Memoirs of a cancer surviving Triathlete

mayura shivalkar

Mayura Shivalkar, triathlete and cancer survivor shares her inspirational story of how she turned one of life’s biggest challenges into a moment of success.

Over the years, I have always enjoyed reading a good motivational quote. The messages around life and its unpredictability always kept me intrigued and honestly, I’ve never imagined that life could be so dynamic.

I haven’t been an avid reader in life barring the occasional fictional story. Through all of this, I never imagined writing about myself. I always wondered who in the world would be interested in my life. All that changed after I went through a life-altering experience when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I fought it with all my being and to celebrate it I completed the half Ironman Colombo 70.3. Now, that’s a story to write about.

During my toughest period, I didn’t have anyone around to inspire me. By sharing my story, I hope to be there for anyone undergoing therapy because it’s this is a critical phase when you need the spirit and the belief that you can do it.

In this article, I pen down my journey between the two half-ironman challenges Colombo 70.3 (2018 & 2019) and hope to inspire those who need to overcome a personal challenge.

The start of something new.

In my endeavour to stay fit, I took to running and almost magically it became a part of me. I’m 46 now but started running at the age of 39. All I wanted to do was to compete in marathons across India. Till date, I have 7 full marathons and 30 + half marathons. Aided by my swimming and cycling, I gradually progressed into triathlons at the age of 44 and was keen to participate in my first ever challenge – the 2018 Half Ironman challenge at Colombo.

Jan 10th 2018 – the day I received the confirmation of my participation and with the race scheduled for 25th Feb, I had 6 weeks to prepare. Until then I hadn’t seriously thought of participating but when I decided to give it a shot, God had different plans for me. I started experiencing pain in my left breast and also suffered from fever which left me with no time for training.

Despite the minimal training, I took to the start point all ready to prove a point. The start was fantastic but I had 2 challenges – the severe pain in my chest and the inadequate training.  But, my desire and commitment pushed me through and I completed the event in 7 hours and 20 mins (cut-off was 8 hours and 30 mins). I was ecstatic at having achieved this despite all odds. Life would take a cruel twist though.

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Prior to my travel to Colombo, I had taken a mamo test and forgotten to collect the reports. On my return, I was in for a rude shock – my biopsy was positive. I felt my world crumbling all around me! I was steadied by my family and friends who helped me accept reality and cling on to hope.

Treatment was brutal – 2 back-to-back surgeries, 8 strong chemo, and 30 radiation sessions. The aftereffects soon kicked in with me losing hair, loss of stamina, brittle nails, depression, lack of sleep, the list goes on. The physical aftereffect pales in comparison to what you go through mentally and emotionally.

I often repeated this question – will I be on my feet again? I missed my training sessions, my running and the dream of repeating Colombo 70.3 again.

Never give up.

My fighting eventually bore fruit and in Oct 2018, I was completed cured. To celebrate, I started preparing for Colombo 70.3, ‘2019.

At the start, I was ambitious but a fall from my cycle brought me back to my senses and with the support of my family and friends, I overcame the fall and got back into training. The therapy, however, had taken its toll. Starting off with a 300m swim, the pain was unbearable as I used to get neck muscle spasms due to the removal of nodes from my left armpit. I could hardly move my hands – these incidents made me fear the worst and I doubted my ability to compete in the gruelling 1.9K sea swim.

Running was another challenge for me due to the presence of multiple fibroids (size was 8.5 cm) and because of the Zoladex therapy of monthly injections, I had low bone density and gained 8-9 kg weight which made me feel everything was impossible.

During this time, a friend Anju gave me some good advice – “the three R’s”. Right Doctor, Right Treatment and Right Attitude.

A big THANK YOU to my personal doctors without whose guidance and support I possibly wouldn’t have been able to continue to focus on my training. I shared regular updates with my doctors and consulted them for any variations in my body.  It was my sheer passion, desire, and commitment in making this happen that kept me moving forward.

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That’s all it takes for a cancer patient to successfully turn around along with the moral support from people who understand them in their painful journey.

The next leg.

All trained up now, I decided that I am ready for the next Colombo half ironman challenge. The day was 24th Feb 2019. I didn’t have any benchmark or a record to beat – all I wanted was to complete and have fun. I was so joyful when I finished the swim challenge that I had tears in my eyes. With the next leg being cycling, I felt very positive this time but it wasn’t as easy as I thought.  90K of bone wrecking cycling made me want to give up but I never did and finished it successfully. Finally, it was time for the running leg. I realised it wasn’t going to be easy especially given my low bone density. Through each lap, I felt if I was going to make it to the finish line. The support crew in the ambulance given my background were always checking on me. The entire stretch I could only hear words of encouragement from the support crew/volunteers and my inner voice which made me push myself.  Every step I was crossing,  I was reminded of how tough the past 8 months were and I thought to myself – if I can overcome 8 months, then 8 hours is nothing.

As I crossed the finish line, my story flashed before my eyes – my journey, passion, love, hard work, belief and above all the trust in God Almighty, who has scripted the stories for each one of us!

Having been through this journey, I now wish to spread awareness that overcoming cancer can be equivalent to conquering any other challenge in the shortest possible time – after proper treatment.  That’s why I finished my race with the quote – “Cancer didn’t bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet”.

I feel it’s only the positive attitude, will power and above all the support of my family & friends that made me overcome the challenge and successfully complete the event.

It’s time for people from across the hierarchy of the socio-economy strata to come together and help make this an easy process for those undergoing the treatment and proactively help create awareness for all.

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Mayura Shivalkar

Mayura Shivalkar

Mayura Shivalkar, a working mom, fitness enthusiast, a cancer survivor who overcame life’s toughest challenge and is proactively building awareness about cancer.