Vail Valley books: Triathlete beats cancer in "Chemosabee" | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley books: Triathlete beats cancer in "Chemosabee"

Stephen Bedford
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado “-As a competitive triathlete Glenwood Springs’ Nancy Reinisch ” who will be in the Vail Valley Wednesday ” has endured countless grueling challenges. But none compared to her bout with invasive breast cancer.

Using many of her training methods, a positive outlook and a dose of humor, Reinisch beat cancer, making a full return to busy late of competitions.

Reinisch has channeled her inspiring physical and mental approach to combating cancer into her memoir ‘Chemosabee,’ a nickname her husband bestowed upon during a particularly difficult stretch. Reinisch will discuss her ultimate test of endurance Wednesday at 6 p.m. as part of the Community Cancer Coalition’s and Bookworm’s seasonal book club discussion.

VD: How important was it for you, mentally and physically, to maintain your active lifestyle throughout the diagnosis and treatment?

NR: I was an athlete before cancer and I was committed to trying to maintain some sense of mental and physical fitness throughout my cancer. I truly believe that exercise is the body’s natural anti-depressant. And I knew if ever there was a time I needed a “natural anti-depressent” it was during cancer treatment.

I committed to walking to my treatments as much as possible. And to maintaining some level of fitness via walking, swimming, or biking through out my chemotherapy ” not to the extent before cancer but enought to “maintain” a psychological and physical sense of well being.

VD: What was your initial reaction to the diagnosis as it related to triathlon training, as well as the other aspects of life?

NR: I thought it was a low blow to get a cancer diagnosis just prior to my triathlon training season. I generally take off the winter to recover from summer training, and I look forward to the spring and summer to get my body back in shape for the racing season.

When I was diagnosed in April of 2006 I thought “if only this could have been in the winter instead of the spring I would be able to handle this better.” I felt quite sorry for myself. But, as it turned out, it was a blessing to have the diagnosis and treatments during my triathlon season.

I was able to coach the Roaring Fork women’s triathlon team throughout the summer of treatments. It was the coaching and the support of the women I coached that got me through that difficult summer. My team became the carrot to keep me going each week.

VD: I have enjoyed reading the various letters throughout the book and think they add another dimension to not just your story but battling back in general. How comforting was it to read those letters posts from CaringBridge?

NR: I think some of the best parts of “Chemosabee” are the guestbook letters. Each letter that I included in the book has a significant meaning to me. Either it made me laugh; inspired me, or gave me courage to continue on with my treatments.

Some of my best days came from reading a letter from a friend or family that encouraged me to keep going. They made me feel loved and worthwhile and worth fighting for my life. And some of my friends and family should be writers themselves.

VD: In your son’s foreword, he seems to compare the treatment process to training, which makes me ask did having a triathlon training background help in treatment and recovery by setting goals, pushing limits, etc.?

NR: Yes. My son, Chas, compared my journey through treatment to training for a triathlon. The metaphor has remained with me throughout my recovery. As an athlete I am used to setting goals, managing injuries, using my team and celebrating finish lines. I used the same concepts to get through my cancer. I simply changed them from triathlon training tools to cancer survival skills.

VD: How important was maintaining a sense of humor throughout the process? There’s a fair amount of humor throughout the book, particularly the ‘Hans and Franz’ anecdote, so I’m guessing it played a part.

NR: Humor was a big part of getting through my cancer. I consider myself a triatha-light. I don’t take my sport too seriously. I do it for fun and fitness and comaraderie. It’s what’s kept me in the game for over two decades.

Keeping it light was the same theme I used for getting through my cancer. If I took the whole thing too seriously I doubt I could have made it through my 16 rounds of chemotherapy, five surgeries and a BRCA 2 diagnosis. So, whenever possible, I used humor to keep it light.

My favorite entry in the book is the “1953 Reinisch Breast Recall” where I compare getting my double mastectomy and reconstruction to a car “recall.” In “Stay at Home Cancerwife” I use humor to complain that I am indeed turning into my mother.

And of course, the title of the book, “Chemosabee” came from a day when I was whining about going back to chemotherapy. My husband took out our kids’ boxing gloves and implored me to “go another round”. We spent the afternoon taking “Chemosabee” photographs and the name stuck and it became the cover photo on the book.

VD: Are you back to full-scale training and are you currently involved with any awareness programs?

NR: I began full time training last summer and will continue with my swimming, biking and running. I recently came in second place in the Moab 5 Miler ” the race I won two weeks before being diagnosed with cancer in 2006. It seems like a bit of a mile stone to me that “I am back.”

I will continue to coach the Roaring Fork women’s triathlon team for my 10th year and we have almost 60 signed up for our summer training program. I am the founder and facilitator of the Valley View Hospital Cancer Coffee Walk and Talk Group that meets every Thursday. We walk outside, we get lattes at the coffe shop and then talk.

It is a successful group because the cancer survivors know the importance of exercise so we help each other keep healthy by walking and talking.