DETROIT – Cancer first robbed Nancy DeWolf of one of her breasts. Then it took something even more precious – her confidence and sense of control over her body.
DeWolf was only 37 in 2004 when she had a mammogram at the urging of her primary care physician. Because of her murky family history – DeWolf is adopted – the doctor thought she shouldn’t wait until age 40, the recommended age for a first mammogram.
DeWolf initially dismissed the advice. But she reconsidered and, a month later, had the test done. A few days after that, the phone rang.
“Especially as a younger person diagnosed with a disease most people don’t hear about until their 60s, it was frightening,” said DeWolf, whose children were 5 and 2 at the time. “I thought, ‘I’m too young for this, how could this happen?’ I used to feel for the most part invincible. I’d gone through tragedies in my life, but I’d still felt like I was going to be here. I felt like I knew my body, and then my body was working against me.”
But DeWolf, now 42, fought back with a few familiar weapons – walking shoes, fitness DVDs, hand weights and a commitment to reclaim her body. Her diagnosis was DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ. DCIS is the most common form of noninvasive breast cancer, meaning it doesn’t spread to other parts of the body. She underwent a single mastectomy, but doctors discovered another cancer during surgery. Because it was so small, and hadn’t spread, doctors decided she didn’t need to undergo chemotherapy.
“Had I waited,” she said, “that would have been a big deal.”
Now, the Hamburg Township, Mich., woman is considered cancer-free. When the cancer struck, DeWolf, never a fitness buff, did something she suspects a lot of people do – she made a pact with God.
“I said, ‘God, you bring me through this and make me healthy again, and I promise I’ll do everything I can to keep it that way. I’ll do the things I always say I’ll do but haven’t followed through on. I’ll eat right, I’ll exercise, I’ll take good care of myself.’ ”
Three months after her reconstructive surgery, DeWolf made good on that promise. She completed the 60-mile Breast Cancer 3-Day walk in 2004. But soon she fell back into old patterns.
“One of my objectives was to get myself back in control,” she said. “I felt, if I could train and do those 60 miles, that was showing cancer who was boss. That was one of best feelings in world. Then I let go for a year and a half, and I missed that feeling.”
Baby steps brought her back. She started working out one or two days a week. Then three days. A gym-hater, she used a variety of fitness DVDs at home to keep herself interested.
Now, DeWolf is 30 pounds lighter, more toned and, most important, confident and in control of her body.
“I’d look where I used to be saggy and see toned muscles and think, ‘That is so cool I am doing this. I can do amazing things,’ ” DeWolf said. “Watching myself with really heavy weights, I never dreamed that was possible. I feel like, ‘Hey, go me!’ ”