Live Boldly, You Never Know Who’s Watching

I’m excited for the upcoming weekend!  It’s the Indiana Age Group State Swimming Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana.  My lovely, strong, determined 12-year-old daughter, Emily, will be competing for the podium Friday night, Saturday and Sunday.  This year’s competition is sweeter than past year’s.

We learned of my diagnosis the day before the opening Short Course swimming season kickoff!  Don and I were still in shock.  We wanted to keep our emotions and fears reigned in and protect our kids; after all, we didn’t know anything really other than I had breast cancer.  Don and I were committed to living after the diagnosis as we had prior.  So Emily and I both attended the season opener determined to enjoy the night and revel in all the hopes she and her teammates had for the coming year. She’d had a stellar season the previous year as an 11-year-old and this year would be her golden year.  Top of her age group.  The expectations from everyone were high!

I made a commitment to Emily that no matter what I would still drive her to practice, that we would still attend meets, and that my cancer would not interfere with her magical season.  Ya, and I probably should have thrown in that we’d win the lottery, too.

Because the first few weeks following my surgery pretty much sucked for Emily I let her hang out after swim practice with some of her swim friends a little more than I would have otherwise.  She needed her own peer support system as much as I did.  I even let her play on her friends’ trampoline, something I never do.  But I rationalized that we’d been through a lot over the last few weeks, maybe it was time I lighten up.  I mean really, what’s the worst that could happen?

I watched in disbelief as my graceful daughter absentmindedly did a header off the trampoline.  However, with feline agility she reached out her leg in front of her to counter her fall.  Sadly, unlike a cat, she didn’t absorb the shock properly.   Her entire body landed on the top of her right foot, bending it backwards so the toes nearly touched the back of her calf.  Her foot instantly swelled to twice is size.  Her foot looked misshapen and she complained that she wanted to throw up.  The next day x-rays showed the foot wasn’t broken, but the fall had caused serious soft tissue damage.  Emily limped out of the clinic in an orthopedic boot, an item she’d need to wear for at least 2 weeks before considering going back to practice.  She had to scratch the first meet of the season.

When she finally did get back in the water she had to work through the pain of getting her range of motion back.  She’d been back to practice two weeks before the second meet of the season, but the pain interfered with her starting strongly off the blocks and the flexing of her foot during the race nearly brought her to tears. It was a rough meet. But we had hope that things would get stronger and she’d be ready for the next meet in another 2 weeks.

She had gotten stronger, but the flu was ravaging kids at school and practice and Emily didn’t escape the bug.  That Friday she was struggling to push through a fever.  She swam anyway.  Although I admired her determination I worried about how much of my challenge was affecting her ability to stay strong and healthy.

Her coach, Olympic Gold Medalist, Matt Vogel, accepted the bad luck and illnesses as part of a “tougher season”.  He worked to keep her focused and readied her body to fly past the Indiana state time standards and secure her spot on the state team.  The fourth meet of the season was in her sights.  She had her swim bag packed and left it by the door as she headed out to school that Friday.  She was giddy smack-talkin’ how she was going to nail her times.  But when she got home from school at the end of the day she was complaining of chills, headache and sore throat.  We loaded her up with vitamin C, lots of water and ibuprofen then prayed she’d break through whatever was trying to bring her down.  She scratched her second meet of the season 15-minutes before warm ups.  Don and I put her to bed.  She stayed there for three days.

Fearing she wasn’t going to shake the bug on her own, we took her to the doctor. Emily was placed on large doses of antibiotics and ordered out of the pool for TEN DAYS.  The Divisional Championships were under three weeks away.  I hated to break more bad news to her coach.  But he never lost his faith in her.  We never lost our faith in her.  She never lost her faith in herself!  She swam the Divisional Championships and rose like a Phoenix from the flames.  Though she didn’t make all her state cuts that last meet of the season, she qualified individually in the 200 freestyle,  100 butterfly, 100 breaststroke, and the 50 breaststroke.  She’s also swimming the butterfly leg of the 200-medley relay, and leading off the 200-freestyle relay!  Don and I couldn’t be prouder!

How do you go on living through and past breast cancer?  One day at a time, baby.  Never give up!  You can be stronger than you imagined you could be.  We have the opportunity to teach our children how to go on despite adversity.   Live boldly!  You never know who’s watching!

-Angie Branstetter

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