Roughly 2,300 will line up Sunday for Ironman Coeur d’Alene but it’s a safe bet only one, Wendy Chioji, was receiving radiation treatments for Thymic carcinoma seven months ago.
It’s also a safe bet that Chioji will be the only one leaving in a few weeks to climb Mount Fuji with her 74-year-old father and guiding a cross country cycling fundraiser later this summer. Did we mention Chioji scaled Mount Kilimanjaro 10 weeks after her last radiation treatment?
“All kinds of opportunities come up,” Chioji said, “and you just have to take advantage of them.”
Chioji is all about embracing opportunities, living in the moment, meeting people, raising cancer awareness and doing her best whenever she suits up for an Ironman, marathon or climb.
Chioji was an active runner and triathlete, albeit in shorter distances than Ironman’s grueling 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2 mile run, when she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2001 at the age of 39.
“It was a little bit of disbelief because I was so healthy,” said Chioji, a TV news anchor at the time who chronicled her journey in the ‘Cancer Diaries’ on her website (wendy.growingbolder.com). “I’m pretty practical but not fatalistic. So you go, ‘OK, I’m going to have to change this plan,’ and you start looking more day to day instead of off into the future.
“It (the diagnosis) realigned my whole thinking. You start challenging yourself. It is what prompted me to quit my job (in 2008) because the whole television industry had changed so much. I was going to live for today.”
Most of her days are busy ones. She eventually relocated to Park City, Utah, and began taking on longer races. She has completed 25 half Ironmans and five Ironmans, the first in 2008.
Chioji was second in her age group at the 2012 Ironman Lake Placid and she competed in the Ironman World Championships in Kona that same year.
“The discomfort you’re having (in triathlons) is nothing compared to lying there having chemo,” she said.
Meanwhile, Chioji’s annual MRIs came back with good news until 2013. She was diagnosed with a rare, fast-growing cancer of the thymus gland, completely unrelated to her previous bout with breast cancer. Chioji said she was fortunate the cancer was detected early. Thymic carcinoma usually isn’t diagnosed until it has spread to the lungs, heart or elsewhere.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatments left her cancer free, but she lost a lot of weight and muscle mass that she’s been slowly regaining. As she details on her website, another side-effect of 27 radiation treatments through her esophagus and left lung was scar tissue. That helps explain a nagging cough and breathing issues she’s experienced during training.
Chioji completed a half Ironman in Boise three weeks ago. Along the way she met Team Chocolate Milk teammate Apolo Ohno and had her picture taken with the Olympic champion.
Chioji knows she’s probably not going to put up her best time Sunday. Her scarred lungs could make the swim particularly challenging. She’s trained for four months instead of the usual six.
Her first goal is always the same: Cross the finish line. She wants to represent cancer survivors and Team Chocolate Milk in a positive manner and enjoy the scenic race course she’s heard so much about.
Joked Chioji: “I’ll probably be out there a long time to appreciate it.”