AMY KUELBS lived an active, healthy lifestyle, and had no breast cancer risk factors in her health history. But in 1991, Amy found a lump. A biopsy showed it was malignant. "There I was," Amy says, "a 31-year-old unmarried woman, coming face-to-face with my mortality." She had a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy, then radiation. Amy thought she was cured. But in 1996, during her semiannual physical, she discovered the breast cancer had returned. This time she opted for a bilateral mastectomy (the removal of both breasts) and reconstructive surgerybut no other treatments. "I opted for the bilateral mastectomy because I didn't want to go through chemotherapy again," Amy says. "I knew the likelihood of cancer spreading to the other side was high."
Amy was right. In November 1997, she found another lumpthis time on her opposite side near the chest wall. "I was shocked that the cancer had returned," Amy says. "You think you've done everything possible to keep it at bay. I mean, I removed my breasts!"
Amy chose to have a bone marrow transplant, in which her bone marrow was taken, then returned to her body after five days of intense, round-the-clock chemotherapy. Afterwards she required blood transfusions and six weeks of radiation.
By February 1998, Amy was able to start walking again. Soon she was training for a marathon that would take place in May. "While I was in the hospital, one of my sisters informed me she was going to run the San Diego marathon. I told her, 'I'm going to do it with you.' I had to do something, and I wasn't about to let cancer rule my life." Amy worked out every day, whether going for a walk or a run. And on June 21, 1998, she completed the marathon in five and a half hours.1