Atascadero News photo courtesy of Heather Schumm • Heather Schumm’s bike is a Specialized Ruby with a lot of custom pink parts. It’s the bike she will ride at the 2012 Tour de Pink. She’s still raising money for the fundraising anti-cancer race. If you’d like to help out, go to www.tinyurl.com/heathertdp.
Before Atascadero resident Heather Schumm was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had quite a list of physical achievements behind her. But it’s her perseverance during her battle with cancer that really sets her apart from the rest of the world.
Schumm said she did sports only sporadically through high school, never really settling on anything. Then, in 2003, she got her first good bike, but didn’t start riding seriously until later. First, she picked up running.
Her first Miracle Miles was in 2003 and she’s run it every single year since. Pregnancies and cancer treatment never got in the way.
Then, at the suggestion of a friend, she started doing triathlons. The suggestion, she said, wasn’t a hard sell, either.
“I love being outside,” she said. “I’d live outside if I could.”
Her first SLO Triathlon was in 2008.
“I trained really hard for it,” Schumm said. “I finished almost 10 minutes under my goal.”
She’d have done it again in 2009, but had a baby, Annabelle, instead.
She headed back in 2010 and cut 10 minutes off her previous time.
“I was in the best shape of my life,” she said with pride.
She was all set up to do the Scott Tinley triathlon at Lopez Lake in Arroyo Grande. The SLO Triathlon is a sprint and the half-mile swim takes place at Sinsheimer Pool in San Luis Obispo. The bike ride is a 15-mile out-and-back over rolling hills. It ends with a 5K — 3.1-mile — run up the distressingly long and steep Johnson Avenue.
In all, it’s a fun, short totally doable race and people tend to really enjoy it.
The Scott Tinley Triathlon, however, is an order of magnitude harder. First, it’s twice as long: 1-mile swim, 26-mile bike ride, 6-mile run. But the swim is in a pretty cold lake. The bike ride is less rolling hills and more a series of short, steep hills followed by a long, steady climb followed by another series of short, steep hills. The run is about two miles of rolling hills followed by a steep uphill and gradual down downhill.
It’s a challenging course, but an excellent logical next step. And she was up for it. Sort of.
With race day a few short weeks away, she found a lump in her breast while feeding her second daughter, Genevieve, now 3. She was quickly diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was a really aggressive form [of cancer],” Schumm said.
She went into surgery almost immediately. She said that the surgeon removed a lot of cancer and other tissues which were biopsied right there during surgery. Once they got to a spot that was cancer-free, they stopped and stitched her back up.
Surgery was followed by two weeks of chemotherapy. Which was followed by seven weeks of daily radiation treatment.
Which was followed by the discovery of more cancer. Cancer which had, evidently, grown during chemotherapy and radiation.
Schumm’s daughters were 3 years and 13 months old during that treatment. She said that the thing that gave got her through it all was training.
“I trained all the way through radiation,” Schumm said. “I was bald, pushing my daughter in a stroller and my friend had trouble keeping up.”
Tough and fit she may have been, but she still went through a bilateral mastectomy plus reconstruction.
All the cancer treatments and surgeries wrapped up in July 2011. In September, she walk-ran the Disneyland Half Marathon.
“I cried my way through the finish line,” she said.
Rightly so. Her cancer was incredibly aggressive. That it grew through treatments was a big worry for her, and had it gone much longer, there wasn’t much doubt it would have killed her.
And while she’s officially cancer-free for now, it’s still a threat which looms ominously over her life. In 2013, she goes in for more testing to see if it’s come back or not.
It’s a big part of why she remains involved in cancer-fighting orginizations.
“When I was first diagnosed, I felt pretty alone,” Schumm said.
She found an online support organization called the Young Survivor Coalition. It’s a group of people similar to her.
“They were definitely my lifeline,” she said.
It was with that in mind she participated in Tour de Pink, a fundraising, three-day, 200-mile bicycle race in Houston, Texas.
Schumm said that she and Eric rode together the first two days, but Erik hadn’t just gone through chemotherapy and radiation and two surgeries and was thus a stronger cyclist. He raced ahead on day three.
Schumm also raced in the first SLO Half Marathon — “That was a course and a half,” she said — then headed back to do the SLO Triathlon for a third time. She finished smack in the middle of her two previous times at 1:46:49.
The future looks bright for her, too. In September, she’ll head to Santa Rosa to participate in Levi’s Granfondo, a 50-mile bicycle race. Then in early October, will ride in the 11th annual Wine & Roses metric century in Templeton.
Mid-October will see Schumm and Erik both participating again in Tour de Pink, this time sponsored by Fat Cyclist, a blogger whose wife died of cancer in 2009 and a cancer activist.
“I feel like I’ve found my calling in life,” Schumm said. “It’s to help people in a hard patch get through it all.”