When Janet Lefkowitz first noticed a “weird lump” during a breast self-exam two years ago, she was on a hiking-and-biking trip in Utah with her husband.
When Doreen Wiggins’s husband died suddenly two-and-a-half years ago from a previously undiagnosed heart ailment, they were with their children on a ski trip in Colorado.
Exercise was a fundamental part of life to both women. Not surprisingly, both turned to exercise to help them cope with their life-altering circumstances.
“I think exercise was my route to healing,” explained Wiggins recently. Her husband, Michael Wiggins, was an orthopedic surgeon and triathlete himself. They have five children.
When people would ask her what she needed, said Wiggins, she would say, “Come to yoga with me.”
“It was the thing that actually saved me,” she said. Today, a group of women go to together most Wednesday evenings and then get dinner at . Lefkowitz is part of that group. She and Wiggins have more than yoga in common. They are both doctors - Wiggins is a breast surgeon and ob/gyn, Lefkowitz is an ob/gyn. And both have been lifelong exercise enthusiasts.
“I'm convinced that I did as well as I did because I was in good shape going into my diagnosis,” said Lefkowitz about her cancer. “I had done a triathlon a month before my diagnosis,” she said.
She had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, through which, she said, she did “exceedingly well.” So far, so good, said Lefkowitz, who lives in North Kingstown with her husband and two daughters.
Wiggins said she’s been a runner since seventh grade. “I really think that my athletics have given me the confidence to do the things that I’ve done in life,” she said.
But both women found that returning to competition was difficult. Lefkowitz suffered a stress fracture that has ruled out running or biking for now. Wiggins, alternatively, has found swimming in open water a real challenge since the death of her husband.
What to do? Team up, of course. The pair has competed in five triathlons including, most recently, the Amica Triathlon in Newport on Sept. 24. Lefkowitz swims the first segment and Wiggins picks up after the swim, completing the bike and run portions of the competition.
“It’s a perfect fit,” said Wiggins. “We’re helping each other reach our goals. I think the beauty of our relationship is we have such a great time. We feel like little kids going to compete. It’s been fun.”
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.