It seemed a cruel irony in May 2015 when Becky MacEachen found out she had cancer. Throughout her 20s, MacEachen had become progressively more health conscious. The 30-year-old from upstate New York became a vegetarian six years ago. Four years ago, when she moved to Maine and started running, she lost 60 pounds. Not only did MacEachen have cancer, she was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cervical cancer (small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma). MacEachen and her family combed the Internet and found the leading expert on this rare disease, an oncologist who practices in Houston. She moved to Houston for two months, where she had a full hysterectomy 20 days after her diagnosis, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. The cancer was confined to her cervix, and she has had four clean scans since she finished six rounds of chemotherapy this past January. Now, she is training for her first triathlon, the Tri for a Cure, on July 17. “My goal is to finish it,” she says. “I want to have a decent time to prove to myself that I can do it.” To reach her goal, MacEachen will call upon the personal resources she developed during cancer treatment. After all, training is nothing compared to chemo, which was three days a week, every 21 days, for six months. “It makes you feel like you drank a bottle of liquor and have a hangover that lasts a week. I lost my hair, my eyebrows, and I’ve had 60 IVs. But I worked full time the whole time” from home for Idexx in Westbrook.
MacEachen also will call upon a support group that helped see her through the toughest times. Her mother died before MacEachen moved to Maine, but her father, sisters, aunts, uncles and longtime friends have been tremendous supports. Her younger sister, Sarah, started a GoFundMe page to help with MacEachen’s medical bills. Her main support is Zach Lailer, her boyfriend of two years. He moved to Houston with her and took care of her after surgery. In reality, Lailer says, MacEachen steered her own ship to recovery, utilizing the qualities he was drawn to when he first met her and surrounding herself with people who were happy to provide support. “Becky is a go-getter, incredibly bright (and witty), and extremely down to earth. She loves animals, can cook amazing food and motivates people to be the best they can be,” he says, adding, “Becky, is incredibly resilient. From the get-go she was determined to do whatever it took to beat cancer.” MacEachen has been touched by the generosity of her supporters, in particular Julie Marchese, Tri for a Cure founder and one of the founders of SheJams, a group of women who train together throughout the year and hold special classes each spring to help participants get ready for it. Before she was diagnosed, MacEachen was training for the Dynamic Dirt Challenge, a 4-mile obstacle race held each June. When MacEachen had to drop out, Marchese told her she’d be happy to gift her a spot in the 2016 Tri for a Cure, as well as a place in the SheJams prep sessions.
In February, MacEachen got back in touch with Marchese to tell her she was ready. Since then, she has been attending “boot camps” at Dynamics Fitness in Portland, working with cardio and weights at her gym at Idexx, and going to SheJams sessions on Sunday nights. She bought a bike in May and did her first 15-mile ride that same weekend. MacEachen expects the toughest part of the Tri to be the swim. It is a one-third of a mile, about 24 laps in a pool, and she was only up to four laps in mid-May. “I wasn’t a competitive person before I moved to Maine,” she says. “It’s my life now. I work out every day.” She’s excited that she won’t be doing the Tri alone. She has asked a fellow survivor, Ali Giacose, who is 22 and lives outside of Boston, to race with her. The two have never met, but they text all the time and chat on the Facebook site devoted to survivors of their rare type of cancer. “It’s awful what we went through together, and she’s still going through it,” MacEachen says. “We are ‘cancer sisters.’ I’m happy she’s going to do it with me.”