Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and going strong

Calling a breast cancer survivor an inspiration is not something I do lightly. I think the term is awarded to many of us for just trying to stay alive. There is nothing inspiring about throwing up or living with a mouth full of blisters. But occasionally I do run into someone who is truly inspiring. Last weekend I met Kim Stewart, an occupational therapist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Kim was one of 13 breast cancer survivors from Aurora Health Care who came together to form Team Phoenix to complete the Danskin Triathlon on Sunday. The group as a whole was amazing. The oldest participant was 67, and, when she finally crossed the finish line, it was with the whole of Team Phoenix there to walk her in. Of the 13 Kim stood out because for the past seven years she has fought metastatic breast cancer in her bones and liver, beating them back with multiple rounds of chemo and unflagging determination. When she was diagnosed in 2004 at age 35 with stage 4 disease she had only 8 weeks earlier given birth to her second child. Her first was 16 months old. She told her oncologist that she didn't want to be coddled; she wanted someone who would fight with her. After chemo, a double mastectomy and the removal of her ovaries, she went back to work, adding another round of chemo when liver tumors showed up in 2010. Today she is on Tamoxifen. "People need to understand it's a chronic disease," Kim says, clearly getting on with her life. When her surgeon asked her to join a group of women training for the triathlon, Kim signed up. For 12 weeks she trained twice a week with the group and then alone to build her swimming, biking and running skills. In the process Kim says, she regained control of her body. "I was making it do what I wanted it to instead of what it wanted to." Other side effects of physical training have been sleeping better and less stress. Physical therapist Leslie Waltke, the coordinator of cancer rehabilitation for Aurora Health and one of the coaches for Team Phoenix, remembers one of the first group meetings when each of the women talked about why she wanted to do the triathlon. What Kim said has stayed with her, Leslie says."I want to show my kids what they are made of," Kim said. And she did. It was an emotional moment when Kim's husband Don place the medal around her neck at the finish line with her children Mackenzie, 8, and Colin, 7, nearby. After the tears, Kim's reaction was to start talking about next year.