Kimberley Boulton is on a mission: to qualify for the Boston Marathon and to kick cancer’s butt. In March of 2015, Kimberely was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Kimberley’s fight against cancer has transformed her perspective in running in life: believe you can and you will, and for all of life's challenges: "Head Up, Wings Out".
Running has always been my stress release. It's been there for me through times of loss, times of happiness and times of pain. It's been there for me when no one else was. Everyone who knows me knows how important running is to me. I'm at my happiest when I'm running. I feel free. I feel a sense of pure joy.
I joined the team in September 2014 and I have never been more proud to be part of such an amazing team and an amazing group of women. I swear that Oiselle singlet has magical powers. The first time I raced in it last fall, I PR'd in the half marathon. The second time I raced in it, I PR'd another half! That singlet gave me the courage to get back to training for full marathons after a four year hiatus from them due to ongoing knee injuries. I felt like 2015 was going to be my year. I'd finally get that BQ I'd been wanting so desperately for so long.
To look at me, you'd never know I'm a cancer patient. I don't look sick and I don't act sick. But in March of this year while in the midst of training for that BQ, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. It came as a bit of a shock as I'm in my early thirties and have no family history of breast cancer. I'm a personal trainer and an extremely active individual so it didn't make sense. But you can be the healthiest person in the world and still get cancer. It was just a case of bad luck as my oncologist said.
The day I found out I shed a couple tears, and then I went home and drank a bottle of wine and shopped my feelings away (on new Oiselle gear of course). I decided that night that it would serve me no good to be miserable and depressed. There was no point in feeling sorry for myself. It wasn't going to change anything. And I know the power of the mind and positive thinking. I could directly relate it to marathon running. I've had numerous races that I've gone into already defeated. I didn't think I was going to do well because this reason or that reason. And guess what? I was right, I didn't perform well. Because I didn't believe I would. On the other side of that, I've gone into races saying "This is my day! I'm going to PR today!". And you guessed it, I did. I knew I had to approach cancer treatment the same way. "Head up, wings out" became my mantra.
One of the first questions I asked my oncologist when I first met him was "Will I still be able to run through treatment?"....even when faced with a stage 3 cancer diagnosis, running was still at the forefront of my mind. I couldn't imagine going through something like this and not being able to run. He gave me the all clear to continue running but scale it back and be mindful of how I'm feeling. So the BQ would have to be sidelined for now.
I was very fortunate enough to get on a clinical trial with new drug treatments that are less harsh than standard chemotherapy. I get to keep all my hair and I don't have the compromised immune system that comes along with standard chemo. I do still get tired easy and feel pretty yucky the first few days after treatment. And a handful of other fun side effects like low back pain, blurred vision, highly sensitive stomach, severely dry skin. But I know it could be a lot worse. I can't run as far or as fast as I used to, but I can still run. And that in itself is a gift. A gift that I refuse to waste.
I continued running through my chemo treatments through the spring and summer leading up to my mastectomy at the end of August. I was initially a little upset with the idea of a mastectomy since I was hoping for a lumpectomy instead. In Canada, it is not standard of care to have an immediate reconstruction. Only those who aren't undergoing radiation are able to get an immediate reconstruction. You'll be hard pressed to find a plastic surgeon here who will operate before a year post radiation. Since I have to undergo radiation therapy, I won't be able to have my breast reconstructed until at least a year after its complete. But I'm fortunate to live in a country with free healthcare. I don't have to pay for my cancer treatment or reconstruction. So even though it was a little scary for me, I would rather lose my breast than my life. I had to believe it will all work out. I decided to give my breast the best goodbye I could think of. So a week before my surgery I headed into the mountains and hiked up to the top and had some topless photos taken. And then with the go ahead from my oncologist and my surgeon, I raced a 5k the day before my surgery to a third place AG finish. The biggest question I had going into surgery? "How soon can I get back running?"
The official word from my surgeon at my follow up was that along with my breast, all the cancer was gone. I'm left with a 9 inch scar wrapped around my chest as a reminder. But I was right back running a couple weeks after. And I've gotten really good at stuffing my bra. Where was that skill when I was 14?!
My cancer journey is far from over. I still have 10 more rounds of chemo to go and am in the midst of 20 rounds of daily radiation, but I will continue to run through it with a smile on my face. I should be finished treatment by April 2016 and the first thing I'm going to do once I'm done treatment is chase down that BQ. I'll even delay my reconstruction if it interferes with Boston. That's how important it is to me.
So many people along the way (some health care professionals included) have questioned how I can be so happy and positive throughout this whole process. They tell me it just hasn't sunken in yet, or that the breakdown is coming. I tell them they can keep waiting for me to break down but it's never going to happen. If there's anything being a marathon runner has taught me, it's mental toughness. Cancer may have slowed me down but it hasn't knocked me out. Life is full of things that you never see coming. It's all in how you choose to react to it. You can either give in to it and let it consume you, or you can choose to rise above it. To be happy and live life to the fullest in spite of it. Choose to let it empower you and drive you. It's not the size of the girl in the fight that matters, it's the size of the fight in the girl. And I've got a lot of fucking fight in me!
So the next time you find yourself going through a tough time and you feel like giving up, just remember: head up, wings out.
Tweet me at @Fitnessgirl82!