Inspiring Woman: Triathlete and Two-Time Breast Cancer Survivor

By , By Laurah Turner, PhD
Editor's Note (Nicole Nichols): I've had the pleasure of competing against Laurah Turner in multiple local races (and by "competing" I mean "watching her leave me in the dust"). I always found her athletic achievements admirable, her sheer speed enviable, and her personality contagious. Recently, I learned Laurah, an amazingly talented endurance athlete who appears to be the epitome of health and fitness, is a two-time breast cancer survivor—and she's only 29. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I asked Laurah to share her inspiring story of how breast cancer changed her and inspired both her career and her fitness goals.
I grew up a type A personally. I tended toward routine, was obnoxiously punctual and saw the entire world through Excel spreadsheets and lists. In fact, I was so married to my routines that I even developed the quickest and most efficient way to prepare the perfect pot of coffee. Every morning, I woke up and immediately dove for my coffee pot. I employed a specific set of procedures which resulted in the first bold, sweet, creamy sip of caffeinated heaven rushing over my palate within 3 minutes and 40 seconds, and never deviated from this ritual.
July 25, 2004 was no different than any other morning, but somehow during my distribution of  six leveled scoops of Folgers into the coffee filter, my fingertips found themselves palpating a large lump on my right breast instead of steadying  the canister of grounds as they usually would. Was it that? I didn’t have this lump yesterday.  Suddenly a wave of panic engulfed my body.  Had the lump been there yesterday? A week ago?
I could not answer my own question with any confidence. The only physical changes I ever paid attention to were the irritating acne that I developed once a month or the extra three pounds the scale told me I gained during the winter. I was only 22 years old. Did I really just feel what I thought I had felt?
I had just graduated from the University of Indianapolis and was three weeks from beginning a graduate degree. My parent’s health insurance coverage stopped when I had graduated two months earlier, but that was not unexpected for 22-year-olds. Being young and healthy, I did not consider the three-month coverage gap between graduation and graduate school a big deal. I reasoned I would just have to drive a little more careful and take my vitamins.
But no amount of vitamins or cautious driving would have stopped the lump in my breast from developing. Left with no other option, I went to a local free health clinic looking for help. I was given a physical breast examination and told the lump was probably related to menstruation and to come back in a few months if the lump had not gone away. After all, they insisted, I was too young to get breast cancer.
I decided to get a second opinion. A week and a half later, I had been diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, received a partial mastectomy and began drug treatments. I expected that I would finish my treatment and jump right back into my type-A, 22-year-old lifestyle. The experience, however, left me changed in more ways than I expected.
I realized that life could no longer only be about perfect coffee, or lists and order; instead, I needed to embrace every possible experience that life had to offer. I completed my master's degree in human biology and began a PhD program; I began training for and competing in high endurance athletic competitions such as Ironman races and marathons, and became deeply involved in breast cancer advocacy and fundraising.  I felt so lucky to be alive and I wanted to challenge myself to reach new goals, but also to give back. I felt like I had conquered the world at only 26 years old.

When I walked in to the hospital for my routine breast ultrasound in November 2008, I felt confident, and accomplished with everything I had done in the last four years. My breast cancer had recurred, leaving me feeling shattered, confused—and scared. My insurance would not cover the treatment of this recurrence. I was fortunate to enroll in a clinical trial for partial radiation therapy, which I received twice a day for five days in early December. While undergoing radiation, I was still training for my first full Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run). My doctors and nurses were amazed at the positive response and were quick to credit my athletic training and healthy diet (rich in iron and potassium to help with radiation recovery) as integral to my success. Together, the new radiation therapy and my healthy lifestyle had me back on my feet, and racing in just a few short weeks.
Breast cancer changed me. I now view life not a thing that needs to be conquered, but as an opportunity do something great. I re-focused my dissertation to explore the relationships between diet, exercise and breast cancer risk in young women. My research has helped identify gaps in current breast cancer knowledge. Traditionally, research has focused on treatment and diagnosis, not prevention, and outreach programs tend to target postmenopausal women and ignore young women who may be at risk.  It is my hope that my experience with breast cancer will help other women at risk for breast cancer by identifying interactions between lifestyle factors, estrogen levels and breast cancer risk during all stages of a woman’s reproductive life.
I still see remnants of my Type-A personality every now and then, but now at 29, the necessity for perfection has been replaced with the joy of knowing that beating cancer twice has given me an opportunity to make a difference in the world, whether that difference is through my own survival, my racing, or helping other women become more aware of how they can protect themselves.
Laurah Turner is a 29 year-old, competitive runner and tri-athlete, two-time breast cancer survivor, and biological anthropologist. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 at the age of 22, and again in 2008 at the age of 26. After her experience with cancer, Laurah pursued her life with a new zeal. She entered into the world of endurance athleticism and is now an avid IRONMAN triathlete, and marathoner. Laurah currently places high in many regional and local races and hopes to qualify for the IRONMAN world championships.

Laurah’s experience with breast cancer inspired her to get involved in both cancer research and advocacy. Laurah has a master's degree in human biology and a master's and doctorate degree in biological anthropology. Her current research at Northern Kentucky University explores relationships between diet, exercise and breast cancer risk in young women with the aim of promoting a healthy, active lifestyle. Additionally, Laurah advocates for young women with breast cancer through her work with the National Breast Cancer Coalition, The Young Survivor Coalition, American Association for Cancer Research, and Women’s Health Initiative.
As an athlete and scientist, Laurah whole-heartedly believes in inspiring an active lifestyle by encouraging athletes of all ability levels. Laurah believes her greatest successes are not always in her athletic or academic achievements, but in her personality, love for life and depth of participation in the world of endurance sports.

