Lily Trotters Ambassador, Jill B. (you may know her on Instagram as @ultracrazyjill), is the definition of #unstoppable. After a breast cancer diagnosis, Jill went on to become an ultra runner, a free fitness movement coach (Hello November Project Virginia Beach!) and has an incredibly special relationship with her daughter Marleigh.
In this blog post, we hear from Jill about her experience as a breast cancer survivor, runner and mother to an amazing young lady - AND we hear from Marleigh on what makes Jill so dang special.
This is one of our favorite interviews to-date and we sure do hope you enjoy it and learn from it as much as we did. Our ambassadors continue to inspire us in ways well beyond the finish line.
(As a reminder, all of our 'Pink Power' styles are 15% off through the month of October AND Lily Trotters will be donating 15% of those sales to The DONNA Foundation)
How old were you when you were diagnosed with Breast Cancer? Were you already a mother at the time? If so, how did that diagnosis and treatment impact your parenting?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the ripe old age of 25. My daughter, Marleigh, was about to turn 2 years old. Needless to say, parenting a feisty toddler while undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy was not easy. My amazing husband Karl became the primary caregiver, and tirelessly cared for both Marleigh and I. Most days I would try to keep life as normal as possible, but I remember many days just lying on the couch completely out of it, watching my daughter play on the floor. All I wanted was to be down there with her, but my body wouldn’t allow it.
If not, how did the diagnosis and treatment impact how you approached life moving forward?
It took many years, and the death of my father from pancreatic cancer two years later, for me to take back my health. I spend the three years following diagnosis trapped in a deep hole of depression and alcoholism. On December 5th, 2009 I finally decided to change my life and haven’t had a drink since. I also learned to love fitness and found the love of running thanks to a dear friend and coworker, Dolores.
Have you had any other health scares since kicking cancer's ass?
After receiving a diagnosis for cancer so young every single lump, bump and pain is a cancer scare. I received genetic testing after diagnosis and discovered that I carry mutations in BOTH of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. This is the cause of a family history riddled with cancer (grandmother, mother, aunt, father). Learning this information empowered me to choose to remove both breasts and my ovaries as the best prevention of any future cancers.
We have also recently had my 15yo daughter tested for these same gene mutations. Unfortunately, she tested positive for both of the mutations that I carry. Finding out this information SUCKED bigtime, but it also gave my daughter knowledge and power that I didn’t have. She now can choose a healthy lifestyle, receive top notch preventative care, and make her own informed choices about her health in the future. She will be the one to end the cycle of cancer in our family, I just know it!!!
What advice would you give women on how they can be #unstoppable as a parent? What advice would you give for women on how they can be #unstoppable after a cancer diagnosis?
Being a parent is one of the most rewarding yet challenging jobs a woman can have. Each day you have to take care of this human being that you love so deeply. You do everything in your power to nurture, comfort and provide for them. However, you must ensure that YOU are also nurtured, comforted and provided for in order to be the best possible mother. For me that means taking time to enjoy solo runs on the trails, workouts with friends, watching a good movie and leaving the laundry sitting. Mama is always happier after a few hours in the woods!
The same thing would be said for being #unstoppable after cancer. Your days get full of doctor’s appointments, medicines and recovering. Embrace the good days by doing the things that you love. Put on your trail shoes and go for a short hike or order your favorite pizza and watch a good movie. You can be a cancer fighting warrior and also give yourself grace at the same time.
When did you start running? How does running make you feel #unstoppable? Do you have any big goals coming up in the near-ish future?
I started running back in 2009 using the couch to 5k program with my friend. We moved to running a 10k and also my first half marathon. I took off running for a few years and then rediscovered my love of running thanks to my husband. We decided to run our first marathon together in 2016, and I immediately wanted to go further. I loved running on the trail and signed up for my first ultra, a 40mi race in 2017. Several ultras and thousands of miles later, I completed my first 100 mile race this past April.
Running makes me feel #unstoppable because it is one of the only places on earth where I am in control. The stresses of day to day life are put aside momentarily and it is just me and the trail. When I set my mind to it, I am able to overcome incredible things when running. My love of the trail brings out a fire and a will that can only be described as #unstoppable.
I have some pretty big race goals for 2020. Next year I will turn 40 years old, and as a celebration to myself, I am going to take on the Ultra Beast Series here in Virginia. A series of three spring mountain 50k’s followed by a 50mi, 100mi and 100k++ in the fall. They are all extremely challenging races that will require a dedication and grit that many would shy away from.
Do you share your struggles and your triumphs with your daughter?
