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In Honor Of Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Member Highlight, Liz Ormiston

I started working with Liz Ormiston pretty much as soon as I started working at the Medical Fitness Center. She was one of my very first regular coaching clients. I still remember our initial consultation where right from the start she said, “I’m interested in fitness coaching, and I want you to be my coach.” From there on I knew I was working with someone highly motivated and goal-oriented. I also remember the day when she told me she had breast cancer. My heart sank and all I could do was give her a big hug and reassure her that she was strong and would get through this. I immediately started doing as much research as I could on breast cancer and physical training to make sure we were doing everything I could so she would have the best possible outcome. At the time we were preparing for a half-marathon, but we quickly shifted gears to work on upper body strength and hypertrophy. I knew after her surgery, her arm would be immobilized, so there would be a considerable amount of muscle atrophy in her upper body. The goal became gaining as much strength and muscle size as possible before surgery, knowing that she would lose some, but would still be in a better state than if we had continued focusing on the half-marathon. For breast cancer awareness month I invited Liz to tell her story and experience with breast cancer. I asked her some questions in bold and her responses are below in italics. Can you briefly share your breast cancer journey? When were you diagnosed, and how did you first discover the illness? In the early fall of 2020, I felt a questionable lump. When a friend posted about her own breast cancer journey, it triggered me to make an appointment. In November, it was confirmed I had breast cancer. What were some of the emotions you experienced upon receiving the diagnosis, and how did you cope with them? When I first heard that the mass could be cancerous (still unconfirmed but fairly certain), I was shocked and went through about 24 hours of sadness and tears. My husband and I decided to tell our girls (20 and 18 at the time) that day. After the first 24 hours, I went into “plan” mode. I decided to hit this with positivity and optimism. This began by reaching out to some friends who had gone through breast cancer before. Through those conversations, I decided to do my treatment at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Could you talk about the treatment options you pursued and how you made those decisions? There are way more variables that determine a doctor’s recommendation for treatment than I knew about. My oncologist referenced a couple of different research studies that informed our course of action. It was this research that indicated chemo would not provide me additional benefit, though it was an option if I wanted it. Due to the tumor size, I minimally needed a mastectomy. Many women choose to do a double in this case. Through many conversations and for some key reasons, I chose a single. The surgery was in January 2021. At that time, they removed and biopsied the lymph nodes. Two of the seven removed were positive which triggered the need for 5 weeks of radiation. I have been on anti-estrogen meds and will begin aromatase inhibitors this fall, for up to 10 years. Were there any challenges or obstacles you faced during your treatment? How did you overcome them? Well, I would say the biggest challenge was COVID. I was not able to have a single family member or friend at any of my appointments, ever. I lived in a hotel in Boston for five weeks and would walk five miles to and from my radiation treatments. Walking the empty streets was my daily routine. I went through a post-radiation complication (pneumonitis) that mimics pneumonia. This was as much of a mental as well as a physical setback. I had returned to Lake Placid and had restarted my training sessions with Erik. It took about 8-10 weeks to go through that. Support systems often play a crucial role during recovery. Who were your primary sources of support, and how did they help you through this journey? Locally, a couple of different groups of people (work colleagues and my book club) provided some very thoughtful gifts that helped on the healing journey. But the best thing that happened for support was my “Good Vibes” bracelet. A friend designed it for me with crystals that represented positivity and optimism. My friends, family, high school classmates, my kids’ friends, and colleagues all bought a bracelet. Before my surgery, the weeks after, and every day during my radiation, I would receive texts and see posts of people wearing the bracelet. It was incredibly uplifting and an easy way for people to support my journey. Breast cancer affects not only the individual but also their loved ones. How did your diagnosis impact your family and friends? I would like to think that my open approach to sharing this news helped in that it was a conversation. That, and hitting it with positivity and optimism. Many people find inspiration from survivors. Are there any specific role models or stories that motivated you during your battle with breast cancer? I have a friend who is a two-time breast cancer survivor. She lives life to its fullest. Her joy is contagious. Did you engage in any complementary therapies or lifestyle changes alongside medical treatments to enhance your well-being during this time? I leaned on massage and energy work including reiki. This was incredibly healing for me, both physically and mentally. I continue to do this to help with general well-being and to counter the residual effects of cancer. Breast cancer awareness is vital. What advice would you offer to individuals about the importance of regular screenings and early detection? Early detection is really important, especially for certain types of breast cancer. It can change your course of treatment. Had I remained on my regular cadence of about every 6 months (changed during COVID), it might not have spread to the nodes, and I might not have had radiation. Are there any misconceptions or stigmas about breast cancer that you would like to address and correct based on your own experience? Breast cancer is more common than I knew. 1 in 8 women are affected by it. Research has led this to be, in many cases, a treatable disease. I think one misconception is that because I didn’t need chemo, it was somehow easier. Someone reminded me recently – “cancer is still cancer” and what I thought was going to be an “event” has been a journey. After going through breast cancer, how has your perspective on life, health, and priorities changed? I think I am still working through this. I led a pretty healthy lifestyle before. One focus remains on my physical health. I have worked closely with Erik to push, adapt, and pull back as needed since prior to my surgery. I do try and prioritize self-care. Are there any initiatives, organizations, or resources that were particularly helpful to you during your breast cancer journey that you'd like to highlight? I really trust my doctors. It truly is a team and I am very grateful to have access to them. One of the concerns with breast cancer is the potential for recurrence. How do you manage this fear and continue to stay vigilant about your health? This is a balance. I try not to live in fear and think I do that pretty well. I think about the (way too many) women I know who have gone through this and the lives they lead. But when I have a question, I ask a doctor. Once I have an answer, I move on. Breast cancer journeys can vary widely. What message of hope or encouragement would you like to share with individuals who are currently battling breast cancer or who have recently been diagnosed? Through patient advocacy work I am involved in, I hear about lots of research. I am excited about some breakthroughs using Artificial Intelligence in screenings, especially for lobular cancer (which I had). Breas cancer advocacy is crucial in raising awareness and funding for research. Have you been involved in any advocacy efforts, and if so, could you tell us about them? I began volunteering as a patient advocate at Dana Farber. This is a group of women (many with deep science backgrounds) who support the research efforts of the doctors. I have a lot to learn but am eager to continue this work. How have you managed your physical health during treatment and beyond? Do you have any goals? I was working with Erik prior to this and was focused on attempting my third half marathon, with a goal of under two hours. It was really important to me to maintain activity, even if it meant changing my workouts. I still have another half on my radar but generally, I want to feel fit and strong. We want to thank Liz for sharing her story with us and our membership. Her mission and message is to help spread awareness and help others. Don't ever hesitate to advocate for your own health; if you have any concerns, don't wait, talk to your Primary Care physician and ask them to schedule a mammogram. Adirondack Health also offers Breast MRI services as well as a breast health navigator, Margaret Sorensen; her office is located in Saranac Lake Hospital behind the chapel. She guides Adirondack Health Patients through screening and diagnosis.

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