Strong, fit, healthy and ready to fight

Laughter, staying fit and the support of friends and family sustained them

Tara Fooks and Gayle MacDonald were loud and proud of their cancer journey and wore their baldness as a badge of honour

Both in the business of fitness, Tara Fooks and Gayle MacDonald felt a sense of shame and despair when they were both diagnosed within a week of each other with breast cancer.

“What had we done wrong,” they both questioned.

Tara was diagnosed with lobular cancer, a slow-growing mass spread through the lymph system, making detection more difficult whereas Gayle had ductal cancer, a much more aggressive lump form that rapidly increased in size.

Acquaintances before cancer, they were soon galvanized into a dynamic duo, a friendship that has grown from their shared experience and shared philosophy “strong body, strong mind.”

Tara spoke of her first consultation where she was told to give up the next year of her life and told all the negatives she was likely to encounter.

“They lay out the whole next year of your life and you realize not only do you have all the control of your life ripped away but its all negative,” she said.

Gayle mirrored that report.

The shock of this revelation led both to launch into intense research where they learned as much as they could about their cancer and questioned the experts.

They learned about the factors that encourage the cancer, Gayle explained what a triple negative diagnosis is.

“The body chemicals estrogen, progesterone and human epidural growth factor are not responsible for the growth [many women have triple positives which is the opposite],” she said.

Tara’s cancer was fuelled by estrogen.

This led to different treatment protocol. Each encountered the trifector of cancer treatment – chemotherapy, radiation and surgery – at different times in their journey, each providing insight and support to the other depending on who was experiencing what at which time.

They supported each other mentally, physically and emotionally. They were even able to jig their chemotherapy treatments to coincide with each other.

“We were determined to stay strong and positive through the experience,” Tara said.

“We continued to work out every day. Sometimes modified but it was as much for our mental state as physical state. Each time I dragged myself to my equipment, I’d remind myself of my strength, especially when I felt challenged.”

They both laughed as they described their chemo treatments as a party.

“We laughed, played games, had snacks and just had fun,” Gayle said.

Each had a humorous story of when they lost their hair. Tara and Gayle wore their baldness with pride, not a shred of shame touched them.

They both told of all they had learned through this difficult process including you can’t take everything you learn on the Internet as true, however it led to questions and that led to answers.

One of the top coping skills they both advocate is to look for support from friends, family and cancer survivors. Tara and Gayle are always willing to share their story.

“It’s a journey worth sharing,” Gayle said.

They also believe in keeping your body strong.

“Cancer patients need to start exercising if they don’t already, just baby steps,” Tara said.

“And if unsure, consult with a fitness trainer. It’s important for cancer patients to face the reality and their role in recovery.”

They are both now considered cancer-free and back to full strength in their individual fitness level but each said they won’t ever forget what they’ve been through.

They both credit their fitness when talking about their rapid recovery time and less need for medications for the side effects of the disease.

“Everyone has their own journey and cancer affects everyone differently, but it’s so important to make the best of a bad situation,” Tara said.

When Gayle finished her radiation treatments, they both laughed as they remembered the celebratory pancake breakfast they shared afterwards.

“Even though I am cancer-free, there’s always the big cancer monkey on my back,” Tara said.

“But it will never get me down.”

They may never know why they contracted the disease but they are firm in their knowledge they were strong, fit, healthy and ready to fight.

Relay for Life is a celebration of people like Tara and Gayle who are currently living cancer-free, support for those currently fighting the disease and a memorial for those who lost their battle with cancer.

This year, Relay is on Friday, May 27, 5 – 11 p.m. in Baker Creek Park. Form a team by registering online Volunteer, drop by and encourage those participating or join in the fun. Just call Deb Burton 250-255-8225 and she’ll help with any questions you might have. Stop by the Baker Creek Park and join in the fun activities. Everyone is welcome.

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