On Aug.15, 950 women will meet in South Portland to swim a third of a mile, bike 15 miles, and run 3 miles to fight cancer.
By participating in the third annual Tri for a Cure, they will raise money to search for a cure, fund support services, and heighten awareness about the disease so that other women can learn how to protect themselves with early detection.
And each woman participating in this year’s race has a story to tell about how cancer has affected her life. Many are survivors themselves, or have had the painful experience of watching a loved one battle the disease. But when these women line up to begin the race, they, not cancer, are writing their stories about the disease – inspiring stories about fighting back and supporting other women. Here are five such stories.
“I get inspired by those around me”
Kathie Marquis-Girard of North Yarmouth has lost her grandmother, mother and two sisters to breast cancer. She and her sister Anne are 26-year survivors.
Incredibly, however, the disease has taken an even larger toll than she first realized. After researching her recent family history, Marquis-Girard discovered 20 cases of cancer going back to her grandparents.
“Breast cancer is pretty near and dear to our family. My sister Pat died at age 26 in 1980, and my sister Michele died in 1984, the same year Anne and I were diagnosed,” said Marquis-Girard. “That was not a good year.”
Wanting to find out why cancer had hit her family so hard, Marquis-Girard participated in the national study that identified a harmful mutation of BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) that greatly increases a women’s risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer. She and some other members of her family are carriers.
When they discovered the gene, Marquis-Girard’s daughter, Michele – named after her sister -– had been born, strengthening her desire to raise awareness and be an advocate for finding a cure.
“I have a very personal reason for finding a cure for this,” said Marquis-Girard. “We’ve identified the gene so we should be able to manipulate or eradicate the gene.”
In 2004, Marquis-Girard and her sister celebrated 20 years as survivors by competing in the Danskin triathlon in Webster, Mass. Michele, now 17, joined Marquis-Girard for the first Tri For a Cure in 2008 and will be cheering for mother from the sidelines this year.
“I’m a little nervous about the swimming, but you get caught up on race day with the event, the camaraderie, and the adrenaline, so you reach down and say, let’s get over the fear,” said Marquis-Girard. “It pales in comparison to the challenges that some of the women are having around me. I get inspired by those around me, and I also want my daughter to see other survivors and other women come together for a common cause.”
“Nothing in life worthwhile is ever easy”
This will be the third year Sharon Leddy-Smart of South Portland participates in Tri For a Cure, and each time she has entered the race with a different perspective: supporter, patient, and now survivor.
“The first year I did it as an athlete, and I was just absolutely moved by all of it,” said Leddy-Smart.
She signed up to participate again in 2009, but two weeks before the Aug. 9 race day, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She still completed the race and not long after, on Aug. 28, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy. At the race, friends wore T-shirts with a photo of Sharon and her team from the previous year that read: “For Sharon, next year, a survivor.”
Leddy-Smart, who works as a lifestyle coordinator at The Cedars senior living center in Portland and is a part-time aerobics?instructor, said she was inspired to carry on with the race by her five children, who range from age 14 to 5-year-old twins. She wanted them to know the bumps in the road that happen in your life don’t define who you are.
“When I was diagnosed I told my children, we are going to live our lives the same way,” said Leddy-Smart. “I wanted them to know I was living with cancer, not dying from cancer.”
Following a grueling year of treatment, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, she will be in the race this year as a survivor, joining a team of caregivers and survivors from Mercy Hospital.
“I’m very proud, very proud, to be among the many strong women who are survivors,” said Leddy-Smart, who underwent reconstructive surgery July 15 and has been given the OK from her doctors to participate.
“You live your life with the cards you’ve been dealt with, and you make the best of it,” she added. “Nothing in life worthwhile is ever easy, but it is extremely rewarding.”
“It is a win-win situation”
Lindsay Ball has been visually impaired since birth, and, like many Tri for a Cure participants, she is mostly concerned about the swimming leg of the race.
Ball, who graduated from Lawrence High School in Fairfield in June, will enter Middlebury College this fall with a plan to major in pre-med and minor in psychology with the aim of possibly being a psychiatrist. In high school she ran both cross-country and indoor and outdoor track. She is also an avid skier, traveling out west to compete in Adaptive NorAm Races.
