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The Power of Fitness: Real Women Share Their Stories

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"Fitness gave me the strength to conquer lung cancer."

Last August, Maki Inada finished a sprint triathlon in Ithaca, New York, in just under two hours. It wasn't her best time. But for Maki, who had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer 18 months earlier, it was a sweet victory -- and marked the end of a difficult journey.

It all started with a lingering cough, which Maki, now 38, a biology professor, chalked up to the change in climate when she and her husband, Jeff Pleiss, moved from San Francisco to Ithaca. Jeff, though, was worried and pushed her to see a doctor. The chest X-ray revealed a seven-centimeter mass in Maki's left lung. "I was completely shocked," she says. "I never smoked. I've always exercised. I had really healthy habits."

The tumor was too large to be surgically removed, so Maki's doctor put her on chemotherapy plus Tarceva, an anticancer drug. The chemo treatment, which was scheduled in three-week cycles, was taxing: Maki lost her hair and spent the first days after each drug infusion sleeping or recuperating on the couch.

But she was determined to stay strong and in shape. So as her energy returned, she exercised. "At the beginning of each cycle, my husband and I would go on easy walks," she says. "By the following weekend my fatigue would break, and we would go for a run, maybe three or so miles."

After four months Maki's tumor had shrunk to one centimeter; it could now be removed along with a lobe of her lung. But rather than rest before the major surgery, she upped her training schedule. "I wasn't going to be weak and bedridden," she says. Indeed, the day after the operation, she walked laps around her hospital floor.

Because of her excellent physical condition, her surgeon says, Maki was back home in just four days as opposed to the usual week. Her operation was deemed a success, and she was declared cancer-free. Thirteen months later she finished the triathlon with her husband by her side. "We made it," Maki says, "and with just one lung. I will never take running, biking, or swimming for granted again."

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kristanoelpeterson wrote:

The first one, about the woman who punched the rapist out of her apartment, was probably the best thing I've read in my entire life.

8/4/2010 10:32:13 AM Report Abuse
ronniegramma wrote:

I know personally how fitness can make recovery so much faster and permanent. after a heartattack my Dr said my fitness level saved my life, I am 72 yrs young

7/29/2010 07:24:33 AM Report Abuse
exurena wrote:

Thank you for sharing these stories, this has motivated me!

7/28/2010 01:06:29 PM Report Abuse
bckuntz1 wrote:

Amazing stories!

7/28/2010 10:35:24 AM Report Abuse
dawnd17 wrote:

All these women are so inspiring! When I feel like I can't do another push-up, I can think of these amazing women to remind me that I can. Thanks for sharing your stories!

7/28/2010 10:16:16 AM Report Abuse

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