By Maria Cook
Kim Heger of Carmel was among hundreds of runners who participated in the Indy Women’s Half Marathon and 5K in late September.
After the race, she stepped to the podium to accept an award – not for her speed, but for perseverance in battling breast cancer and desire to help other women. Heger and blogger Ashleigh Freda received the Indy Women’s Trailblazer Award, which honors women who strive to make a difference, inspire others to succeed, support women and encourage healthy living.
Last year, Heger and her daughter were training to run in the Indy Women’s Half Marathon when Heger’s routine mammogram came back abnormal. Although she was a marathon runner in good health with no family history of breast cancer, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and began treatment immediately.
“I would have never known about this if I hadn’t gotten a mammogram,” Heger said. “It’s so important to do self-exams and get mammograms. Breast cancer is so prevalent. One in eight women will be diagnosed. This disease does not discriminate. You could be healthy, old, young, it doesn’t matter.”
Heger underwent a double mastectomy in September 2018. Later that month, she completed the 5K course and cheered on her daughter as she finished the half marathon.
“I’m a pretty resilient person,” Heger said. “Those that know me know that I don’t sit still for very long, so as soon as my body was able to get up and move around after surgery, as soon as I was able to manage the pain, I was getting up, walking around the block.”
Heger said integrative medicine, which is designed to treat the whole person, physically, spiritually and mentally, was key in her recovery. She had just begun participating in hot yoga before her cancer diagnosis. She also took advantage of holistic treatments, like acupuncture and cupping, in addition to traditional medical treatment.
“When I was diagnosed, I said, ‘No. 1, I need to de-stress. I need to get back into a more balanced state of mind,’” she said. “That’s what yoga taught me to do, to be silent, still and appreciate my breath. I had this sense of calm and peace that allowed me to embrace whatever was coming at me.”
Heger said she used the same mentality she had developed through her years of running marathons to help push through her cancer treatments and procedures, including the removal of lymph nodes under her left arm.
“What it took to get through was very similar to the perseverance required to run, to get beyond the uncomfortable,” she said. “When I first started training for marathons, people told me, ‘You’re going to hit the wall at Mile 22 or Mile 23. Just be prepared. You’ll want to stop, but don’t stop.’ My first marathon, I knew exactly what they were talking about. You hit the wall, but you move beyond it and think one mile at a time, and that’s what I did with my whole cancer treatment. Those bad moments, I’d think, ‘I’m in so much pain, but it’s going to get better.’”
In August, doctors told Heger she was cancer-free. Indy Women’s Half Marathon Media Coordinator Sarah Bustamante said Heger’s positive outlook and commitment to running were two of the reasons she was chosen to receive the Trailblazer award.
“She was a great example of what you can do when you focus on your mind, your body and your soul,” Bustamante said. “She did everything she could to treat her body and her spirit through the journey of this really hard year, and she was just an inspiration.”
Lower breast cancer risk
Like most diseases, breast cancer can’t always be avoided. But there are steps that women can take to lower risk factors and detect the disease early so that treatment has the highest chance of success.
- Refrain from alcohol: Those at risk for breast cancer should limit drinking to less than one glass per day.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer, so maintaining a healthy weight can help lower risk.
- Breast-feed: Studies suggest that women who breastfeed have a lowered risk of developing breast cancer.
- Learn how to perform breast self-exams: Examining one’s breasts for unusual changes is an important part of breast cancer prevention.