My name is Isabella de la Houssaye. I’m a 54 year old mother of five, business owner, triathlete and cancer patient. I am sharing my story in hopes that others, particularly those challenged by cancer or other debilitating illnesses, will be inspired by my story to continue to pursue their dreams despite their diagnoses.
I have so much to be grateful for. I have stage IV lung cancer and my dream of competing in the Hawaii IRONMAN World Championships in Kona will be realized on October 13, 2018 thanks to the IRONMAN Foundation and Ventum Racing. The race will also mark completion of my 50th state marathon – one in every state in the United States.
My journey as an athlete probably began about the time I was born. I’ve always been active and participated in sports in one form or another. My triathlon career, however, didn’t start till I was 40 when I first learned about the Ironman. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that such a feat was possible, yet I promptly commenced learning everything I could about swim-bike-run. Fourteen years later, I’ve completed 16 iron distance races, 9 of them IRONMAN races, 5 of them with one or more of my children and 1 with my husband, David Crane. We even had a dream that when our youngest child turned 18 all 5 of the children and my husband and I would train and qualify for Kona. It never occurred to me that I might not be around to see my youngest turn 18.
My journey as a cancer patient began this past January. I felt dizzy and tired and was rapidly losing control of my right leg. By the time I was diagnosed I had a large tumor in my left lung and inoperable tumors in my brain, spine, pelvis, sternum and adrenal gland. I was devastated. The pain in my spine quickly made walking and sitting unbearable. My life as I knew it was over and the future looked short and bleak. Fortunately, I was admitted into a drug trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering and the drugs that I am taking (a pill every night and infusion via a port every 21 days) have stabilized my disease. I will continue on these drugs until such time as my cancer progresses (usually about 18 months) and then I will try others. I am intent on turning what many consider a “terminal” diagnosis into a chronic disease.
My journey from cancer patient back to triathlete has been challenging and painful but so very rewarding. The first and hardest step was actually mental – letting go of the sadness and suffering brought on by focusing on what I had lost and replacing it with being grateful for all that I still had that cancer could not take from me: my family and friends, my smile and positive attitude.
I then set about learning to reengage the muscles in my right leg once the tumors in my spine had shrunk sufficiently for the bones to regrow and bear weight. I used walking poles at first and every day walked a little further and with increasing confidence. Swimming enabled me to work out aerobically without stressing my bones. Getting back on the bike was a bit more complicated because I was terrified of losing my balance, falling and breaking all that wasn’t already broken. Through hard work, mindfulness, perseverance, and with the overwhelming support of my family, friends, doctors and coach, I managed to become a triathlete again. When the IRONMAN Foundation and Ventum reached out to me in July to say I had a spot in Kona, it motivated me to work even harder to make the most of that opportunity. My body is not what it was – the drugs have side effects, the port is a pain, there are things I’m just not physically capable of doing anymore – but on September 10, 2018 my son David and I completed IRONMAN Korea and I am thrilled to be taking on the Kona challenge in a few weeks.
Lessons learned over the past 9 months—
Never give up. Focus on what you have rather than what you have lost. Stay active. Keep moving. Set goals. It’s not survival of the fittest but survival of the most adaptable. Love freely and be grateful and remember that failure is not defeat until you stop trying.
If my story touches or inspires you in some way please consider making a contribution to the IRONMAN Foundation to support all the wonderful work that they do across a wide range of organizations including those focused on cancer research and support of cancer patients. And please keep me in your thoughts and prayers on race day, October 13th, and beyond.
With tremendous gratitude,