A Global Pandemic and Breast Cancer: Katie Michaud Turns to CrossFit for Comfort
The day the world shut down because of COVID-19 in March 2020, Katie Michaud was in the cereal aisle of the grocery store in Rollinsford, NH buying supplies for her parents when her phone rang. It was her doctor. “You’ve got breast cancer,” he said
- “I dropped my groceries and I think I kind of blacked out. I went to my car and drove to my parents.’ I was just crying and crying,” said Michaud, a 10-year CrossFit veteran, of that “awful moment” exactly one year ago.
- Michaud’s doctor was as surprised by the biopsy results as Michaud was. “Originally, they thought it was just some hardened breastmilk…and I have no family history of breast cancer,” said Michaud, now 35, who’s husband Matt Michaud owns Everproven CrossFit in Dover, NH.
What happened next: Michaud took a medical leave from her career as an occupational therapist and underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, followed by 12 weeks of chemotherapy and another six weeks of radiation. CrossFit was her saving grace, she explained.
- “It was hell. I was allergic to the chemo, so I was on a ton of steroids — IV and oral steroids — and it sent me to the emergency room one night because I couldn’t breathe. I gained 25 pounds of water weight and fluid. I was very puffy,” she said. Still, she made fitness a priority.
- When her gym was closed during the first lockdown, Michaud pivoted to Zoom classes from her garage at home and returned to the gym the moment they re-opened in June. “We have great big bay doors, so I would go outside to workout but I could still see everyone. It helped me out more mentally than physically,” she said, adding that she continued doing CrossFit three or four times a week during the first two months of chemotherapy.
- “In the last month of chemo, it was more like twice a week because the cumulative effects of chemotherapy started to take their toll…“Sometimes I’d just hop on a bike to just move, or I’d just do a few deadlifts. Just as long as I was moving and not just sitting around, I felt better…There would be days where I’d be in bed until 1 p.m. so it was important to just get out there and move,” she said.
- A year later: Nearly a year after her diagnosis, Michaud is starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. She is still receiving one targeted treatment every three weeks until May, and after that she’s hoping to put cancer behind her for good. And she credits CrossFit and the greater community with keeping her strong, not just mentally, but physically, throughout her journey. I’m still tired, but I’d say I’m about 80 percent. We also have two young kids, though, so they just keep you on your toes in general,” she laughed.
One big thing: Becoming connected with other cancer survivors through Barbells for Boobs — a non-profit organization with close ties to the CrossFit community — made a world of difference to her mental health, Michaud said.
- “The people I have met through Barbells for Boobs, we just have this common interest in fitness. It’s such a big part of our lives, so a lot of women in that group have inspired me and helped me change my mindset. They have helped me realize I only have control over what’s happening right now, so just focus on what I can control right now and whatever is going to happen tomorrow will happen,” Michaud said.
- She added: “I used to be a bit of a planner. I have to do this and this and this. And now I have realized I just have to live life day by day and do the best I can for today. I just appreciate the little things so much more.”
Finding the positive: When COVID-19 and cancer struck at the same time, it would have been easy for Michaud to just hibernate. “I could have just been like, ‘Screw it. I’m going to lay in bed for four months,’” she said. Instead, she chose to go through her journey “in a positive way.”
- “There were some dark, dark days, and I feel like (CrossFit) just helped me get through it,” she said. CrossFit helped her not just get through it, but come out the other side even stronger.
- “The other day, I don’t know where it came from but I PRed my deadlift. I was shocked…305 pounds,” Michaud said. “There were a lot of women in the class that day, and hitting that lift was just like a big F you cancer moment. It was a really great moment, one that I’ll remember for a long time.”