Exercise powers nurse's breast cancer recovery
Posted June 6, 2015
Updated June 8, 2015
Rebecca Wilson has seen a lot in her role as a critical care nurse. So when she discovered a small lump on her breast last year, she wasn’t too concerned. She was young, healthy, had no family history and was just days away from participating in the Komen Triangle Race for the Cure.
“I knew I had a lump,” Wilson said. “I remember walking through the Komen race, through the vendors, and I thought there was no way that I had breast cancer.”
Three days after the race, Wilson went in for her mammogram. Then she got the news that nobody wants to hear: her results were positive.
“You kind of go out of your mind, really panicked,” Wilson said. “I thought that I’m not ready to die. I’m too young for this. I didn’t know what to do.”
Wilson’s family immediately drove 16 hours overnight from Canada to Raleigh. Everybody pitched in, but Rebecca struggled, thinking often of her two young children. Eventually, Rebecca told her friends and co-workers.
“My heart just broke when I found out,” said friend and co-worker Pam Pluff. “I knew I had to help make it easier for Becky. It’s such a difficult thing to go through. You’ve got the chemo and your whole family life that you’re trying to keep together. I was available and just wanted to do what I could to help out.”
Pluff and others helped Wilson’s support network grow. Wilson leaned on her family and friends, she put together a recovery plan and she became determined that cancer would not take her down. “Early in my diagnosis, I looked at my kids and I decided that I wasn’t going to be a sick mom,” Wilson said. “I was going to carry on, act normal and be there for them. We used my hair falling out as a cue that things would be a little different, but that I wasn’t going to be sick mom. And I wasn’t.”
Wilson’s positive attitude fueled her desire to fight cancer by staying fit. She knew it helped, she had the research to prove it, and she got a lot of encouragement from her sister who Wilson describes as a fitness guru.
“It was really counter-intuitive to do exercise,” Wilson said. “But by doing it – after days of doing chemo and days when you can’t lift a glass or get off the couch – it was the only thing that made me feel better.”
“She kept saying I’ll give you a key to my house, just get me off the couch, make sure I just don’t sit there,” Pluff said. “So that was one of the things I decided to do. I was going to walk with her, run with her, whatever she needed me to do.”
Despite a double mastectomy, six rounds of chemo, reconstructive surgery and radiation treatments, Rebecca never stopped exercising. “It’s something that I have to make myself do,” Wilson said, “but after I’m done, I feel so good. It takes your mind to a place where you are active, you are fighting your illness and you are preventing it from coming back.”
Rebecca’s exercise routine and her fight against cancer has blossomed into a huge group effort. She formed a team for the Komen race called “Treasured Chests” that currently has close to 40 team members and has raised over $2,500 for Susan G. Komen.
“Komen is such a big entity that supports breast cancer research and survivors,” Wilson said. “It’s a place where you can go and not feel alone. Nobody is safe from it, but hopefully one day, we will be. Hopefully through the efforts of Susan G. Komen we can find a cure. And I’m going to be a part of it, and everybody who supports our team is going to be a part of it.”
It has been a long road for Becky since last year’s Komen race. She has faced challenges she never imagined. And now that she is cancer-free, she has a single goal: to finish the race without stopping.
“Now, it’s full circle for me," she said. "It’s going to be emotional when I run the race and complete the 5k. I’ve been talking about this for a year."