Reinisch battling cancer with team mentality | PostIndependent.com

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Reinisch battling cancer with team mentality

Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox

Most people have one day that ultimately changes their lives.For Lance Armstrong, Oct. 2, 1996, was the day he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.April 6, 2006, is a day forever etched in Nancy Reinsich’s mind. The Glenwood Springs psychotherapist received the devastating news that she had breast cancer.”I had a surgical biopsy on April 6 to test what was like a tiny piece of grit that had grown bigger within a week. It came back cancer,” she said. “That first week, I thought, ‘I can do this, it’s less than a one-centimeter tumor, like a piece of rice. Once you have a biopsy you have to go back to see if it has gone to any of your lymph nodes. That came back positive in one of my lymph nodes stage 2 cancer. That’s when everything got kind of gloomy.”

Reinisch has always been the picture of good health. For the past 20 years, she has been a recreational triathlete. She co-coaches the Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Team running, biking and swimming are normal activities in her rigorous exercise regime.April 6 changed that.”I ate well, didn’t smoke,” said Reinisch, who tested positive for the BRAC ovarian and breast cancer syndrome gene. “But if you have Eastern European Jewish heritage and both sets of my grandparents were Eastern European Jews your risk can increase. I learned the lesson that there is no control in life. There are so many women with so many different reasons for their cancer. Mine’s genetic.”Reinisch began treatment in May at Valley View Hospital’s Cancer Center. She finished her fourth round of chemotherapy this week, a process that like a triathlon has had a trio of impacts – taking a toll on her mind, body and spirit.”I fought for my life mentally during that week because of the dysphoria. I can’t see the light through the forest. I crawl from bed to couch, bed to couch,” said the normally over-energetic Reinisch. “I know I’m not going to die, but I fight for my mental well-being. I hunker down like a bear and hibernate. I don’t feel like me – I feel like an alien, that someone’s entered my body and it’s not me.”A positive attitude has kept Reinisch focused on surviving breast cancer. She also has role models in her mother, a 12-year ovarian cancer survivor, and her mother-in-law, a breast cancer survivor.”In the two good weeks of the month, I feel good and I get exercise, which is kind of relative at this point,” Reinisch said. “I refuse to give in to the cancer if I can.”

Since starting chemotherapy, Reinisch has learned to take life one day at a time.The petite athlete approaches her breast cancer treatment much like training for a triathlon.”I came into this with a good base, 20 years of recreational triathlon training,” she said. “The important thing I think for me is exercise for both mental and physical enhancement to cancer treatment. That’s not to say all women have to be triathletes. Can everyone walk 15 minutes a day? Yes. Can you help a friend with breast cancer walk 15 minutes a day? Yes. These athletic events, these are my carrots.”By looking at her chemotherapy as merely temporary, Reinisch works through those symptoms that slow her down.”It’s a week out of my month it’s not that bad,” she said. “Mostly it’s just a hunkering down, knowing it will be over soon. They’ve got the (drug) cocktails down, so I’m not throwing up like our parents did. The nausea is like being car sick to me. It’s a constant feeling of ‘I just don’t feel good. I can’t read, you can’t eat anything.”Despite her symptoms, Reinisch continues to compete and plans to take part in all three triathlon events in the Tri For The Cure Triathlon Aug. 6 in Denver. She won’t be alone. She will be with the 40-women team she co-coaches with Judy Haynes. Reinisch is one of five women in the group diagnosed with cancer, confirming the statistic that 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes.”My Tri group and the event have been the carrot to keep me going this summer,” she said. “I just want to see if I can do it – I want to cross the finish line with my team. I have a lot more empathy for my Tri-Babies (first-time triathletes) this year. If they can do it, I can do it.”Reinsich’s spunky attitude has kept Tri-Baby Tianna White, a 44-year-old hairdresser from New Castle, motivated to finish her first triathlon next weekend.”Nancy always says, ‘Have another goal.’ Besides my mother, I so look up to her as an inspiration and for encouragement,” White said. “She just puts not complaining in a whole new light. She’s the real deal, and she wants you to do your best. She makes you want to give back. I’ve only known her for a short time, but what an impact.”

On July 23, Reinisch and Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Team members and cancer survivors Heidi Halladay and Karen Knudson finished the Boulder Peak Triathlon as Teamo Chemo. Reinisch walked and ran what she calls wogging the 10K portion of the course, while Halladay swam and Knudson biked.Reinsich’s husband, Paul Salmen, a Valley View physician, and sons, Chas and Marco, both members of the cross-country and track teams at Duke University, were on hand to celebrate with Teamo Chemo.”We did it as a team, we all did it together,” Reinisch said. “We crossed the finish line together, holding hands and tears rolling down our faces.”As a mother, mental health professional, and Advocate Safehouse Board of Directors member, Reinisch has always been a giver.Today, she plays a different role.For the first time in her life, Reinisch has needed to step back and let others help her as she fights breast cancer.”I’ve learned to be a good receiver, as well as a good friend receiving everyone’s blessings,” she said. “I’m learning to allow people to give to me. Letting people give, it’s uncomfortable sometimes. It’s hard to be on the receiving end of all these gifts, but I know how important it is to give.”Like any life-altering event, Reinsich’s breast cancer diagnosis has served as an exercise in endurance one that continues to teach.”The rest of this, I’m just waiting to learn. I think there are lessons everyday,” she said. “I’m certainly not done with the lessons. I think the biggest lessons I’ve learned is take one day at a time.”April 6, 2006 is the day that lesson started.Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext. 518aclark@postindependent.com