Wednesday, September 6, 2017

I am a Mountain Bike Lifer

I am a Mountain Bike Lifer.

Photo: Michael Darter

I started mountain biking in college.  That was the mid-90s.

At the time, mountain biking was a "newish" sport and I needed a replacement sport for Horseback Riding.  Surprisingly, mountain biking was the less expensive of the two.  Flowing through trees and being alone in the forest were just two of the things that made mountain biking appealing to me.  It was also immediately therapeutic.

Now, 20+ years later, I can honestly say that mountain biking has changed my life.  Mountain biking is special and it has always been there for me during tough times.

The past few months have been no exception.  My husband and I are in the midst of making some big life decisions, but all that seemed trivial when the results from my "routine" July MRI showed a suspicious new mass in my left breast.  This is my "other" breast.  The one that has never had cancer.  If you know radiologist lingo it was subjectively deemed a BI-RADS 4a-just suspicious enough to warrant a biopsy.

Me and my husband at the races this summer.  Photo: Michael Darter

So I went in for an Ultrasound guided biopsy.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the ultrasound didn't detect the mass so I was then scheduled for a MRI-guided biopsy.  Two weeks later I returned for this procedure.  The oncologist, who came in special for this my appointment, sat me down and told me he had reviewed the previous MRI and was concerned that there was a high risk of rupturing my implant during the procedure (I have a small implant to help with symmetry).  We discussed the options.  I decided to not risk the rupture on that day and made the decision to schedule a mastectomy.  It is tentatively scheduled October 2nd and will be confirmed after consultation with the breast and plastic surgeon later this month.

While this may seem like an impulsive decision, it really wasn't.  I have been thinking about getting a prophylactic mastectomy for a long time.  I just don't like down time so I was putting it off.  This mass just made it a little less prophylactic and a little more urgent.  I am at complete 100% peace with this decision.

Now, back to being a Mountain Bike Lifer.  I continued to ride and race my bike this summer, and while I was often distracted, felt fatigued due to mental stress, and even considered pulling the plug on the race season many times, I can't imagine what a basketcase I would have been without mountain biking.  Once again, mountain biking was my savior.

This past weekend I raced the Park City Point 2 Point, a 75-mile, 12,000+ feet of climbing, 99% singletrack race course that is basically in my back yard.  I have raced the pcp2p three times.  I know how hard it is both physically and mentally, and honestly, I wasn't sure until a few days before the race if I had the mental strength to finish it this year.  Finally, the Thursday before the race, I committed.  Saturday morning the alarm went off at 4:30 AM in time for me to eat breakfast and get to the race start by 7AM.  I then spent the next 8.5+ hours racing my bike as hard as I could.  While I didn't score too many PRs, I rode my personal best ON THIS DAY and that was good enough to finish 10th place Pro Women in a solid field.  For 8.5 hours my mind was completely in the moment.  I didn't think about the mass or the upcoming surgery, I focused on one pedal stroke at a time, eating, drinking, some suffering, and even occasionally taking in the views.  If nothing else, the pcp2p reminded me just how incredibly strong I am!

Park City Point to Point 2017 Photo: Angie Harker

Point to Point finish smiles Photo: Angie Harker

I now have 4 weeks of off-season before the rest of my Fall/Winter is spent recovering from surgeries.  I will happily take all positive vibes that this is a benign mass, or better yet nothing at all! As for the next 4 weeks, I plan to make the most of it!  #mountainbikelifer


  1. Jen, I have been following your blog since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2016. You were the only person I could find who not only was an athlete with breast cancer, but also continued being an athlete during treatment and after. Your posts about nutrition and training during treatment helped me to follow suit and your ongoing cycling career makes me smile each time I read about it. I will be thinking of you in the coming weeks and months and praying that this surgery not only returns completely benign pathology, but is also the end of your breast cancer scares.

    1. Thank you Syringa! My gut is telling me that this is nothing, but I will be relieved to not have to deal with the stress of MRIs every year. Wishing you the best and I hope you're getting after life!

  2. Jen, been following you since 2012 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed to hear about an athlete who went through cancer and was still competitive post cancer. You made me believe I could return to ironman competition stronger than I was before cancer and I did. I wish you fast healing in this surgery and a quick return to cycling!

    1. Yeah!!!! I love hearing this! and Thank you!

  3. Hello Jen Hanks. Today is October the 2nd, and I happened to learn about you (MTB rider) this afternoon, whilst reading up on MTB training on Bicycling via a post on you by Selene Yaeger. Strange that it's the day that you are supposedly going for you op. I then read some of your blog posts, checked out some of your images. I totally love the energy and attitude you exude, so much! (which is why I continued pouring through stuff). I totally enjoyed the article on Josie's Bike Life, and it made an impact due to your comment of wanting to ride the Cape Epic. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa and immediately thought, how wonderful!!! So lady, right now I wish you all the best and may this op of yours be nothing major at all. May you heal quickly and be back on your bike in no time at all. And here's hoping you can get out to South Africa real soon, to live that dream of yours. Come on!

    PS. I got into mountain biking by 'accident" and fell in love - a lot of the reasons are echoed in your own words - the freedom, the feeling of strength, the challenge and more.

    1. Gena, This means so much to me! Yes. Cape Epic is on my list! Maybe 2019???

      Mountain biking is magical and I'm glad you found it!