Sunday, January 30, 2011

Searching for inspiration

2011 was going to be a great year. Work, family, and training were pretty well balanced after a tough couple of years. I felt fantastic. I was strong, lean, and overall felt great on the bike this early in the season. My race schedule was coming together and included some epic events such as Whisky 50, Pierre’s Hole 100, Park City Point to Point, and BC Bike Race. On January 25th everything changed. I was diagnosed with Invasive Mammary carcinoma. I was a 35-year-old athlete in phenomenal shape preparing for a season packed with 50-100 mile races and beyond. Suddenly I was looking at a very uncertain future.

This journey actually started January 12 when I found a small ‘nodule’ in my right breast. Being incredibly proactive and constantly concerned about my health, I visited my Primary Care Physician the next day and I was able to get to Huntsman Cancer Institute one day later for a mammagram and ultrasound. The mammagram came back negative meaning they didn’t see anything. Because I am so young and my breast tissue is still dense, the mammagram is an unreliable diagnostic tool. My ultrasound showed a fairly small 10mmx12mm nodule with fairly symmetrical sides and no shadowing. Plus, only 5% of all breast cancers occur in women under 40 years old. Statistics and nodule characteristics were on my side and I was told that it was most likely a benign (non-cancerous) fibroadenoma.

It was recommended that I get a biopsy for a definitive diagnosis. Unfortunately, there were no openings for this procedure for a whole week. Waiting an entire week seemed unfathomable, however I really had no choice. In the meantime, my husband and I traveled to Southern Utah for a weekend of mountain biking. I was emotionally tired on the car ride down, however as soon as I got on the bike I felt fantastic. I remember telling my husband ‘there is no way I have cancer, I feel too good’. Feeling relieved that I felt so good, we rode three consecutive days and put in almost 9 hours on the dirt.

The following week dragged on as I waited for my biopsy appointment. The procedure took approximately 20 minutes. I was told to not lift anything over 5 pounds for 24 hours and to take it easy on the physical activity. The next day, I felt good enough to put in another two hours on the bike and completed my largest 4-day training block of the year strongly. I figured I didn’t want to be behind on my training when the biopsy came back negative.

Four days later I got the news that I had breast cancer. I was/am shocked and scared. Immediately my husband got on the phone setting up appointments with surgical oncologists.

I have immersed myself into researching this disease. This is what I know so far. My tumor is fairly small; just slightly larger than 10mm. Perhaps the size of a pea? Interestingly, breast tumors grow at a rate of 1mm/year. They can usually be seen on mammogram when 5mm in size and can be palpated at 10mm. Fortunately, I found mine pretty early, however it is scary to think that it has probably been growing for 10 years! The tumor is being classified as Invasive carcinoma with ductal and lobular features. This falls into the category of most common type of breast cancer. The invasive part means that the cancer has spread from the original site (either the milk ducts or the lobules) into the nearby breast tissue and possibly into the lymph nodes and/or other parts of the body. Only 5% of initial breast cancers metastasize to other organs of the body. I won’t know if this is the case until after my surgery. My treatment plan will be dependent on a few diagnostic tests including genetic testing which is pending as well as if we find that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes and beyond.

My goal for this unexpected journey is to stay fit and strong and to return to competition stronger than ever. To stay true to myself, I traveled once again to Southern Utah with a few great friends this weekend. I admit that this weekend has not been easy. I am emotionally exhausted, have been sleeping poorly, and did not feel fantastic on the bike. I am thankful for such great people who rode with me and helped divert my attention.

For me the hardest part has been telling people. Because I feel so ‘normal’ I can almost pretend that this is not happening. Once I tell people it becomes real.

I have been extremely frustrated by this whole process. It took over a week to get in for the biopsy and another week to see the surgical oncologist. I am a very pro-active and goal-oriented person. I need to know where I stand and the course of action. This waiting around to see specialists is literally driving me crazy.

I am strong, but scared. I am scared that I won’t be the athlete I was before. I am scared that I won’t have the ability to become the athlete that I dreamed of being. I am even scared for my life. With such an uncertain future what is hitting me hardest is that I won’t be racing my bike in 2011.

I am looking for inspiration.


  1. Jen you are incredible! If there is anything you need..... Anything! please let us know. We are probably not your inspiration, but you are definetly ours!

  2. Oh Jen. I can't imagine how you're feeling right now. Kevin and I will pray, fast and pray some more for you and Shannon. You have so much strength and courage to share this incredibly personal and scary journey. We will stand by you and offer any support we possibly can. Our hearts and prayers are with you and Kevin is already in the works for spreading the gift of hope and support to come your way.

  3. Jen, you are amazing and even though we haven't been able to hang out or race together in awhile I think about you often and wish you the best. This news is horrible but if there's anyone that can beat that damn disease it is you. We are praying for you, cheering for you, and are here if you need us. Hang in there, girl! Love ya, Brit and the gillespie crew

  4. Jen, our prayers and thoughts are with you and Shannon. I know that I don't know you that well, but I've always admired your quiet confidence and strength. Thank you for your courage to open yourself up to the rest of us and allowing us to share this journey with you. Know that you are no alone and you are loved. The Free's

  5. Glad you caught it early--as crappy as this is, you're fortunate to have the Huntsman Cancer Institute so close. Wishing you all the best for a successful treatment and speedy recovery.

  6. I dont know you but I know the Days. Found the link through them. My heart and prayers go out to you and your family. Best wishes.

  7. Jen, I'm inspired by your courage. Thanks! Can I share this with my FB friends? Some of them need to get checked and I think your story could totally save lives.

    -Melissa (your cousin)

  8. Jen, We're all thinking of you here in Iowa, we will continue to follow your story and pray.
    -Sue Hess & family

  9. Oh Jen, I'm so sorry. Know that many people are sending love and support your way. And thanks to you, those people will be doing their self-exams. Thank you for sharing your story. Again, love and support.

  10. Melissa, Please share. Love, Jen.

  11. Hi Jen! You are an incredible woman and I admire you. Most people would freak out and immediately jump into the worst scenarios. It’s also good that you have such a strong support system behind you. This is going to be a long journey for you, but it’s great that you were able to discover it at an early stage. I wish you all the best on your battle.

    Alfred Park