I always share myself 100% with my daughter. She knows my past and my many shortcomings. I talk to her about daily struggles and commiserate with her about her own. We celebrate each other’s triumphs and victories together every step of the way. Marleigh is my crew chief for all of my ultra races, and without her I am not sure I would be able to reach the finish line as quickly as I have in the past. I am also her biggest cheerleader at her soccer games and tournaments. I try to never miss a game, and always want to be involved in her life on the field and try to foster her love of soccer.
How does your daughter inspire you
My Marleigh is such a mature, kind and wise soul. She has a heart of gold yet stands tall for everything she believes in. Watching her navigate the pressures of high school with such grace, leaves me speechless. She wakes up at 4:15am some days to workout with me at November Project, then goes to school all day and rocks her classes, and then finishes her day with several hours of soccer. These days she doesn’t see home again until 9pm. I do not know another 15yo that would tolerate such a schedule, yet Marleigh does it all with genuine love and a smile on her face.
Tell us why you think Marleigh is an #unstoppable force?
Marleigh is 100% the most badass chick I know. She is #unstoppable in all areas of her life from school to workouts to soccer to being a daughter. She can lead a crowd yet can also console a friend for hours on the phone. I know my girl will do amazing things in this life!
What three words would you use to describe Marleigh?
Fierce, Loving, Wise
What’s one thing that Marleigh does that drives you crazy!!
The girl can not tell a story to save her life. Also the amount of empty water bottles in her room… Wait, that was two. Sorry, you know I love you MB!
Has knowing your mom fought cancer impacted you in any way?
Yes it has. Knowing how strong she is that she was able to battle cancer while raising a toddler is amazing. She really is the person I look up to most because of how she took a situation like that and transformed her life in a healthier and more active way. We have a very high risk of breast cancer in our family and knowing that my mom got through it gives me courage that if I ever have to face something like that, I will have her by my side.
What do you think of all the crazy running your mom does?
I think she’s crazy. Seriously. But it’s crazy in a good way. Before running she wasn’t really super passionate about anything in particular. Since she’s been introduced to running, it’s allowed her to push herself towards new and challenging goals, make new friends through many running and exercise groups, and look like a badass on every social media page out there.
What's your sport of choice?
I personally am in love with soccer. I have been playing since I was in kindergarten and now I am a starter on my high school’s varsity team and I also play for a U19 travel soccer team.
Do you think you've taught your mom anything?
I feel that I have taught my mom that as a kid you can be open to so many things now and can interact with people of all ages and have no problem with it. I know it’s all thanks to her, but I feel since she’s introduced me to the running and exercise community I have been able to prove how active and involved a person my age can be in that sort of environment.
What #unstoppable goals do you have for the future?
I hope to continue to run. I also strive to grow more in the game of soccer and continue to play and enjoy the game. I also want to keep my grades up and be able to become a physical therapist or trainer sometime in my future. In the meantime I will keep waking up early and head over to November Project where I spend time with the most inspiring people I know.
What's so special about your relationship with your mom?
I think the fact that we are able to be best friends is really cool. I know her relationship with her mom wasn’t the best and that she is trying to be my friend as much as possible. I know I can tell her anything and the fact that we can still joke around and laugh like friends is amazing.
It's obvious from social media, that your mom is SUPER proud of you. In what ways does she make you proud?
I am so so proud of her all the time. I know she works super hard all day at work and on top of that leads a free fitness movement, is a wife, and mother to me. She manages to do all of that and still have time to be a badass ultra runner. She is one of the toughest people I know and watching accomplish running one hundred miles was absolutely amazing! I love watching how she grows in the running community and within her sport of running and I am so proud of her.
What three words would you use to describe your mom?
I would have to say that the three words to describe my mom is “she knows everything”. My mom really does know everything and she always will. She will always know what I am doing and if I am doing anything I’m not supposed to. She also knows how I’m feeling and always finds a way to get it out of me if something is bothering me. I know she’ll always be there to tell me “I told you so” and I am ok with that. It shows that she cares and I love her for that!
What's one thing that your mom does that drives you crazy!!
One thing she does that drives me crazy is the fact that she knows how frustrated I can get when it comes to school and soccer and tries to get me to stop complaining about whatever the problem is. I know she’s right and always knows what’s running through my mind, but I feel like I should be able to feel pissed sometimes and work out the situation myself. She’s just trying to calm me down and prove a point that everything will be ok and it’s not the end of the world. I know she does this out of love and tries to teach me something but in the moment I don’t want to listen. It’s ok though because I always see things from her point of view on the end.