Like so many who know Brenda Michaud, and who have seen the passion, dedication and intensity she brings to her workouts and the diligence she brings to her diet and maintaining a healthy mindset, I was among those who looked at her Facebook post last summer in disbelief. I am guessing that my reaction was similar to that of the rest of her Facebook friends, and anyone else that may have received the news by other channels. That reaction was, “Wait, who has cancer? You? No way.”
I sat down with Brenda in the café at Cayuga Medical Center, where she is employed as the facilities manager, to discuss her challenges and triumphs and, since this is a sports column, to talk about her participation in this year’s Cayuga Lake Triathlon. I told her how I did a double-take when reading her post last summer, and she said, “That was a common reaction. My [teenage] daughter said, ‘Mom, you can’t have cancer.’”
Having seen Michaud’s competitive spirit first-hand (she thrashed me in a game of pool), I offered her an opportunity to self-evaluate. I said, “So, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a couch potato and 10 being workout-obsessed, what are you?”
With the speed and assuredness one might expect in a medical facility, she said “I’m a 10. I set a lot of goals for myself, and I’m very driven.”
Of her diagnosis, Michaud asked me, “Can you believe it has been over a year?” She retraced the timeline and recalled, “In the fall of 2017, I was training really hard on the treadmill and my back started to hurt. I assumed it was from over-training, so in February, I went in to get checked out.”
Michaud was shocked when an MRI revealed that she had a cluster of lesions along her spine. She underwent a series of biopsies, and when the diagnostic process was complete six weeks later, she learned what she was facing. She said, “The type of cancer I was diagnosed with, multiple myeloma, is a plasma cell cancer that steals calcium from your bones, and that is why my back hurt so much.”
In Michaud’s words, “In April of ’18, I was in full chemo. That was a 12-week process, and they would clean up my blood and I would donate it back to myself. I would basically hover near death for a few days, and I had no immunity. I couldn’t go to the gym. I had to stay away from people, stay out of the lake, stay away from my pets. It was tough.”
By July of 2018, Michaud was deemed ready for her stem cell transplant, and on Sept. 6th, she swung her leg over her bicycle to do a century ride. (For the uninitiated, yes: a century ride is 100 miles.) As she was cranking her way through it, a friend asked, “Did your oncologist approve this?” Her reply: “I didn’t tell him.”
In October, when she was ready to handle the higher impact effects of running, Michaud completed the Cancer Resource Center 5K, the Danby National Forest 15K and then the Turkey Trot 6-miler. Next up was the “It’s a Wonderful Run” race in Seneca Falls in December, the Frosty Loomis, and then came the Hammond Hill 10K Snowshoe Race.
Michaud stated, “I felt like I was ready to start training for half-marathons, and when I went across the finish line at the Skunk Cabbage Half (in April of this year), I was exactly at my goal, to the minute.” Feeling ever-stronger, she took part once again in the Seneca 7, a seven-person relay covering 77.7 miles. Participants run three seven-mile segments and ride the bike segments between runs.
Michaud is fully convinced that her lifelong commitment to fitness played a factor in her quick turnaround. She said, “I am currently in remission, and I will be on chemo for the rest of my life. I go every two weeks, they test my blood, and if I pass, I get an injection. That’s okay with me. I can handle it.” She also said that Bikram Yoga (practiced in high heat and humidity) is an important part of her healing regimen, stating, “It helps to retrain your mind, to use your will to get through this.” She provided literature that states that Bikram has been found to be useful in not only preventing cancer, but in “reversing cancer processes,” given that “the act of heating up the skin for a period of time causes a release of toxins from the skin.”
Michaud, who turned 57 three days before the Cayuga Lake Triathlon, where she subsequently added an appearance on the podium to her comeback story, told me she is looking forward to the race. It was her 10th CLT. She started the event with a 1,500-meter swim, then rode her bicycle 24.3 miles and finished with a 10K run.
She said, “I feel stronger in my training now than I did before I had cancer. I’m very grateful for that.”