To Your Health
June, 2011 (Vol. 05, Issue 06)
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Fifty States, One Mission

By Brenda Duran

When Jenn Sommermann was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer, she was inspired to not only beat the disease herself, but help others beat it as well. Five years later, Jenn is a cancer survivor and triathlete, swimming, biking and running across the country to raise money and awareness – one race and one state at a time.

To be a successful triathlete, you need tenacity, strength and determination to make it to the finish line. Triathlete Jenn Sommermann, 47, possesses all of these traits. To prove it, she has crossed the finish line more than 20 times after swimming, biking and running thousands of miles in nearly a dozen states. She has also placed among the top percentage for her age group at numerous triathlons, acquiring many medals in the process.

However, unlike many triathletes, Sommermann did not learn how to succeed in a triathlon merely by training in a swimming pool or on a paved road; she learned it while fighting ovarian cancer.

Five years ago, at the age of 42, Sommermann, a massage therapist and financial consultant, was on top of the world and eager to conquer the world of triathlons. She was busy getting in the best shape of her life when she received the grim diagnosis that would change everything: stage III ovarian cancer.

sommermann with medal - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Like many women who get diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Sommermann was shocked. She hadn't felt "right" for months, but the symptoms she'd felt were not indicative of cancer, many doctors told her. There was indigestion, a 5-pound weight gain and some fatigue; all vague symptoms that have given ovarian cancer the label of "silent killer."

"It is easy to rationalize the symptoms of ovarian cancer," Sommermann said. "I thought, 'Wow, I'm exhausted, but what woman isn't?' I thought, 'I'm getting older; that explains the weight gain.' I tried to rationalize all of it."

Not satisfied with initial tests from doctors, Sommermann pushed for more answers after feeling her lumpy stomach one day in bed. Doctors eventually found a 6-pound eggplant-sized tumor in her pelvis and within four days, Sommermann was undergoing a full hysterectomy and chemotherapy, which ultimately eliminated the cancer and saved her life.

"All I was thinking was, 'I want this out, I want this over with and I want to get on and feel better,'" she said. Sommermann had her sights set on getting back to her triathlons and basking in the glory of crossing a finish line with hundreds of other healthy, fit triathletes.

Today, she said she is grateful she's taken on the sport. She even credits it with making her more aware about her body's imbalance.

"Had I not been as fit as I am and had I not had the keen awareness of my body, I think the ovarian cancer could have gone undetected even longer than it did," she said.

The experience of surviving stage III ovarian cancer ended up providing a number of life lessons for Sommermann and made her reflective about other people who might be faced with the same grim diagnosis.