The Stage 3 breast cancer patient thrust her 20-pound bike over her head, with a big grin.
By TERI SCHAEFER
Special to The Star
That’s Amy Slater: Competitor. Longtime Lenexa councilwoman. And now a fighter against breast cancer.
“If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,” said Slater, a hard-core recreational athlete. “People should listen to their bodies.”
Slater, 40, pushed her bike triumphantly over her shaved head during a photo shoot for Lee Jeans’ “Denim Day” on Oct. 4.
Lee Jeans chose her as its ambassador for Denim Day, when participants wear their favorite jeans and give at least $5 to the American Cancer Society. The money will finance research into breast cancer.
Slater is Lee’s first breast cancer ambassador to be currently undergoing chemotherapy and openly displaying her shaved head. An advertisement about Denim Day featuring Slater will run in Redbook magazine’s September issue.
“I was proud I had the courage to put myself out there bald,” Slater said.
Slater is an über-athlete, challenging herself in Ironman competitions — which consist of a 112-mile bike ride, 2.4-mile swim and 26.2-mile run. But that’s on hold for now.
Slater found out she had breast cancer on Jan. 30, after a mammogram — a mammogram she had only because her gynecologist found a lump in one breast during an exam. Slater went to her doctor because she was fatigued — couldn’t finish the Ironman Louisville.
She was supposed to get a mammogram in 2012, but neglected to do it. She had that mammogram four weeks after the doctor found the lump.
“I was scared to face it,” Slater remembers. “That wasn’t a smart idea.”
She, doctors and surgeons decided to come at the breast cancer aggressively. It lay in one breast, but surgeons removed both breasts with a bilateral mastectomy. Before the surgery, Slater had chemotherapy to shrink the tumor.
Slater had the fortitude to face the chemotherapy, surgery and soon the radiation because of the “team approach.” Although she is single, she has a family team, a co-workers team, a friends team and an Ironman team. She can call on any one of her teams or an individual if she needs him or her. Sometimes it’s just to go get ice cream.
“They lift you up and remind you you’re not alone. I know (some) people deal with it alone. I wish people weren’t afraid to share. The team approach makes it easier,” said Slater.
Slater said her super competitive lessens her pain of confronting breast cancer. “I asked my oncologist if I was doing better than most (patients). After surgery, I asked the nurses if I was recovering faster than most (patients),” she said.
As Slater lay in the recovery room after surgery last month, she began her post-operative physical therapy alone.
“I already laid out a five-point approach to therapy,” she said. “First, I concentrated on deep breaths, opening up my chest. Then the rest of the physical training. Then I made plans to enter a 5k walk/run in November.”
She also ran two 5ks during chemotherapy.
“It felt good to have that part of my life still active and it helps you have that fighting spirit because when I’m (working out) I’m just, like, grrr,” she said.
“When training for a big race,” said Slater’s training partner, Danny Loental, “we see these things as challenges to overcome rather than obstacles we must suffer through. It’s really just a difference in mind-set, but I think that has helped her stay positive and maintain a fighting attitude through this whole ordeal.”
Sometimes, Slater will behave as though she feels better than she actually does to lighten the burden on relatives and friends. “Before my surgery, my parents were very upset. I smiled going into surgery, then after the operation, I smiled coming back into my room. It’s hard sometimes, but it also helps me,” Slater said.
Slater now faces more chemo, but she won’t bear it alone. She has her work team, in the IT offices of the Marine Corp Enterprise Data Center. She also has the Lenexa City Hall team. Slater was elected to the Lenexa City Council when she was 26 and has served ever since then.
And she has social media, which she will use to her advantage as she takes seriously the job of ambassador for Lee Jeans. She will upload her photos, which show a strong, beautiful and bald woman of 40 surrounded by fellow athletes and friends. She will write how she’s still working part-time and how she will train to get back up to Ironman speed. She will share the day back in March when she had her head shaved, with two friends to back her up.
“I hope when people see my bald head on the Internet, they’ll say, ‘If she can do it, then I can too,’” Slater said.
“I really have to show people it can be done and if they didn’t already do it in their lives before, maybe they should stretch themselves and take on experiences that will make them a stronger person,” Slater said.