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Together, Cancer Survivors Tackle Triathlon

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Wisconsin women apply strength developed fighting cancer to triathlon.

Judy Tjoe still remembers the terror she felt plunging into the Russian River at the start of her first triathlon.

A surgeon, she uses the experience to relate to her patients as they approach the first leg of their breast cancer treatment triathlon: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

To carry the relationship an extra mile, both physically and emotionally, Tjoe has recruited and guided a group of women through another element of their treatment – to the start line of the Danskin Triathlon on Sunday in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.

The aptly named Team Phoenix includes 15 cancer survivors, many of whom had never attempted or contemplated swimming a half mile, biking 12 and running 3.1. They are, in Tjoe’s words, “proactive warriors.”

“They’re doing this because they are not people who are going to stand back and wait for cancer to come back,” said Tjoe, who finished her first triathlon in California in 2006.

From her experience, Tjoe believed that training for and completing a triathlon would give cancer patients more control over their lives, “something they lost when they had the diagnosis of cancer.”

The benefits would be physical, as well.

Losing weight and building aerobic fitness have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, something that many members of Team Phoenix already experienced.

For Kim Stewart, 42, cancer first appeared in her right breast in November 2004. At the time, her daughter was 16 months old and her son, just 8 weeks.

“I was sleep-deprived and hormonal,” she said. “I was screaming at God in my head: ‘How dare you give me these kids and then take their mom away?’ ”

Stewart made her peace after that breakdown, then focused on the fight. After a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy, she enjoyed 3 1/2 years cancer-free.

Read more: Journal Sentinel