Living with cancer

Two women live the experience together and now offer fitness classes for those battling cancer

  • Sep. 23, 2015 1:00 p.m.

Tara Fooks and Gayle MacDonald have become friends

Last November, they were diagnosed within a week of each other!  And those diagnoses sparked a painful, often frightening, lifetime journey that has created an amazing bond and incredible resolve.

Tara Fookes was told she had lobular cancer; which meant the slow growing mass was spread through the lymph system, making it less obvious to detection. Gayle MacDonald had ductal cancer, a much more aggressive lump form that rapidly increased in size.

One was told that the hardening was a symptom of menopause. The other felt a small difference but dismissed it. Both were absorbed into the system rapidly and told that they would have to give up the next year of their life to fight the disease. They both went into a protective shell during which the sense of shame caused them to wonder what they had done wrong. The shock led them to research, learn and question. Just acquaintances before, this common experience has galvanized them into a bonded pair that share history and purpose.

They learned about the factors that encourage the cancer to flourish. Gayle explains that a ‘triple negative’ diagnosis is when the body chemicals, estrogen, progesterone and human epidural growth factor are not responsible for the growth. This occurs in about 10 to 20 per cent of breast cancers. Tara’s mass was estrogen fueled so the protocol worked to reduce estrogen levels significantly.

One had chemotherapy then surgery then radiation. The other had hormone therapy then surgery, chemo and radiation. One had the lump and two lymph nodes removed while the other had 10 cancerous nodes identified leading to a mastectomy.

They supported each other mentally, physically and emotionally. They went to treatment sessions together and discussed doctors – having experienced both comfy and prickly ones.  While bald, their glowing faces showed no shame. Now, their hair is growing back and they are ready to forge ahead.

Mammograms did not assist with early detection for either woman but a digital machine could have! Tara learned that we all need to be hyper aware of any changes and if concerned, keep pursuing a clear diagnosis. She also counsels people to not rely on information from the Internet because it can be misleading. Everyone’s situation is unique! Gayle learned that carrying a cell phone in her bra might have been the cause of her lump. Since her cancer was not chemically driven, there had to be another trigger.  Studies have shown that more women in their 20’s are now dealing with breast lumps and that all of them carried their cell phone in the area where the lump emerged.

A digital machine has a 30 per cent increase in likelihood of detection and though that number sounds small, it is huge when it means detection can come earlier and more definitively. The acquisition of this machine has long been the focus of the Quesnel Women’s Fall Challenge (QWFC) and we now know that it will happen within two years.

So, what is next for this bonded, forceful team? They may never know why they contracted the disease but they are firm in their knowledge that they were strong, fit, healthy and ready to fight. They credit their fitness when talking about rapid recovery time and less need for anti-nausea drugs. Being natural motivators, they now see opportunity arising from adversity. They have taken cancer specific exercise courses, they have their own personal stories and they have their love of helping others to become the best possible to spur them to reach out.  Starting on Tuesday, Sept 15, their new program called Living with Cancer, welcomes anyone, with any kind of cancer, to their twice weekly sessions.  Costing just the Recreation Centre user fee, participants will be encouraged to discuss, share, plan and start being more active,

The tone of any session will be driven by the participant as the ladies provide opportunities and encouragement. When feeling able to be more active, there will be a series of stations available. If just needing to feel part of an accepting group, participants will find empathetic ears. Since all cancer journeys are unique, the ladies acknowledge that there might be a need for the inclusion of participant supporters.

This gathering is a work in progress, a new entity on the fitness continuum. Without even having their first session, Tara and Gayle have been asked to create a similar class in both Prince George and Williams Lake.

And this is not their limit!  Tara believes that some things are meant to happen and that perhaps these ladies were meant to experience disaster first hand in order to better provide fitness motivation!  Stay tuned.

This energetic pair will explore future prospects for making living with cancer less daunting.  And, to support the acquisition of a digital machine, please join the QWFC on Oct. 4 for a morning jaunt/run/walk/wheel along Dragon Lake.

For details visit

– submitted by

LizAnn Eyford

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