October 3, 2016

If you’ve been in Crossfit for at least one calendar year you should be aware of the emphasis the community places on breast cancer fundraising efforts in the month of October. Pairing with the nonprofit “Barbells for Boobs”, boxes all over the world host an event where athletes show up in name of community, advocacy and raising money. (Those of you new to the game can get up to speed by checking out the website ) With that time upon us I thought I would use the opportunity to share my experience and how Crossfit helped me thrive after cancer.

A few weeks shy of my 40th birthday I was diagnosed with a wide spread/fast growing form of breast cancer that they thought (at the time) would leave me with a poor prognosis. After countless insurance hassles and further genetic testing, I was scheduled for a bilateral mastectomy, sentinel node biopsy and first stage reconstruction. Thankfully in this case, the doctors were wrong. The cancer hadn’t reached my lymph nodes and I was set with a cancer free road to reconstruction and a desire to reclaim my interrupted life. Sadly the road to reconstruction wasn’t as planned, as life sometimes is. Just a few weeks shy of my final surgery I hit the gym for an intense workout and woke up with 104 fever and a staph infection. I tried for a month to fight the infection, but lost the battle as the staph ate through my pectoral muscle in two places. Thankfully I’m not one to give up easily. Two years and nearly a dozen surgeries later I found myself sitting in my oncologist office while he gave me a clean bill of health and told me to go live a “normal life”.

For me, life after cancer turned out to be where the mental battle began. As a cancer patient you are told what to do, where to show up. There wasn’t much of a process to it, other than showing up. I wasn’t sure what a “new normal” looked or felt like when the
past two years of my life had been anything but. I later learned the ways trauma can affect the brain, but at this point it felt like I was living in constant “fight or flight” mode. I had internalized the fear and anxiety of being a mother of a young child while battling this disease and I chose to deal with it by secluding myself from the world around me. Too much time in crowds, traffic, etc triggered a level of anxiety and at times panic attacks. I found it easier just to stay home and spent little time away from it. Doctors were quick with attempts to diagnose/medicate the issue, all of which I declined.

Thankfully the gym is one place I could always find solace. I could put my headphones on, my head down and go to work. As my physical strength improved, so did my mood. I saw an ad for a Crossfit box opening in our area and decided I was ready to atleast make an attempt. I signed up for a week long fundamentals, never realizing the road to redemption would be paved with sweat, iron and lots of chalk.

While the community aspect of Crossfit made it an immediate draw, the intensity of the sport brought a shaky start for me. Entering the “dark place” of a Crossfit metcon meant opening the door to a lot of memories and emotions I was still trying to bury. There were days I would have to walk outside in the middle of a wod just to be able to breathe through the panic, leaving my coaches puzzled and reminding me there wasn’t any running today. I surrounded myself with a group of people who possessed the intensity and bravado that gave me the resolve to finish that day’s workout. In the beginning it was their strength and resolve that allowed me to keep going. And it worked.. in ten, twelve minute chunks of times- in AMRAPs and EMOMs I began to build a physical strength that transferred into an increased mental endurance. Those workouts became the building blocks of my life after cancer.

A year into Crossfit I entered the world of coaching and went charging at life full steam ahead. I loved training so much and went at it with little disregard to how my body had changed after eleven surgeries, eventually paying a high price for my choices. After taking time off to recover from multiple injuries I was faced with a decision that I had to change the way I went about things. All of which led me to my tenure at River to River Fitness. I’m thankful for those I started this journey with and the lessons they taught me and beyond blessed to have found a home working alongside Pat and Kyle. I’ve surrounded myself with a family of people who make me laugh daily and encourage me simply to be the best version of myself. I no longer feel the need to charge at life, but stand back and let life happen..because now I’m confident in my ability to handle it. I am a product and prime example of how Crossfit changes lives and I burn with a passion to help others the way this sport has helped me.

Please join us at River to River Fitness in Paducah on October 29th as we host our annual “Barbells for Boobs” and help play a part in someone’s story.

Yours in fitness,
Marissa Oliver
Crossfit L1 trainer
River to River Fitness

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