Running again after quad muscle removed
When Lisa Yttri was told that she needed to have one of the muscles of her quadriceps removed because of cancer, she told the oncologist that was a bad thing for a runner to hear.
She asked him: “Will I ever run again? I have a bucket list.”
The oncologist replied: “What’s on your bucket list?” Yttri had planned to do the Goofy Challenge, running a half-marathon and a marathon on consecutive days at Walt Disney World in Florida. The oncologist told her not to sign up for the races “quite yet”.
That was in March 2015. Four months later the vastis medialis muscle at the front of Ms Yttri’s left thigh was cut out.
Four years later, the Goofy Challenge remains an unfulfilled “to do” on her bucket list, but she is heading towards it by entering the Bermuda Triangle Challenge, aiming to complete a mile, 10K and half-marathon on consecutive days this weekend.
At the time of the diagnosis in 2015, Yttri was a keen runner, cyclist and hiker. She’d completed 55 half-marathons and one marathon, and had hiked Half Dome in Yosemite and twice crossed the Grand Canyon.
On Christmas Day 2014 she found a lump on her left leg. It was a six-inch tumour that was removed by a plastic surgeon the following March. However, he had misdiagnosed it, as became apparent when she visited her oncologist the following week.
“He drew what seemed like a football-sized oval on my leg and told me that it needed to be removed. I questioned how he knew it was cancerous all the way out there, and he said to trust him, it’s what he does,” she said.
“Seeing that oval on my leg was when reality started to set in and I broke down. I was at the appointment by myself and was terrified. My family and friends were texting me, and I wasn’t answering because I had to see more doctors that day.”
She had gone to the cancer centre at 7am and did not leave until 8pm.
“That day I was physically and emotionally exhausted. The first couple of days were tough, but I’m a very independent and strong person and knew what I had to do.”
She needed five weeks of radiation treatment, followed in July by the removal of the muscle.
“They found another golf ball-sized tumour that had grown within the muscle they removed, but he got good margins and was confident he got all the cancer,” she said.
“I went for an MRI of my leg and CT scan of my chest to abdomen every three months for two years, then every four months for a year. I’m now going every six months for the next two years. They do the CT scan because this form of cancer (sarcoma) generally travels to the lungs if it does spread.”
Yttri wrote a blog, lyttri.blogspot.com, about everything she went through.
She started physical therapy within four days of surgery, and had this continued for another four months.
“At first I wasn’t able to step off a phone book without my leg collapsing and was very discouraged. I kept doing what I had to do and was able to climb the stair stepper in no time. The therapists were all intrigued and wanted to see what someone with a missing muscle looked like.
“My friends were amazed at my positive attitude and I’d tell them it’s the only thing I can be. I wasn’t about to be all down on myself and let cancer beat me. I still had and have goals I wanted to complete. The Goofy Challenge is still on that list.”
Four months after the surgery she took part in a five-mile “Turkey Trot” race, accompanied by her dog Barna. She said it felt good to be back, but the joy was short-lived as she broke two ribs the following months and then had pneumonia in March 2016.
Her first post-cancer half-marathon was in October 2017, where she ran 2hr 14min.
“My time wasn’t stellar, but I was so happy to be back running. Since then, I’ve completed nearly two dozen more half-marathons, and trained for a full marathon. I’ve also hiked across the Grand Canyon again, as well as hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail. My half-marathon times have come down, and I’m nearly where I was pre-cancer on my time at around the two-hour mark.”
When asked if the experience has changed her outlook on life, Yttri, who lives in Florida, said: “It’s changed me in that I don’t take things for granted any more. I’ve always been up for adventure and travel, but now I’m more apt to just do it and not worry about the cost as much. Live more in the now and do what makes me happy more. Like the Bermuda Triangle Challenge — it’s been on my bucket list for five years since first learning about it.”
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