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LEANJEAN6 3/15/2021
Wow--very inspirational! Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
thanks for sharing Report
What an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing. Report
Very inspiriting! My uncle is a breast cancer survivor. Report
So inspiring! Thanks for sharing! Report
Breast cancer is the most invasive cancer in women, but not an uncommon finding to find breast cancer in men. As per recent statistical reports, every woman in US has a 12% chance of developing breast cancer sometime in her life. After reading about Breast cancer on zovon, I was surprised to know that it is the second most common cause of death in women (first being lung cancer). As per the American Cancer Society’s estimate, 2,66,120 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in US in 2018. We should know everything about Breast Cancer – types, symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment. Report
Fabulous Report
Absolutely great Report
Thanks to Laurah for sharing this amazing story. So glad she is able to continue with her work and sports and be a real beacon for other women. Report
Amazing spirit. With all the money that we waste hurting people wouldn't it be nice to put it towards ridding our society of this heinous desease. Report
Thank you for sharing. I hope you continue to do well.

I also did the shorter radiation which consisted of the 2 treatments a day for five days (mammosite) which is less risky for heart and blood vessels esp. in smaller busted women. Report
I admire you. You have left me just about speechless. I'll be watching for you and cheering you on. I'm feeling a lot more for you then I can put into words right now. Report
What an inspiring article! And what a strong woman! Report
Truly inspirational! Report
You are a role model for us all.
Thank you for introducing and sharing this fabulous woman's story with us! Report
Great story - I'm amazed at how you were able to stay so active in the midst of all that. Impressive!

One thing that makes me angry, though, is to read "insurance would not cover the treatment of this recurrence." That such a thing should happen in America infuriates me to no end. Report
Amazing blog. I always keep up with my mammograms. You are truly an inspiration, for us all, to keep on checking. Report
WOW. You are easily one of the the most - if not THE most! - inspiring people I have ever read about. Thank you so much for sharing. Report
DGENNAN, I agree with you as well. I had a lumpectomy and I just finished my radiation treatment and I still walked in the afternoons, even a week after surgery, and I helped my husband move us into our new home during radiation. I believe that having an exercise regimen helped me from the very beginning. Laurah you are such a great inspiration to us all, congratulations. I was told by a co-worker that for her second bout with cancer that she was not fully covered by her insurance as she was with the first because it was the same diagnosis and that is awful. Report
Can we get more information about Laurah's research? My husband and I are very interested in how what we eat can help us prevent & heal disease, and were very inspired by some food documentaries we watched recently like "Food Matters" and "The Gerson Miracle". I'd love to read some of her research about how diet, exercise & lifestyle can help prevent breast cancer. Thank you! Report
This is a remarkable story. Thanks you so much for sharing. Report
What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing with us. Report
What an amazing story with amazing accomplishments! I recently did my exam and am glad to report there were no abnormalities. I'm so glad things worked out positively for Laurah. She's a treasure to this world through her motivation, inspiration, leadership, and medical research. Report
That story was awesome! Thank you, thank you for sharing it with all of us! Swim, Bike, and Run - It's more than multisport, it's a lifestyle! I love it! Go Laura go! Report
You go girl! Wonderfully inspiring! Report
Just had my mammo and I am good to go.thanks for a great story and an inspiration to us all... Report
What a Wonderful Lady(Gal) she is!! She is a very inspiring to all of us. May God Bless her and everyone. Have a Wonderful Week all of you. Report
How lucky we all are to have such a dedicated lady working in the cancer research field! Yayyy! Report
Wow! And WOW again! May God continue to bless you with health and strenght. Report
Thank u for a truly inspirational story. my wife is a 2 time cancer survivor and she is still going strong. Report
As a fellow young survivor I could relate to the story. I've been running 5k's after my treatment of chemo, surgery (double mastectomy) and radiation. I'm getting ready to start recostruction. Thanks for the motivation to continue training! Report
Breastfeeding is a help to women's health. Report
Hi Laurah!

Olivia just sent me this story! We are all so proud of you! I always knew there was something truly exceptional about you. It was apparent to me even in high school!
Congratulations! We will be following your athletic career!
Best wishes always!
Pat (Graham's mom....) Report
I'm so pleased to read of Laurah's focus on prevention. It's great that we have a strong range of treatment options but how much better to prevent it in the first place. Report
I'm so glad it's possible to exercise through radiation therapy - my RO looked at me like I had 2 heads when I suggested that I wanted to maintain my fitness routine. He actually said, "oh, you won't want to do anything like that within one week of starting this," causing me to delay my treatment for 2 and a half months. Now I'm ready to bite the bullet and begin, but I refuse to become sedentary for the next 2 or 2.5 months! Report
You are amazing!!! Thank you for sharing! Report
An Awesome inspiring story thank you so much for sharing. Report
Very inspiring! What a remarkable young woman! Report
She's incredible. How amazing to beat cancer twice before 30. Count your blessings. Report
Really makes you think about how important it is to pay attention to your health no matter what age you are! Report
Have to say this is a very inspiring story..THANKS! Report
Laurah has decided to live life as a gift--thank you, Laurah, for sharing that gift with us here. All the best. Report
This is an amazing story. Being proactive about your health is very important. As much as I hate to do the well woman and mammogram exams, annually, they save lives. YAY Laurah!! Report
I absolutely loved hearing this inspiring story. If Laurah wrote a book, I would read it. Report
Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your life with us. I am truly inspired!
I am a 3x survivor of breast cancer, 2004, 2006 and 2008/09, currently cancer free for almost 3 years. I credit my healthy lifestyle for pulling through the last 6 rounds of intense chemo, us bc survivor's are Winners! This is an amazing story of recovery, Big Hugs on making it your way! Report
What an inspiration! Report