Each of us has a collection of titles, accumulated as we travel through life. Mrs., Doctor, Your Honor, Sargent – they all say something about the person whose name is attached to them. But not many of us can claim the title of “The Strongest Woman in the World.” It was the title Karyn Marshall had achieved before her cancer diagnosis. But it was her training to achieve that title that paved the way to her recovery.
Give us a brief sketch of your life the day before your diagnosis and the day after.
I had always felt as though I was a “specimen of health.” As a competitive Olympic weight lifter since 1978, I made the Guinness Book of Records in 1987 as the strongest woman in the world. My next fitness passion came in the form of Crossfit, a new, high intensity sport, where participants are constantly doing different things, constantly challenging the body in functional movements. It includes gymnastics, calisthenics, rowing, running, lifting. The summer of 2011, I had just competed at the Crossfit Games, where I was one of top 20 masters in my age group.
Professionally, I had built a strong chiropractic practice and loved my work. Life was good and I was on top of the world.
Then I found the lump. I had a mammogram and then a biopsy within a week. When the diagnosis came back as Triple Negative Breast Cancer, my first thought was how could this happen to me? I’m healthy! It was a blow. But then I went into action mode. My brain works that way. I think it comes from athletics. I wanted to know what the game was and what my options were. I went into overdrive and didn’t let myself feel shock and emotion. I knew I had to make decisions quickly.
What was your A Ha! moment in your cancer journey?
I was treated at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). Their protocol helped me balance the psychological and emotional elements of having cancer along the the physical ones. That, in turn, caused me to start looking at other aspects of my life. Although I had check marks of achievement in some categories of my life, I saw there were others I was missing. I knew I could learn from this. I decided whatever path I was set upon, I was going to do my best learn from the experience.
One of the most important things I did was to embrace the whole idea of sharing my experience with others. I talked about it all right away with my family and patients, as well as those I was working out with. The Crossfit community began doing articles about me. We did Barbells for Boobs and walks. I knew treatment would take a toll on my body, so I wanted to do all I could to become stronger and healthier afterward. That mission was not only for myself, but hopefully to impact others as well.
I’ve continued to work toward qualifying again for the Crossfit games, despite the fact that the after effects of treatment have lingered longer than I would have liked them to. Even though I may have battle scars on and in my body, getting back to qualification would be concrete evidence that I’ve accomplished my goals.
Besides the women of the Women Survivors Alliance (of course!), tell me about the person or people you’ve met through your work who has/have changed your life.
The whole group at CTCA was life saving. They allowed me to be more than my diagnosis. They made me believe I could take control over cancer and not be a victim of it. I learned how to take care of my body through treatment. Alternative and integrative medical care important to me. I think that comes from my background as a chiropractor. My medical team got it.
Consequently, I used acupuncture, mind/body medicine, and bio-feedback throughout my treatment. In the end, it made me realize I wasn’t helpless in the process.
One hundred years from now, how do you hope you’ll be remembered?
I think the biggest mark I’ve made on the world to date has been as a result of my athletic career. I want people to know in 100 years is that you can still make your mark after a cancer diagnosis. Many times people feel their lives are over when they hear the word cancer from their doctors. They feel hey’ll never be successful again. I want people to know that’s not true. Even if I’m never the strongest woman in the world again, I know I’ll be a successful competitive athlete well into old age!