Breast Cancer Awareness
By Alison Anderson
“What kind of sports bra do you wear?”
In most of my circles, I’m THAT person. That ultrarunner. That triathlete. THAT crazy athlete. So I get a lot of questions, especially from women, about working out. This is the question I never have an answer for…
The sports bra question makes me laugh every single time.
“Ha ha. I wish I could help. I don’t wear one.”
There is a bit of backstory to address. My mother passed away at 39 after a long battle with breast cancer. Her mom passed away from breast cancer in her fifties. My aunt (my mother’s little sister) had breast cancer but, thanks to diligent screening and an early diagnosis, she’s a survivor.
I grew up very aware that this could be my fate. At 27, I decided to take action and make an appointment with a genetic counselor. I sat there and looked at what seemed like a million charts detailing my risk factors. There was a 50-60% chance I would be diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50 and nearly an 80% chance of being diagnosed in my lifetime.
A mammogram with a status of “unreadable” lead me to a surgeon’s office (this was before genetic testing was readily available). One mastectomy and 3 reconstructive surgeries later and I find myself with implants sewn into my pectoral muscles (an internal sports bra, of sorts) and no longer in need of a sports bra anymore.
“Why do you do all of this?”
This is the question that also gets asked. “Why ultrarunning?”, “Why triathlons?”, “Why do you do all this?”
The “why” is because I have been given a gift in spite of the tragedy and hardship of the loss of my mother. My mom had so many dreams and ambitions that she never was able to realize. She had a body that failed her and the misfortune of being diagnosed at a time when treatment options were far more limited than they are today. I have the gift of being given a second chance without having to have my body fail me first. I have a healthy body because of what I have learned from my mother’s experience. I have the ability to make demands of this body and test its capabilities, because I don’t have to live under the cloud of worrying that I will suffer the same fate.
Her death actually gave me freedom and life - a lesson I am learning years later. At 39, I’m now the same age she was when she died. I am achieving things that some people don’t even realize are possible.
I don’t know what my mother’s dreams were, but I know I now have the freedom to pursue my own. I’m an ultrarunner. I have finished two Ironman 70.3 races. I can ask my body to do big things. This is a gift.
October is Breast Cancer awareness month. The plethora of pink ribbon runs and special events can seem cheesy or maybe even a nuisance sometimes, but the reality is that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for American women. While mortality rates are steadily dropping because of proper screening and early diagnosis, too many women will still receive a diagnosis that changes their lives forever.
So maybe this year, when we schedule our mammograms and remember our monthly self checks, we can think of it as less of a chore, and as more of a gift? Early diagnosis and more advanced treatments can give the second chances that so many women before us never had. That seems like a pretty good gift to me.
For more information on breast self exams:
For information on how to find and schedule a mammogram: