowns of living with persistent disease determine my plans and goals for the future. Registrations for some events are very expensive and fill up a whole year in advance. Another surgery or another dose of radiation (radio active iodine for thyroid cancer) could put everything on hold.
In September 2007, the day I came back from a birthday swim vacation, swimming island to island in Greece, I stood jet lagged in a long line, to register for Ironman WI, 2008. My cancer check up was 2 months away. A year later, just before the 17-hour cut off time, 7 minutes before my 54th birthday, I crossed the finish line. My mantra while training for the race was “Train to Finish, Enjoy the Journey, Race Without Regret, Celebrate a Challenge Worthy of the Gift of Life.” It is now on my business cards as a USAT Certified Coach.
Here’s a photo of CJ on her bicycle tour honeymoon in June 2010 in Colorado at the top of Wolf Creek Pass.
By far, my continued inspiration comes from the men and women I coach. They have all faced some kind of personal challenge and overcome obstacles to pursue healthy, physical lifestyles and accomplish amazing goals. One of the greatest joys for me is to watch a once fearful non-swimmer cross a triathlon finish line.
For the first time in 2011, I purposefully celebrated the anniversary of my cancer surgery instead of a birthday. After 10 years of living with cancer as a chronic condition, I swam a 10K (6.2 mile) swim in the 10th month of the year. It was truly a challenge worthy of the gift of life.
For my 60th birthday, I’m in the planning stages to celebrate the entire year with an outrageous epic adventure. I can’t wait.