Double Mastectomy Doesn’t Stop Shelly Head from PR-ing Grace, Raising $13,000-plus for Breast Cancer

October 11, 2021 by
Courtesy of Shelly Head
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Last year, right after their affiliate raised $6,500 for breast cancer through the annual Barbells for Boobs fundraiser, Brandon Head said to his wife, “Wow, one in eight women will get breast cancer. That means someone from our gym probably will one day.”

“Yeah, that’s really crazy to think about,” replied Shelly Head, who along with her husband, owns Grapevine CrossFit in TX.

At the time, neither was remotely worried that Shelly might be the one. 

But just a few months later, when Shelly turned 40, she went for her first mammogram. 

“I’m young and I eat really clean. I take health seriously,” said Shelly of her unconcerned attitude going into the mammogram. 

But when her results came back, doctors found some tissues of concern. She was then sent for further tests, including a biopsy, that eventually showed she had Grade 1 breast cancer.

Remind Me

Barbells for Boobs was founded by CrossFit athlete Zionna Hanson in 2009. In the last 11 years, the CrossFit community has raised more than $20 million for the non-profit, mostly through hosting competition fundraisers in October—Breast Cancer Awareness Month—usually featuring the classic CrossFit workout Grace: 30 clean and jerks for time.

So far this month, the Grapevine CrossFit community has raised more than $13,000 in donations, and Shelly’s hoping this number will reach at least $15,000 once all the donations are in at the completion of their Global Grace event on October 16. 

A Tough Choice

Though lucky her cancer was caught early, Shelly was left with a difficult decision to make. 

“My choices were to do a lumpectomy with radiation, or a single mastectomy, or a double mastectomy,” said the nurse of 10 years.

“It was tough. Really tough. I have two kids, so I wanted to do the most aggressive thing to give me the best chance, so when me and my husband talked, we were like, ‘Let’s do what we got to do,” said Shelly of her choice to do the double mastectomy. “But I always joked that I never had big boobs to begin with, so I think it’s a less hard pill to swallow maybe…,” she added, laughing.

But before Shelly went in for surgery on September 10, there was one thing she had to do first: Grace.

“I was so bummed I wouldn’t be able to do it with everyone else on October 16, and I really wanted to do it,” said Shelly, who did Grace on September 9 with her husband in their garage at home

“And I even PRed…I know I was over three minutes before and this time I was 2:35,” she said.  

The Emotional Recovery

While Shelly’s double mastectomy was a success and “as of right now I’m in the clear,” she said, the last few weeks have been admittedly difficult.

Doctors told her not to lift even her 2 and 4 year-old children for six to eight weeks post surgery, let alone workout, so life without her usual daily workout has been hard to cope with.

“I’m hoping to be able to start working out again soon, even if it’s just air squats…but you really don’t realize how much you rely on (fitness) for so many things,” she said. “I also had a drain put in that was leaking, so I haven’t even wanted to do much stretching, so there has been a lot of scar tissue build up and my body is tight.”

She added: “It has been hard to remain positive always, or not worry about it coming back, or, ‘Why does my back hurt?’ so I’m just taking it day by day, and the biggest struggle has been not being able to workout, because that is such a huge release for me.”

Having the Barbells for Boobs community in her corner in more recent weeks, however, has lessened the blow, she explained. 

Just after her surgery, Channelle Miller from Barbells for Boobs reached out to Shelly and connected her with their Resources After Diagnosis (RAD) Program, as well as with a mental and physical fitness coach to help Shelly on her recovery.

“The biggest thing for me, though, has been getting into the (Barbells for Boobs) Facebook Groups,” she said. 

Prior to being connected to Barbells for Boobs, Shelly found some other breast cancer groups online, but nobody in those groups seemed to understand what she was going through, so her questions about recovery and getting back to fitness largely fell on deaf ears, she explained.

“I was discouraged that nobody in those groups did CrossFit, so they didn’t really understand what I was talking about when I was talking about getting back to it physically,” Shelly said. 

Connecting with the Barbells for Boobs community has been a completely different story, and has gone a long way in providing her, not just practical answers, but also emotional support, she explained. 

“I have asked a lot of questions about mobility issues after a mastectomy and trying to figure out how long it takes to be able to snatch or do kipping pull-ups again. Had I asked that in the (other) group, nobody would have even known what I was talking about,” Shelly added. 

Courtesy of Shelly Head

Shelly’s Message

It doesn’t matter how young or fit you are, don’t wait to get a mammogram. 

“I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, and I didn’t even have a lump,” Shelly said. 

Still, she went for a routine mammogram, just in case. And the decision to do so might have saved her life.

This is why Shelly has been so open and vocal about her experience with breast cancer these past weeks, she explained.  

“I just think it’s really important to talk about. I have been really vocal about it, because so many women are affected by it, and even at younger ages,” she said.

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