“Cancer to 5K Gave Me a Reason to Get Back Out There and Exercise”
A Cancer to 5K Participant Interview with Mindy and Aundreana
Ulman’s Cancer to 5K provides a community of support for cancer survivors through a free 12-week training program. Survivor participants of all ages, treatment status, and physical ability run/walk alongside coaches & volunteer “sherpas” with the ultimate goal of completing a 5K goal race.
Fresh off a season of virtual training and a successful in-person goal race, we invited two survivor participants in South Carolina to share their stories with the Ulman community: Mindy, 41 from Summerville, and Aundreana, 32 from Spartanburg.
Ulman: Tell us a little about yourselves and your cancer journey.
Mindy: I was originally diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2005. I had a four month old and a four year old at the time. Of course, the first thing people told me was, ‘it’s the easiest cancer, don’t worry about it.’ I have since turned it into a 16 year journey because I’m an overachiever [Laughs]. I did surgery and radiation at that time, but by October of 2005, I had another tumor grow back in my thyroid bed, and had that removed. In 2007, my husband was getting ready to deploy. So we did all the scans, just to make sure I was good before he went halfway around the world. Those came back clear, so he left. Two weeks later, I found out that it had spread to my lymph nodes. While he was deployed I had 61 lymph nodes removed from my neck, and then did radiation all before he came home. I had a biopsy last April, of course, in the middle of a pandemic. It had atypical cells and some funky little things going on in it, but it’s still the same size a year later and my bloodwork is still stable. So that’s where we’re at now, we’re just kind of watching it.
Aundreana: I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer two weeks before my 28th birthday in 2017. Not having a family history of cancer, my diagnosis came as a shock to my family. We thought, how can a healthy vibrant 27 year old have cancer?! After several biopsies and tests, my family learned that I was living with the BRCA 1 gene mutation which increases my risks for both breast and ovarian cancers. Along with my amazing family who helped provide care for me, I endured six months of chemo and two months of radiation. Today, I’m proud to say I’ve been cancer free and in remission for four years.
Ulman: Did you have unique challenges as a young adult going through cancer?
Mindy: I think for me, because my kids were little, it was just trying to keep everything normal in the house. We named my tumors so that we didn’t have to say scary words like tumor and cancer. We called this newest one Waldo, because we couldn’t find it for a while.
Aundreana: Let’s just say, going through chemo, radiation and surgeries under the age of 30, made the dating game quite challenging. Having to juggle my work schedule with doctor appointments was already hard enough, but adding romantic dates to the game had its own challenges.
Ulman: What do you think you got out of Cancer to 5K?
Aundreana: Participating in Cancer to 5K gave me a reason to get back out there and exercise. After all of the medications and steroids from treatment, it was easy to sit around and not be as active as I once was pre-treatment. However, this program provided me with accountability buddies to ensure I was outside being active getting my run on.
Mindy: I don’t know how to explain it. Obviously I’ve been doing this for 16 years. I’m clearly a cancer patient, but like, I’ve never allowed myself to be that, if that makes sense. I think it was a really good mental health step for me to like, go be the cancer patient and be with other cancer survivors. Nobody treated anybody any different. I just felt so accepted. You know, it was my first year and a lot of people already knew each other. But I mean, everybody was so welcoming, and so great.
Ulman: What was it like training virtually?
Aundreana: Since the entire team was virtual this year and participated in weekly Zoom calls, I felt obligated to actually get my training miles in. Between our Zoom calls and the Strava group which logged all of the miles, there was no way I could log on and face everyone knowing I hadn’t actually completed my miles!
Mindy: If you would have told me at any point in my life that I would have finished a 5K I would have seriously laughed at you. And now my medal is literally hanging in the middle of my walkway to go into the sunroom. You hit your head on it if you go in there, so everybody knows that I finished. My son told me I had to do it again next year because I made him do all the at-home runs with me. Really, it was so that if I didn’t make it home, he would carry me. [Laughs]
Ulman: What advice do you have for someone who was just diagnosed?
Aundreana: My advice for someone just diagnosed would be to channel your inner Dory from Finding Nemo, and “just keep swimming.” No matter what life throws your way, it’s important to keep your head up and keep pushing towards your ultimate goal, whatever that may be.
Mindy: My biggest thing that I tell people is to allow yourself to be the cancer patient and to allow yourself to have bad days. It is okay to have a bad day. You know, that’s why you have a support system to hold you up on the days that you can’t. But it’s important, you know. Next day, let’s move, we got things to do!