“I love to keep active, challenge myself, and help others reach goals.” - DEBBIE BEMBOOM
INDY nation, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Debbie Bemboom. Debbie’s story highlights the importance of preventive exams like mammograms and the importance of being aware of your body. Debbie is a fitness enthusiast and a dental hygienist of 27 years. She has also been a trainer for 20 years and has been leading classes at the YMCA for nine years!
Deb grew up in Sauk Rapids, and still lives there with her husband Greg, who she has been married to for 26 years. She and Greg have two children, Anthony 29 who is married to Amy, and is a catcher for the Tampa Bay Rays – she shared with me that the day she was diagnosed with her cancer, Anthony had been drafted to play for the Angel’s and said it was hard to break the news to him on what should have been such a happy day. They also have a daughter, Bailey, 23, who is a nurse at the hospital. Here is her story…
Can you tell us a little about your story?
In June of 2012, at 4:00 in the morning, I was stretching and rubbing my abs since they were sore from working out the day before. It was then, when my hand ran into a marble like bump under my right breast. I immediately sat up as it was not there the day before even, I would have noticed. Right away that morning I went in to my doctor and had a mammogram. I had just had a mammogram in October. I have been getting them yearly since my late 30’s, due to my mom having breast cancer. This mammogram turned into an ultrasound, which was followed by a biopsy on the following Monday. On Wednesday, I would meet with the surgeon to discuss the results.
I was diagnosed with Stage 2A, Type 3 Triple-negative invasive Ductal Carcinoma (breast cancer). The good news was that it was not in my lymph nodes. The bad news was it was an aggressive form and had to treat it aggressively with chemotherapy. We all know how fun that is, and I was hoping to avoid it.
I decided on a double mastectomy with implant reconstruction, mainly because it was the fastest recovery option. My main focus was to get through this process as fast as possible and with as little disruption to our lives as possible. I wanted to stay in my normal routines as much as I could, so I continued to work. I’m a Dental Hygienist and also teach boot camps (I do personal training out of my home and teach group fitness at the YMCA). I would work in the morning and do chemotherapy Monday afternoons. By Thursday afternoons, it would start hitting me. I then had Fridays off and could recover over the weekend. This routine worked great for me and kept my mind off of feeling crappy. I am also a runner and continued to try to run with my group. Mostly, it was a walk run, but I needed the socialization and comradery.
I was able to complete my treatment in six months! My final surgery was in November, so I was so very thankful for that! One little hiccup was going into a Neutropenic fever after my first chemo- very scary! But after that, they gave me the Neulasta shot (a shot used to decrease the incidence of infection, by treatingneutropenia)and that helped!
We all have inner superpowers. What would you say are some of yours?
**Chelsea (Warrior Correspondent) here: I have found that this is a very hard question for some our warriors to answer. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Debbie face to face, but I would say that this girl’s superpower is strength! So many of us would use this diagnosis as an opportunity to slack. Perhaps even to indulge in a little pity. Not Debbie, reading her story tells me that she put on her bravest face and tackled the situation head on. To continue to work and train and persevere through a “normal” schedule takes a large amount of determination and heart.
What brings you joy and fulfillment?
Things that bring me joy are definitely fitness, running and helping others to overcome those walls they have built up so they are able to accomplish their goals. I love to push myself just a little more to see what I can get my body to do! I also love to travel and experience new things!
What does it mean to be a cancer survivor?
It is really still crazy to me that I am a cancer survivor. It means that I fought a dangerous disease, with many people supporting me, and incredible doctors, one day at a time, one appointment at a time, and I got through it.
Who was an influential person to your cancer battle?
Honestly, one person that comes to mind is Dave Carlson. He was a good friend of mine. At the time of my diagnosis, Dave was fighting a losing battle to brain cancer. He was giving me advice on doctors, support opportunities, etc. His outlook, even so dim, was amazing. All I could think was, my cancer is treatable, I will beat mine, but he won’t. It made me feel almost guilty for having a treatable cancer. So yes, it was not easy going through my cancer, but I beat it and am still here. The day after my first chemo treatment, I went to Dave’s funeral.
What were some key things that helped you in the midst of your battle?
Staying active- honestly it does help you get the chemo out of your system faster and recover quicker. Mentally, I needed to keep moving as much as I could.
Telling my story- people were nervous to ask me about my cancer. I’m an open book. I felt talking about it was therapeutic and made it less scary to others. I hoped it might help others who would be diagnosed to know what it was like, and maybe not be so scared.
Staying in my routine- I kept working and teaching my classes. I needed to try to keep feeling like ME and not a cancer patient.
Leaning on family and friends: they were scared too and didn’t know how to help.By letting them help me, it helped them too.
Knowing what you know about cancer, what would you tell other survivors?
ONE DAY AT A TIME, ONE DR APPOINTMENT AT A TIME, ONE CHEMO TREATMENT AT A TIME! I can compare running a marathon to my mindset for my journey. If I look at 26.2 miles at one time, it’s way too overwhelming. I break it down into segments, focusing on the first five miles, then the next five. After I reach the 20 mile mark, it’s usually one mile at a time, but pretty soon you area at that finish line! There are times when you feel angry, sick, sad, or defeated, but you keep putting one foot in front of the other and pretty soon you make it to that amazing finish line!! You look back and are amazed you did it. That’s exactly how my cancer journey was. You WILL make it through, lean on your friends and family, its okay to feel angry, sad, scared, etc. but know you WILL come out stronger and with skills to accomplish what life throws at you next!!