Women’s Only: Strong Like a CrossFitter Through Loss and Mastectomy

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by KRISTA HAAPALA

A Timeline:

March 2012: I found CrossFit.
May 2013:
I lost my mom to breast cancer.
July 2013:
I got my CrossFit Level 1 coaching certification.
December 2013:
I had a preventive double mastectomy.
December 2014:
I PRed my all-time back squat by 15 pounds.

All of these facts are inextricably connected. CrossFit made me stronger in every way.

The disruption to one’s body from a double mastectomy is daunting, but I was determined to do what needed to be done to overcome my family history of breast cancer AND be strong and healthy.

Women's Only: Strong Like a CrossFitter Through Loss and Mastectomy

Prepping for “Body 2.0″

I made it clear to my surgeons from the beginning that CrossFit would remain a part of my life after the surgery. This adventure of double mastectomy and autologous tissue reconstruction became what I called “Body 2.0” for short.

At the first visit, I pulled out my phone and showed them pictures of me lifting, doing toes-to-bar, and pushing the sled. I said, “See this? I will do this with Body 2.0. This is not optional.” To which they replied they would make no guarantees.

Like other CrossFitters, my CrossFit box is my sanctuary. Without the inspiration of my Beacon community in my life, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It is so much more than the workouts: the athletes, the energy, the encouragement, the sweat, the failures and triumphs were, as I mentioned to my surgeons, simply not optional.

So I went about my CrossFit life for the seven months leading up to surgery with an intensity I recognized I might never match: unleashing during competitions and crushing my nemesis, pull-ups. It is an incredible perspective that is borne out of the awareness of mortality that comes with the loss of your mother. And it is a deep gratitude that blossoms out of choosing a preventative double mastectomy to head off the breast cancer that took my matriarchal lineage as far back as I can remember.

While I was making the two-hour trips to Boston for the cascade of appointments necessary to the process, I found myself weighing the tradeoff. Clearly avoiding breast cancer was an undeniable priority. I promised Mom I would “be here for my boys.” In light of that I occupied my mind with how I would make CrossFit work for me during the year-long recovery.

A “Midnight WOD” to Remember

It seemed exactly right to be spending some of my last hours before surgery sweating and working hard under those big letters on the wall: “B E A C O N.”
As the 13-hour surgical odyssey approached, I recognized there was no way I could anticipate what to expect. My surgeons told me they expected my recovery year to go smoothly. They pointedly shared that my quality physical condition would only speed my recovery. It was then time to dive in.

The night before the surgery as we started counting down the hours, I felt surprisingly strong, yet completely unable to sleep. All I knew I needed was to have my Love at my side, preferably holding my hand. After the charade of heading to bed, he also became aware that sleep would not come for me that night. So with a smirk, he suggested that after midnight, on our way to Boston for 5:00 A.M., we go to the gym and do the Monday workout so supportively named “Krista” in honor of my surgery. Because supporting each other is simply what CrossFitters do.

We efficiently gathered our bags and took off for the gym. It seemed exactly right to be spending some of my last hours before surgery sweating and working hard under those big letters on the wall: “B E A C O N.” I plugged in my Body 2.0 playlist, turned it up, and warmed up. When I was ready, I took on the WOD and my Love recorded it for me. I knew when I returned to working toward full strength I would want to see how I was performing just before the surgery.
A "Midnight WOD" to Remember
Doing the workout was deeply emotional. Despite having to rally all my resources to get the work done, I was still distracted by the fact that it would be a long time before I got to let my guts hang out like this again. Regardless, I finished. And after my Love worked out, we put our names on the board for the “Midnight WOD.”

Off to Boston and then what felt like many lifetimes later, Body 2.0 happened.

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