Boobs, Sweat, Tears: How One Woman Continued to Thrive Through Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Photo Credit: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
I met Peggy Kennedy in the fall of 2015. I had just signed up for my first marathon, and she was my charity team’s coach. I’ve gotten to know Peggy well over the past five years, as we are both still members of the same marathon team and belong to a few of the same running clubs. Peggy has been a mentor, teammate, confidant, shoulder to cry on, and an all-around wonderful gal pal.
Peggy is also extremely inspiring. Over Memorial Day weekend 2017, on her third attempt within nine months, she qualified for the 2018 Boston Marathon. The oldest marathon in the U.S., “Boston” is the pinnacle of the sport for recreational runners. She achieved the elusive “BQ” (Boston qualifying time) at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon that winds from the mountains of Ojai to the sand and surf of Ventura, California, with a time of 3:40:39.
“I lived in Boston from 1991 to 2005, and had pipe dreams of running the Boston Marathon,” Peggy says. “Those went out the window when I realized during my first marathon in 2004 how hard it is to maintain the pace needed to qualify for 26.2 miles.” Although it’s possible to participate without qualifying (e.g., running for charity), Peggy only wanted to run Boston if she qualified.
It was 10 years before Peggy ran another marathon. Along with her husband, Will, she was now living in Los Angeles and an active volunteer with Angel City Pit Bulls, a dog rescue that became a Los Angeles Marathon charity partner in 2014 to raise funds. Over the next two years, she watched others qualify for Boston. By 2016, after her third L.A. Marathon, Peggy believed that Boston was within her reach and began training to qualify that summer.
In December 2017, shortly after she began training for Boston, Peggy was diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer at age 44. Specifically, she had non-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), cancer where abnormal cells have not spread outside the breast ducts. It is highly treatable, but if it’s left untreated or undetected, it can spread into surrounding breast tissue.
Staying busy helped a lot because it gave me other things to focus on. Keeping up my routine, such as going on runs with friends even when I could only walk, kept me positive because I was still out there.
“I was a bit shocked, as I thought all of the tests leading up to my diagnosis were just precautionary,” Peggy says. “I also had no family history of breast cancer.”
With the Boston Marathon about four months away, Peggy wanted to know if she could still run. “Every conversation I had with every doctor was how do we make it so that I can do Boston,” Peggy says. When she was advised not to delay surgery until after the marathon, she said, “Okay, so how do we push things along?"
Peggy’s doctors couldn’t give her an answer right away — they were waiting on her test results. If she needed a lumpectomy, she would also need radiation. That would take time and affect her training. If she needed a mastectomy, she would opt for reconstruction, which would require a second surgery later on, as well as nipple-sparing, which would extend her recovery. She was also waiting to find out if she had the BRCA gene, in which case she would need a double mastectomy.
It took until mid-January 2018 for all of Peggy’s test results to come in; they indicated she would need a single mastectomy. The next step was to schedule surgery. The waiting was difficult, but eventually, her surgery was set for Feb. 1, 2018. Ten weeks before Boston, it was still early enough to run her dream race.
Peggy trained right up until her surgery. She also didn’t take any time off of work. At the time, she had three jobs: walking dogs, doing grassroots marketing for a running store, and providing business management support for others in the pet care industry. She also kept up with all of her responsibilities for Angel City Pit Bulls: overseeing social media, coordinating recreation and enrichment activities for foster dogs, and fostering dogs herself. “Zola [the foster she had in early December 2017, when she had a biopsy] and I even had procedures on the same day!”
During her early recovery, Peggy wasn’t allowed to walk her dogs, Roo and Prince. Instead, she followed Will around their neighborhood as he walked them. “This is how I got my exercise,” she says.
A couple of weeks after surgery, Peggy received a temporary implant that would allow her to train and race until she could receive a regular implant in September 2018, after the marathon. “It felt like I was wearing a bra under my skin,” she says. “This is how I ran Boston.”
When asked what advice she would give to other women in her situation, Peggy says, “Staying busy helped a lot because it gave me other things to focus on. Keeping up my routine, such as going on runs with friends even when I could only walk, kept me positive because I was still out there.”
“I also found some great support groups online,” Peggy continues. “They were helpful when I had questions that I didn’t think could’ve been answered by doctors.” Although she went looking for support for herself, she also ended up sharing her experience. “I found being helpful to others therapeutic, which inspired me to create my blog, Boobs, Sweat, Tears.”
“You never know when something like a cancer diagnosis or other illness could pop up," Peggy says. "Keeping yourself fit and healthy is so important. While staying fit couldn’t prevent my cancer diagnosis, I truly believe my fitness played a huge role in speeding my recovery along and helping me keep a healthy and positive attitude.”
Peggy finished the Boston Marathon on April 16, 2018, in 4:06:49. Despite abominable weather conditions, she was ecstatic.
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