New beginnings after surviving cancer

Melissa with her daughter, Mia.

Melissa with her daughter, Mia.

Melissa was diagnosed in November 2008 with breast cancer. What followed was a mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, one year of clinical trial infusions and a hysterectomy. “I had lots of mobility issues. My body was altered. It wasn’t the body that I was born with. I’m so lucky to be alive but the reality is that things were different,” said Melissa.

“I knew about Team Phoenix because a friend was a 2012 Team Phoenix athlete. Dr. Judy Tjoe also encouraged me to join Team Phoenix for the life-changing experience. This year, I was finally ready to change my life and I decided to begin the 14-week training program to complete a triathlon.”

Team Phoenix members trained with other breast cancer survivors to complete the Tri-ing for Children triathlon, composed of a quarter-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 3.1 mile run. Team Phoenix members worked with professional coaches and volunteers to physically and mentally prepare for a triathlon. Additionally, nutrition and core strength training were emphasized. Judy Tjoe, M.D., breast cancer surgeon and Leslie Waltke, PT, cancer rehab physical therapist tailor the program to each patient’s individual abilities and needs.

“It’s a thorough program, we received heart rate monitors and learned about what zones we needed to be in to get stronger and increase our cardiac strength. Everyone is so caring and knowledgeable. I’ve never been able to run. I can run a mile without stopping now. I’m afraid of lakes but the encouragement and support helped me and I can swim the triathlon distance now.”

“Everyone has been wonderful and caring, I couldn’t have done this without them. It’s been such a bonding experience. I have made lifelong friends.”

Melissa is now a triathlete!

Melissa is now a triathlete!

“I never thought that I would be training for a triathlon. Now, I can say that not only did I train for one, but I actually finished a triathlon. I’m even more excited to volunteer for the 2015 Team Phoenix and help the next group of women.”

“It’s more than a triathlon training program. It’s a complete life-style change that has not only improved my life, but my husband and children’s lives. We go running and biking together. We are able to do more family activities because I’m more active and it’s given us more of an opportunity to spend time together.”

Team Phoenix is possible thanks to volunteers and the support of generous donors to Aurora Health Care Foundation. “I appreciate everyone who donated and volunteered to help Team Phoenix. You are making a difference in the lives of women who never thought it was possible. You are giving us back something that was taken from us medically and surgically. Team Phoenix was truly a new beginning for me.”

The Team Phoenix survivorship program also allows Dr. Tjoe to continue her research efforts on the effects of prescribed, peer-supported exercise in breast cancer survivors. Her findings may encourage new survivors to improve their quality of life by participating in group exercise programs. Please consider making a donation at to support Team Phoenix.

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