Being physically active is part of Cari-Anne Higgins’ persona. It’s who she is. It’s what motivates her and also shapes some of her decisions, even important ones.
For instance, she had a recurrence of breast cancer two years ago and underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Many women would have opted for breast reconstruction surgery. She said no thanks.
“A lot of the surgery involved moving muscles around from my shoulders, my back, or my butt,” she says. “I use those muscles to swim, run, bicycle and kayak, those sorts of things. I couldn’t face losing some of that functionality. It wasn’t worth it to me.”
Cari-Anne, who lives in Dedham, between Bangor and Ellsworth, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, at the age of 31. Treatment was a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and five years of Tamoxifin.
Not one to slow down much – even during treatments she continued to be active – Cari-Anne decided four years ago she wanted to do a half marathon. To no avail, she tried to talk her friend Amy Orcutt into running with her. Amy was not interested, but looked for something that might suit them both. She discovered the Tri for a Cure.
“She knew it would hit home for me,” Cari-Anne says. “It was a cancer fundraiser and it was something active. It feels good to be active and to challenge myself. That’s what it was all about.”
Amy is the friend she turns to when she needs motivation.
“She is the kind of friend who is there for me no matter what,” says Cari-Anne. “We’ve been through a lot together. She is also the friend who will not let me whine or complain or use my diagnosis as an excuse. But I know If I need to be motivated or someone to say ‘Whatever, get over yourself, let’s go,’ she’s the one!”
The summer after her first Tri, Cari-Anne’s cancer returned, but she still signed on that year, along with Amy and six other friends. They called themselves Team CA. Training that winter wasn’t easy because she was on chemo.
“About February, I had trouble walking without breathing hard,” she says, “but thankfully, because I’d been in such good shape prior, it took a lot less of a toll. I trained when I could and I did the Tri two minutes faster than I had the previous year. I told my oncologist I’d found an outlet for all that anger I had about the cancer coming back.”
Around the time of her second diagnosis, Cari-Anne met a “really great guy.” Bill Farthing could have run the other way.
“I warned him what it was going to be like and that he didn’t have to stay. I said I wouldn’t blame him if he hightailed it and ran. He didn’t and we’ve been together ever since,” she says.
He will be there with her for this year’s Tri, along with most of Team CA. Laughing, Cari-Anne says, “He’s the team photographer, cheerleader, Sherpa. He’ll do anything except swim, bike and run.”
Cari-Ann Higgins is doing great now – no sign of cancer and in good shape. I predict that on July 21 she’ll shave off another couple of minutes.
Cari-Anne Higgins, second from left, who was undergoing chemotherapy, and her Team CA in the 2011 Tri for a Cure, from left, Lisa Ravin, 708; Higgins, 27; Amanda Swink, 725; Kristi Tripp, 475; Kim Thomas, 151; Amy Orcutt, 477; and Sandy Flacke, 269. Missing from photo is Liz Hall.