Sindy Hooper defied the odds on Sunday, finishing the grueling Ironman triathlon in Whistler despite undergoing chemotherapy and raising thousands of dollars for pancreatic cancer research in the process.
The 50-year-old Ottawa athlete amazed her doctor when she completed the event in 16 hours and 24 minutes alongside her husband Jon, CBC News reported. Athletes are given 17 hours to complete a race that includes a four-kilometre swim, a 180-kilometre bike ride and a 42-kilometre run.
Hooper was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January after feeling some upper abdominal and mid-back pain around her birthday on Dec. 9. Over Christmas her skin became itchy and she later experienced stomach cramping and diarrhea, she wrote on a Pancreatic Cancer Canada fundraising page.
She found herself "exceptionally tired" after a slow, 15-kilometre run on New Year's Day and her eyes looked jaundiced the following day.
Hooper later went to the Ottawa Hospital where she learned that she had a malignant tumour on her pancreas.
With the doctor out of the room, she asked her husband, "Is this a good cancer or a bad cancer to have?"
"A bad one," he replied.
Seventy-five per cent of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year of their diagnosis, she learned, while most of them die within the first three to six months.
"How is this possible when I'm in the best shape of my life?" she asked.
And this wasn't her first encounter with cancer. Four years ago she quit her job as a health care administrator to train for the Hawaii Ironman World Championship after learning that a friend had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Metro News reported, an event that reminded her "life can be short."
Surgery, Hooper wrote, offers the best chance of survival, but only 15 per cent are diagnosed early enough to be eligible for the procedure.
Luckily, Hooper fell within that 15 per cent, undergoing a Whipple procedure in January that removed half of her pancreas, one-third of her stomach, her gallbladder and duodenum.
The tumour was removed, but starting in February she still had to receive chemotherapy once a week for six months.
By then, Hooper had already signed up for the Whistler event after completing an Ironman triathlon in Mont Tremblant, Que. in Aug. 2012, where she finished in 11 hours and 38 minutes.
She decided to go ahead with the race as a fundraiser, with a goal of raising $50,000 in total. As of Monday she had raised $21,182.20.
“People tell me that it really inspires them. That’s important for me.”