By Jacqueline Hensler
Caroline Deetjen was 37 years old and in peak physical condition when she felt the painful lump in her left breast. For years, she had been running marathons and, after four months of training, she had just completed her first century bicycle ride -- a 100-mile endurance feat. She was young and healthy, so she figured it was nothing. She waited five months before seeing her doctor.
"I thought it was nothing," she says. Cancer doesn't run in my family so I thought it might go away."
A mammogram and subsequent biopsy confirmed that Caroline had stage IIA breast cancer.
Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment
Making the decision to come to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment was easy. Caroline's doctor referred her here for breast cancer surgery, and a friend had raved about her experience at MD Anderson.
She did her research and found that MD Anderson had excellent results with breast cancer patients.
"They also have a larger network of support and doctors, which was very appealing," she says.
Caroline underwent a mastectomy on Valentine's Day in 2012 to remove the tumor, and received good news that the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes.
She started a six-month course of chemotherapy and routinely visited the gym during that time. She even worked with a personal trainer once she had finished her chemo treatments.
"I kept working at my job as a supervisor for a mining and petroleum company through chemo," she says. "And I think that kept some of the side effects at bay. Although I scaled down my workouts, I made sure to show up regularly at the gym so that I could be a strong as possible for the chemo treatments."
And it worked. After slowly building up strength after chemo, she's gotten back into her normal exercise routine. Today, Caroline is cancer-free and back on her bike.
Returning to cycling after breast cancer
"I thought my cycling days would be limited after my diagnosis," Caroline says.
But just six months after her chemotherapy treatments, she completed the BP MS 150, a 150-mile cycling ride from Houston to Austin. A few months later, she took another century ride around Lake Tahoe.
Following reconstruction surgery later that year, Caroline knew she had to get back on her bike.
She'd signed up for the 537-mile Tour du Rouge from Houston to New Orleans for the American Red Cross. Though she initially found it daunting to think about spending six days on her bike, she's now a proud finisher of the 2014 Tour du Rouge.
"I pedaled all those miles with an immense sense of pride and achievement as to how far I have come," Caroline says.
She still returns to MD Anderson for follow-up appointments every six months. Each time she thinks about the journey and the progress she's made.
"Diagnosis is the first in a long road through treatment and recovery," she says. "Recovery is a chance to achieve things you never thought possible."