Teri Griege, Survivor/Patient
St. Louis, Missouri
Everyone has dreams about what they want to be when they grow up. My dream was to one day compete in the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. After running in the Chicago and Boston marathons, I became interested in triathlons. In 2008, I finished IRONMAN Louisville just minutes shy of qualifying for my dream: the World Championship. The following year, I again competed in Louisville, but this time I finished 10 minutes slower. I had been noticing a little blood in my stool and was becoming increasingly quick to fatigue, but it wasn’t until I finished that race with a worse time than the year before that I knew something was seriously wrong.
I went to see my doctor two weeks later, and he ordered a colonoscopy and a CT scan. A few days later, on Sep. 17, 2009, at the age of 48, I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, and it had already spread to my liver. I was shocked by the news, but I quickly found a team of wonderful health care professionals, including a colorectal surgeon, a liver surgeon, a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist. Within five days of my diagnosis, all four doctors had spoken to each other multiple times and had created my treatment plan.
I first had a short course of radiation to shrink the tumor, followed by five rounds of FOLFOX chemotherapy and a surgery that consisted of both a colon and liver resection. I then had seven more rounds of FOLFOX before starting a maintenance chemotherapy regimen that I will probably continue for the rest of my life: one week on, one week off of bevacizumab (Avastin) and capecitabine (Xeloda).
Despite the side effects (some of which I continue to experience), including neuropathy, sensitivity to cold, a weakened immune system, weight loss, anemia, low energy, mouth sores, bruising and an occasional bloody nose, I never stopped training. From the day I was diagnosed (aside from a short break after surgery), I continued to swim, bike and run on a daily basis. I used my training as an outlet and a way to believe that I would be OK. Along the way I set both small and large goals, from 5Ks to IRONMAN events. And against all odds, on October 8, 2011, at the age of 50, I crossed the finish line of the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona. Even with stage IV colon cancer, I had found a way to make my dream come true.
Since then, I’ve continued to train and compete in athletic events and even ran in the New York Marathon only three weeks after the World Championship in Kona. However, I remain in treatment undergoing chemotherapy, and the doctors continue to keep me, especially my lungs and liver, under close medical observation. In Sep. 2013, I had bilateral metastasis to my lungs and they were resected. And, then in May 2015, three metastatic lesions were discovered on my liver and I had cryoblation, which was successful. But neither of these could stop me from running in the Half IRONMAN World Championship and competing in in the remaining three other World Major Marathons.
Of all the cancers, “colorectal cancer” may be the most uncomfortable to talk about, but I have now made it my mission. Normal screening doesn’t begin until age 50, but I was 48 when I was diagnosed. I believe that in sharing my story, lives can be saved. My sisters, for example, who were 61 and 62 at the time, had never had a colonoscopy. Two weeks after I was diagnosed, they both made appointments. Tragically, to our surprise, one had precancerous polyps and the other had Stage III colon cancer. They are both doing well, and we now work together to spread awareness about this disease whenever and wherever possible.
Colorectal cancer gave me an opportunity to reframe my life, and it taught me a lot about myself. I’m now making each day count, and although I’m not as physically strong as I used to be, I plan to participate in running and triathlon events as long as I can. In addition to my maintenance chemotherapy, I have scans every three to six months, and my health care team is currently monitoring some spots on my lungs. However, no matter what comes my way, I will maintain an attitude of gratitude. When powered by hope, anything is possible.
The advice always give is:
1. You are never to young or to old to follow your dream
2. You can not do it alone, build your Army
3. Never ever give up