At this year’s Frogs for the Cure luncheon Tuesday, an audience of supporters and survivors were moved to tears by the story of one woman, and her determination to live a life free of addiction, cancer and fear.
Karen Newman is a seven-time All American Triathlete, Team USA world competitor and mother, who at age 46, was diagnosed with an aggressive stage of breast cancer.
Newman spoke to a crowded room about her longstanding struggle with bulimia and the day when the word “cancer” entered her world.
“Just weeks before my cancer diagnosis, I invited bulimia back into my life,” she said. “I had taken on too much, and again, I was trying to be perfect.”
Newman said in order to live, she had to finally defeat her eating disorder and break the ashamed silence that surrounded it.
“I was on my knees, begging my heavenly father to take me home,” she said. “I stopped throwing up. I knew deep down in my soul, that God was allowing me to go through this journey to save me, and that is exactly what happened.”
In 2008 when she was diagnosed, Newman had a place on the American team to attend the Triathlon World Championships in British Columbia.
Forty-eight hours after her fourth chemotherapy, Newman said she boarded a plane to Vancouver determined to race.
“It took me nearly twenty minutes to buckle my helmet and put my shoes on, but I did,” she said. “I was second to last, but it was one of the greatest finishes of my life.”
Newman said even though she had a great deal of chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation ahead of her, she wouldn’t let go of her dream to remake the American team, and win a medal.
Newman said it took bravery and positive self-assurance to continue competitive training while she underwent chemotherapy.
“It takes courage to have the breasts that nursed your boys cut off,” she said. “We are all courageous, far more than we ever dream is possible.”
In 2012, she said her dream came true during the Triathlon World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand when, cancer-free, she raced through the finish line to win second place.
“I, Karen Newman, who was given little hope of ever making Team U.S.A. again, was now second in the world and top American,” she said.
Joan Katz, a three-time breast cancer survivor and co-founder of the Tarrant County Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, said when she was first diagnosed with cancer in 1972, there were few options available, and survival rates were dim.
“There was no pink ribbon,” she said.
Katz said she had no way of knowing 41 years later Susan G. Komen, a once small organization, would have raised $2 billion for cancer research to aid people in over 50 countries.
“It is with great awe, gratitude and humility, that I have watched the whisper of breast cancer become a loud, powerful, important voice throughout the world.” she said.
Roxanne Martinez, an audience member and breast cancer survivor, said she learned she had breast cancer and was pregnant for the first time in her life in the same week.
“My treatment was an immediate mastectomy,” she said. “My biggest fear was for my baby. My biggest fear was not living long enough to see her first birthday.”
Martinez said she could not undergo chemotherapy until her second trimester, when it was safe for the baby.
“I knew what kind of cancer I had, just not the prognosis,” she said. “I started journaling to help me cope. My journals turned into a document of my life for my daughter, in case I didn’t make it.”
A month after prematurely giving birth to a healthy little girl she now calls a “miracle,” Martinez said it was determined she was cancer-free.
“Everything that the speaker said I connected with,” she said. “Cancer has truly shown me how strong I can be. I don’t approach anything in life with fear anymore.”
Cancer was not a death sentence, but a life sentence, Newman said.
“I would like to thank cancer,” she said. “The next time you are faced with a great challenge, believe me when I say, your great trials in life are your greatest opportunities to be transformed.”