Thanks to generous donors like Ann Barrett, Team Phoenix is a program helping to push breast cancer survivors out of their comfort zone and into a life after cancer they never thought possible. But the program doesn’t start without a fight. And Ann isn’t just a donor, she’s a fighter too. She recalls her own battle very well.
The date was November 1, 2007. It was 1 a.m., following a late night of playing indoor soccer on Halloween. 31-year-old Ann Barrett was finally getting ready to call it a night when she felt something. It was a lump on her breast. Ann says it was tender, a bit painful, and she found it strange because she didn’t remember getting hit in the chest.
A few weeks later, Ann heard the words “you have cancer”. She had her first surgery on November 27 and then chemotherapy treatments for four months, followed by radiation. The worst part, Ann says, was the chemotherapy which left her feeling exhausted and nauseous. For an incredibly active and social 31-year-old woman to be sidelined in this way, it was rough. “I’d start to feel better and think ‘Oh God, I have to do this again in two weeks?!’ And your immune system is down, so you become a hermit crab. The days I started to feel good I didn’t even enjoy anymore,” Ann says.
In 2008, Ann finished treatment and was considered “cancer free”. But she didn’t really learn how to live LIFE AFTER CANCER, until 2011. That’s when she heard about an Aurora breast cancer surgeon, Dr. Judy Tjoe, who started a program for survivors. The group focused on training breast cancer survivors to compete in triathlons, and since Ann had always been athletic, she gave it a try, “I had friends doing triathlons and I was scared of the open water swim. So, I thought this would help me with that. That was my intent. But that’s not what I got.”
What Ann got was a support group that goes way beyond breast cancer. It was a group of women learning, and teaching each other how to take their lives back after the disease. They voted on the name “Team Phoenix” because as Ann says, “It truly is a transformation”. She completed the 12 weeks of training and her first triathlon, but continues to volunteer and train with Team Phoenix as a graduate. And she didn’t stop with triathlons either– Ann just finished the Wisconsin Ironman competition in September.
But in addition to the physical transformation, Team Phoenix has helped Ann with a whole new outlook on life. She made a “bucket list” that involves going skydiving, zip lining in Costa Rica, an African safari and a trip to the Galapagos Islands. She’s already crossed off most of those and says “It helped me put life in perspective. I’m going to be healthy now, which decreases my risk of recurrence, and now I have a group of people who went through the same thing. Getting cancer is a horrible thing, but I truly love my life post cancer.”
Now, Ann gives back, as a volunteer and a donor to the Team Phoenix program. Team Phoenix also allows Dr. Tjoe to continue her research efforts on the effects of peer-supported athletic training in breast cancer survivors. You can help give more survivors the chance to make a “bucket list” by supporting Team Phoenix. Visit give.aurora.org/pinkpossible and select Team Phoenix when making your gift.