Since 2011, over 80 women have participated in Team Phoenix; it is a goal-directed fitness program, with two squads, based in Milwaukee and the Racine/Kenosha area. It is open to cancer patients and survivors within the Aurora Health Care system. Training for a triathlon lies at the core of Team Phoenix, and training for this event encourages participants to adopt a healthy lifestyle to not only improve their prognoses but also their quality of life.
Rebecca is a 2015 Team Phoenix athlete. She takes us on an inspiring journey that involved multiple surgeries, feelings of insecurities, and she explains how Team Phoenix finally taught her three important words: “Yes I can.”
Q: Tell us about your cancer journey.
A: My breast cancer journey started over 30 years ago when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 19 when she passed away at age 43, four years later. Her passing, as well as my Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, helped prepare me for my diagnosis in 2011. I was ready for the news, and I felt a sense of relief rather than fear.
Not only was my cancer detected early, but my lymph nodes were also clear and I did not need chemo or radiation. My surgeries were very doable and the recovery was swift and remarkably tolerable. By July of 2012, I was finished with treatment.
Q: Did you ever think you’d be training for a triathlon?
A: ABSOLUTELY NOT. I cannot state this strongly enough! In fact, I frequently joke that the only fit thing about me is the Honda FIT that I drive (except it’s not really a joke).
More significantly, I have struggled with chronic and often acute fatigue and generalized pain since childhood. This frequently turns day-to-day tasks into difficult challenges of their own.
And yet, here I am actively participating in triathlon training and keeping up with the schedule. With the support of Team Phoenix, I am about to enter an Iron Girl triathlon in a few days.
Q: Why did you do it? What inspired you?
A: In the exact moment I was asked to participate, many feelings rose up all at once.
I thought of how rarely, if ever, I’ve willingly put myself into a situation that is comprehensively challenging and so far beyond my comfort zone.
I considered how my cancer treatment process was relatively easy, compared to how much others go through. In fact, I still have a sense that I have somehow “gotten away with something.” I realized that at the very least, taking on this challenge might start to alleviate that feeling.
I found myself saying “Yes.” This experience has been the most surprising, out of character, and unbelievable thing that I have done thus far in my life.
Q: How has this program strengthened you?
A: With the guidance and encouragement from our incredible coaches and volunteers and the expertise of Aurora physicians and therapists, I find myself changing a lifelong history of “I can’t” into a very definite “I can”. Along with my amazing, inspiring fellow athletes (soon to be triathletes!), I am discovering new ways to take my fears and anxieties and turn them into fuel for progress toward better physical, and emotional, health.
Being a member of Team Phoenix has affected me more profoundly than I imagined could be possible. Our team cheer resonates within us all: We are STRONG. We are PROUD. We are ALIVE. We are REDEFINED! WE ARE TEAM PHOENIX!
Q: Anything else you want to share?
A: I had anticipated this diagnosis from the time that I was fifteen years old. Throughout all those years, I had not expected to triumph over breast cancer. The symbolic meaning of the Phoenix is as personal as it is powerful.
Rebecca will be competing in the Iron Girl Pleasant Prairie on Sunday, August 9. To make a gift to support these inspiring Team Phoenix athletes, https://give.aurora.org/teamphoenix