From Cancer Patient to Ironman Triathlete
Bev Gehrke, pictured left, shares her moving and inspiring story of how surviving stage 3-4 ovarian cancer led her to compete in the Ironman Triathlon.
June 13, 1989 is etched in my mind as a date that will always signify my life challenge, something most people cannot comprehend. A certain date only becomes important to a person when it's either a tragedy or possibly viewed as a gift from God. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be free of June 13, 1989, because it connects me always to my life's nemesis or to my life's greatest accomplishments.
June 13, 1989 I was 26-years-old, newly married and looking forward to a long life with my husband and hopefully having a family. Instead I woke up from surgery with a full hysterectomy and stage 3-4 ovarian cancer.
I had extensive cancer throughout my entire abdomen. Doctors told me I was terminal and I had six months to two years to live. I quickly discovered that to maximize the effectiveness of medical treatment, I would have to muster my resources within and to fight for my life.
During my recovery of multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, I had the opportunity to not have to work and to be able to recover, heal and to reflect on how I wanted to spend my final days or years of life.
I kept thinking if I live – where do I want to be five years from now? I always wanted to go back to school, but I was always afraid of failing. What is there to be afraid of? I already had faced the fear of death. I began to take classes and started to build my self confidence. I then joined a health club. I started to feel strong mentally and physically.
In the past 20 years I have had a recurrence of cancer five times. That means five surgeries and two rounds of chemotherapy. Also in the past 20 years, I finished school at the UW Radiology Tech School and then went on to the UW Ultrasongraphy School.
Last day of chemotherapy
In 2006 I was again told my cancer was back in my lymph nodes. I decided to undergo surgery and chemotherapy again.
After my surgery I knew I had to keep on going. When I got home from the hospital in March 2006 I couldn't even walk one block. Each day I would go a little further. In May I started chemotherapy. My joints hurt so badly, but I would get up and start walking.
I became stronger and stronger. When I would feel good I would run/walk for six miles (with my bald head) and sometimes even go for a 20-mile bike ride. Exercise made me feel in control of my body and helped so much mentally. I felt alive!
In September, I finished my chemotherapy and started training for the 2007 Ironman race.
Crossing the Ironman finish line
I wasn't sure if I would be able to do it so I just took it one day at a time. By the summer of 2007 I was in training full force. Sure there were days wondering what the heck I got myself into but I kept on going.
What am I afraid of? The 2.4 mile swim, the 112 mile bike ride, the 26 mile run or all of the above? I could quit anytime I wanted to but I knew in my heart I was not a quitter.
September 9th, 2007 with a time of 14:50 I crossed the Madison Ironman finish line. It was one of the most incredible and positive experiences I have ever accomplished besides beating this relentless disease. I feel in my heart that positive thinking and especially exercise has increased my chances of surviving.
Never quit, keep on going no matter how tired you are. You will never regret it.
Life is fantastic.