IT might have taken a while, but Laura Pruitt learned one of the biggest benefits of leading an athletic lifestyle.
It gets a body ready to fight even the worst of diseases.
Then known as Laura Lutes, the 1980 Columbus North graduate was a track and swimming star in high school and a cross-country runner at Ball State University. Twenty-eight years later, Pruitt was diagnosed with two forms of breast cancer Dec. 5, 2008, at the age of 46.
“It was a total surprise to pretty much myself and everybody else, too,” Pruitt said. “Not only had I always been active, but I ate right and I had no risk factors, no significant family history.”
Despite dealing with the mental and physical trauma of cancer and its treatment, Pruitt was committed to keeping up her active lifestyle.
“On Jan. 11, 2009, I had a double mastectomy,” she said. “Within four days, I started to work out again. My body was going into shock lying around and doing nothing. I couldn’t do it. My body was feeling terrible. It was crazy.”
So she was determined to do at least some of the things that comprised her pre-cancer daily routine.
“Basically, you have to listen to what your doctors tell you to do,” she said. “You have to use your brain. I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology from Eastern Illinois, so I understand how the body works. It’s more about what you can do and can’t do.
“I talked with my doctor. I said, ‘I have to do something.’ She said, ‘OK, but you’ve got all these drain tubes. I don’t want you to do anything where you start sweating a lot.’”
Pruitt had an elliptical in her basement, so she worked on it for 20 minutes until she started sweating then would stop and stretch. She would then do some weight training and would get her heart rate down. Then it was back to the elliptical for another 20 minutes.
“If the only thing I had to do was the surgery, this would have been a piece of cake,” she said. “I realize not everyone is going to feel that way, but the reason I did so well was because I was in such good shape.”
Because of her excellent condition, doctors removed her drain tubes a week earlier than scheduled.
“By that time, I was back to doing almost what I normally would do. But then the chemotherapy started. I went through seven months of chemotherapy, and the first seven treatments were every three weeks. It was rough. I would go in and I sort of timed it around my spinning class. I would do the spinning class, sit in chemo for three or four hours, get finished up, then go work with one of my personal training clients.
“I wouldn’t feel great the next day, but I would do something real light. In chemo, they are pumping your body full of all these drugs and fluids. I literally would weigh 10 pounds more. I knew I needed to get that fluid out of my body. So I would try to sweat because I knew I would feel better.”
Pruitt said the anti-nausea medications today are fantastic, with symptoms no worse than if she had the flu the day after a treatment.
Besides continuing to work on her physical conditioning, Pruitt decided to make that most of her down time. She took an online Athletic Training Certificate Physical Therapy Assistant program offered by Kent State University in Ohio that allowed her to become a physical therapy assistant.
One of her personal training clients was so impressed with the way she handled her fight, that she entered her to be a representative for the Under Armour “Power In Pink Campaign” in 2009.
“I won,” Pruitt said. “I was one of three ladies chosen to be representatives.”
Being a representative for Under Armour in the fight against breast cancer allowed Pruitt to pass along a message she holds dear to her heart. She wanted young women to know they are not immune to breast cancer.
“Just because you are young and healthy doesn’t keep it from occurring,” she said. “I was fortunate, when I got it, I was in my 40s. I had children and a family. The two representatives with me were 19 and 22.
“And the sad reality is that with the way medical insurance is, just a few months ago they released a study that said women don’t need mammograms until they are 50. I would be dead. My diagnosis was made basically from a routine mammogram. I had no risk factors and nothing on the outside.
“I tell women that if you have any suspicions, even something as slight as your shoulder is really tight and you’re not sure why it is, you should get it checked. A woman should be adamant that she needs a mammogram. Be an advocate for your own health. If your mammogram doesn’t show anything, demand an ultrasound. Stand up to insurance companies.”
Pruitt said that young women also should know that being active doesn’t give them immunity from breast cancer.
With the education she picked up during her treatment, Pruitt now is working as a home physical therapist, mostly for elderly clients.
She continues to be active in sports and competes in events like triathlons that combine canoeing, biking and running.
While free of cancer now, the 50-year-old is battling another problem that everyone faces with age.
“I’m slower now,” she said with a laugh.
THE PRUITT FILE
NAME: Laura Pruitt
RESIDENCE: Lawrenceburg (formerly of Columbus; 1980 Columbus North graduate)
OCCUPATION: Physical therapy assistant.
DIAGNOSED: Dec. 5, 2008, Stage 2 lobular carcinoma, Stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma.
TREATMENT: Double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.
FAMILY: Sons Dustin, 17; and Alex, 12.
WHAT CANCER TAUGHT ME: Not to listen to the naysayers who told me all the things I wouldn’t be able to do after surgery and during chemo and radiation. I pretty much proved all of them wrong. Cancer taught me that there are always things which will be out of our control, but we just do the best we can to deal with what we are given. Finally, that no matter how bad our situation is, that things can always be worse, we don’t have to look far to find someone who has things rougher than us.
HOW CANCER CHANGED ME: Quite simply, not to take each day for granted, because we never know what the next day will bring.
WHAT I WOULD TELL SOMEONE JUST DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER: Get as informed as possible about your specific type of cancer and treatments available. You will pretty much be not in control of some parts of your life, so take control of the parts of your life that you can. Don’t listen to the naysayers, the negative comments. You are different than every other person who has had this disease so you will determine what you can and can’t do. Attitude is huge. Stay positive, stay focused and your main job is to fight the disease. You have to do everything you can to stay strong. Allow yourself to accept help from people. Everyone wants to help you but they don’t know what to do. Allow them to help with kids, carpools, meals, etc. Allow and encourage people to pray for you, the more prayers the better! Finally, don’t overextend yourself. If you are too tired, too sore, or not feeling well, don’t feel obligated to do everything you always did. No one knows what to do when someone close to them is diagnosed with cancer, so allowing friends, relatives, even those you don’t know to provide you with help does just as much for them as it does for you.