By Vicki McGrath, PJCC Fitness & Wellness Manager
As the PJCC’s leading proponent for the Pink Ribbon Program, the Center’s breast cancer exercise protocol, the irony didn’t escape Vicki McGrath when she herself was diagnosed with the very disease that she was helping women fight. Throughout treatment, Vicki displayed a vigor and attitude that amazed even her doctors: she cycled to chemo and radiation appointments and continued outdoor activities such as rock climbing, hiking, and golfing. “I was strong and healthy prior to my diagnosis,” says Vicki, a certified breast cancer exercise specialist. “I’m grateful I was able to draw on this reserve during treatment.”
Learn all about Vicki’s story below.
Ten years ago, my career path had taken me from personal trainer up the corporate ladder into management of a large for-profit health club, but I felt unfulfilled. I knew that I deeply wanted to return to wellness.
The seed for change was planted six years ago when a good friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through a double mastectomy. As an athlete, she discovered a lack of exercise resources available for post-operative breast cancer; just general recommendation and guidelines, but nothing specific to her needs. This void for post-operative breast cancer exercises was the start of what would become my future career. I became trained as a Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist and ACMS Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer, and when I joined the PJCC I introduced and implemented a post-operative breast cancer exercise program called The Pink Ribbon Program.
I was well aware of the roller coaster of stages involved with breast cancer from the diagnosis, surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation; I just wasn’t ready to jump on the ride when I was diagnosed in December of 2015.
It all began when I switched my annual mammogram from a standard to 3D mammography at Mills-Peninsula. I’d been working with Mills-Peninsula (as co-sponsors of the PJCC’s annual Pink Ribbon fundraiser) and was very familiar with the excellent care and Breast Health Services at their Women’s Center. The medical director, Dr. Harriet Borofsky was viewing my mammography when she saw a suspicious area; the area was stage 2a Invasive Lobular Carcinoma – a less common, ghost-like tumor type.
Some people would say that this was my start of the much overused expression, “journey,” but I’ve always thought of a journey as something fun requiring a passport, sunglasses, and sightseeing. Instead, I referred to this as my “jaunt”… a six month jaunt encompassing two surgeries, four rounds of chemotherapy, and six weeks of daily radiation.
During this “jaunt” my level of activity was considered to be extreme, but to me it was normal. Just three days after my second surgery I was riding my bike and three weeks after that I was back to indoor rock climbing. During my six months of treatment, I continued to amaze my doctors by biking to my chemo and radiation appointments. Weekends were spent skiing, snowshoeing, golfing, backpacking, and hiking. Oh yes, and boogie boarding.
I have no doubt that my ability to remain active during my “jaunt” was buoyed by my health and strength prior to my diagnosis. While we can think of all the good reasons to exercise, being diagnosed with cancer doesn’t typically come to mind. But it does drive home the importance of cultivating good health on a daily basis through nutrition and exercise. Because if your journey should ever turn into a jaunt, you may need to draw on that strength to work hard and play harder.