She had also wanted to do a triathlon and so “jumped on the opportunity” after her friend Danielle Hiltz asked if she would like to join her in the race. While running, each will hold on to the end of a small rope to keep close together. For the bike ride, the two will ride Ball’s tandem bike. They are still working out a strategy for swimming.
“Right now we are trying to figure out the best way to do it,” Ball said. “We will either somehow connect ourselves together so we swim side by side. The other option is to have Danielle follow me in the water and give me verbal directions.”
Since she and Hiltz do not live very close together, they’ve only been able to get together for a couple times for training. However, Ball said, those times have gone well. “We are starting to figure each other out as far as running and biking style goes,” she said. “We still have some work to do with the swim.”
For Ball, competing in the race is not just an opportunity to complete a triathlon, but also a way to raise money for a great cause, the Maine Cancer Foundation.
“I saw a family friend suffer with cancer for a few years before losing the battle. I had never seen anyone suffer or go through cancer before,” Ball said. “Doing the Tri not only helps me but it helps individuals with cancer. It is a win-win situation.”
“What better way to celebrate being healthy”
After Eva Matteson joined Coast 93.1 as a morning radio host in 2005, she decided for that year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, she would have her mammogram tape-recorded and replayed on air to show that the procedure isn’t painful.
Matteson took the station’s mini-disk recorder to her appointment, taped the technician explaining the mammogram procedure, kept the tape rolling as she “got the squish,” and had the technician explain how the films would be reviewed. The procedure turned out to be more than just a service to her listeners.
“Well, I got a call to come back for more imaging, then needed a biopsy, and then got that dreaded call from my beloved radiologist, Dr. Liz (Pietras),” said Matteson, who lives in Portland.
Three weeks later she had a lumpectomy and shortly after began six weeks of daily radiation.
When that mammogram led to a breast cancer diagnosis, however, she chose to keep her story on the air. Each step in Matteson’s treatment was broadcast on the radio show with her doctors explaining the procedures to her listeners.
“I received many calls and e-mails from women who has shared similar experiences, or were not really happy with a diagnosis and my story prompted them to get another opinion,” said Matteson. “We replay those calls each year during October, and every year I get a ton of e-mails from people just hearing it for the first time and are touched by my story.”
This year is Matteson’s first time competing in Tri for a Cure, though she has acted as an emcee and general cheerleader for the first two years. She admits being “a little scared and very excited,” about completing the race since a packed schedule of hosting the morning show host and teaching pilates leaves little time for training. But she has found inspiration by participating in the event’s organized clinics and being around other motivated women who will join her in the race.
“I am thrilled to be celebrating five years cancer free this October,” said Matteson, who will also be celebrating a milestone birthday. “What better way to celebrate turning 50 and being healthy than the Tri For A Cure?”
“Collectively we are one voice”
For Stacy Forcier, participating in Tri for a Cure is as much a stage of her recovery from breast cancer as the treatments and surgeries she has undergone since her diagnosis last October, three months after her 37th birthday. And in the race, just as during her recovery process, her mother, Pat Aceto, will be there to support her.
“She has been with me from the moment I was diagnosed and through every stage of my treatment and recovery so it was a natural fit for her to be by my side for this event as well,” said Forcier, who lives in Lyman.
Forcier said their participation is proof that with training, anyone can do the Tri for a Cure.
“Training for this event is really outside our comfort zone,” said Forcier. “I have never done a triathlon, and up until the Tri for a Cure Twilight 5K in June, I had never participated in any sort of organized (sporting) event.”
So far, Forcier said that training has been going well, though her surgeries prevented her from beginning at the same time as her mother, who started training for the Tri in January.
“I think we keep each other on task and moving forward,” said Forcier.
Beyond the physical challenge it presents, Forcier is excited to participate in an event that brings together women for a common cause – raising money for the Maine Cancer Foundation.
“We are all there for individual reasons, representing our own stories or the stories of loved ones, but collectively we are one voice,” said Forcier. “One voice asking that all women and men listen to their bodies, take time to increase your awareness, educate yourself around prevention, and ultimately that we all work together to ensure that we find a cure.”