Over the course of the next couple of months, I’m going to feature some movers that inspire me. People who move their bodies regularly for many different reasons. People who have stories to tell. I have the absolute honor to introduce you to Rachel.
Rachel & I went to the gym around the same time together for awhile. I was always inspired by her tenacity, consistency, and drive. She also had a lot of heart. Her heart and humor would shine through in her support of others and in the way she looked at her husband Seth.
Rachel also has a big job – and her company moved her to California. The whole gym really felt the loss of Rachel and her husband. But her story took a turn after their move.
Here is Rachel’s story, in her own words:
I found out about CrossFit from my husband Seth. We were training for a half marathon and about 2 weeks before the race he declared that we needed to do something after the half marathon and he thought that it should be CrossFit. So we went in and did a workout with Tony (he kept assuring us that it was a “hard” workout, but, of course it wasn’t). Seth loved it and signed up immediately. I had some knee and hip issues I needed to deal with so I didn’t sign up. I ended up having hip surgery about six months later. Then in January 2015, TWCF had a free week and Seth convinced me to try it again. I think I went nearly every day that week and then I was hooked.
I have LOVED sports my entire life. I played basketball and softball through college. I was going to be a sportswriter. I am also probably competitive to an unhealthy extent. I think I once told Seth to “die mother&^er” when we were playing a friendly game of cards. So, I liked that CF had a competitive element. I also loved Olympic lifting, which I had never tried before. But mostly, I just couldn’t believe how much fun I had every day. My fellow CFers were interesting and fun and I loved getting to hang out with them.
The funny thing was that I didn’t feel sick at all. I PR’d my clean. I finally did a real pull-up right around that time.
I felt a lump when I was drying off after a shower. I convinced myself it was nothing. A few weeks later, I could feel my lymph nodes under my arm and I figured that there might be a problem. But I was really in denial. I just didn’t think it could be cancer—which was dumb because my Mom had breast cancer.
From the time I saw my primary care physician, to getting a mammogram and ultrasound, to a biopsy, to finally then getting the diagnosis was one of the worst times in my life. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want to worry anyone in case it was nothing but I was falling apart. I couldn’t sleep. I had panic attacks. It wasn’t really surprising when the doctor told me that it was cancer but I just remember feeling numb. They try to tell you important stuff and tell you about a bunch of appointments and it was like I couldn’t keep anything in my head. I finally had to ask them to write it down.
Staying active made me feel a little normal in a time when nothing felt normal. It made me feel strong and I really needed to feel strong. I got all this advice that I shouldn’t workout and should only be walking from support groups on-line and some doctors. But all my oncologist said was “don’t start any new rigorous exercise program or diet or anything” and I thought, well, I’m not actually starting a new one so this is fine. So I would walk when I didn’t feel good and I would do as much crossfit as I could when I felt up to it. The owner of the gym offered to refund my monthly fee when I found out I had cancer and I remember Seth telling him, “You don’t know Rachel.”
Studies have shown that staying active during chemo makes it more effective. It was also great to have a community that was just happy to see me every morning that I showed up. I felt a lot of love and support from the gym family. Seth used to joke with me that I inspired him because “he couldn’t let the cancer lady beat him.”
I finished cancer treatment in July. I did chemo first, mastectomy and then radiation. About a week ago, I had breast reconstruction. I had a latissimus dorsi flap procedure with implant. They take a muscle from your back and make a pocket for a boob. I also had an implant put in on my good side. It’s a pretty major surgery but this should be my last big surgery. The next one will just be to try to get the two sides to match. I was on the fence about having this surgery since it’s cosmetic and I really just wanted to be done with doctors but my doctors thought I was young enough that I wouldn’t want to go through life with one boob.
Next for me is healing from this surgery and moving forward with life. The cancer could come back at any time and that is absolutely terrifying so I try really hard to be positive and not focus on that. I had Stage 3a triple negative cancer which is fairly advanced (lymph node involvement) and triple negative is the most aggressive kind of breast cancer with the highest rate of recurrence. So, I’m staying positive, trying to get back to my old crossfit self and kick ass at work.
What have I learned?
I learned that CrossFit made me mentally tough. I know that probably sounds crazy but those daily WODs build confidence and tenacity. And I needed every bit of that to get through chemo because chemo sucks beyond words.
I learned that I am still very much the same person I always was. You always read about people who had brushes with death and now they know that is really important in life and they are going to sell all their possessions and bike through Europe. That’s not me. But it did make me realize that my life is pretty great.
I learned that people are, for the most part, amazing and giving. I cannot tell you how much love and support I got from everyone in my life.
I am still learning to let that shit go. And to not be too hard on myself and to be happy with me. I’m trying to do better at evaluating what is and is not worth my time.
Advice. I used to beat myself up if I was not absolutely perfect all the time. Now I try to remind myself that everyone has a bad day. So, that’s my advice. Everyone has a bad day. It’s not who you are every other day.