For Local Nurse, Even Cancer Can’t Stop the Power of Forward Motion
In chatting with Michele Sandock for any length of time, a stranger notices two things right away: She has an amazing recall for specific details, likely due to her training as a critical care nurse, and she is always — always — moving.
“I was told to slow down some, but I just can’t,” Sandock of Whitesboro said recently with a laugh, describing her upcoming participation as a breast cancer survivor in the Syracuse Bicycle Breast Cancer Awareness Ride, which kicks off on Oct. 3 at Green Lakes Park.
For her, this will be immediately followed by the Wineglass Half Marathon at 7:45 a.m. the next day. It’s worth noting that while the cancer has thankfully cleared, Michele is still very much in the middle of reconstructive surgeries.
As for her knack of recall, it’s no surprise one of those days came on Dec. 1, 2014. This was the day the 48-year-old mother and wife learned she had breast cancer. Just prior, something troubling had come up on a routine mammogram.
“The doctor wanted to get another view. Then another view and another view and another view,” she recalled. Then came the biopsy and the excruciating wait for results.
“It was 16:48,” she said, using the military time convention used in hospitals for 4:48 p.m. “My doctor’s office called. I had been waiting all day.”
Her family knew about the multiple mammograms and the biopsy. “I will never forget it. I go, ‘Hi.’” The doctor was equally to the point: “It came back positive.”
“I still had three and half hours on my shift,” said said. “As I’m walking out of the critical care unit I grabbed a report and called my husband. I was really upbeat. I was very upbeat to co-workers, as if nothing was wrong. ”
But in telling her mother and daughter over the phone that day — her one daughter was away at college — the brave facade became more difficult to maintain.
“That,” Michele said softly, “was hard.”
Michele is one of the 124 women out of every 100,000 who will be diagnosed with breast cancer, which despite many advances in treatment, is still expected to cause the death of some 40,000 women in 2015, according to the American Cancer Society.
Early detection is a major factor in a positive outcome, the theme of the annual Syracuse Bicycle ride, which has grown in popularity each of its seven years, offering a 10-, 25- and 50-mile ride option. Michele has been busy fundraising for her own team. Last year, the ride raised nearly $20,000 for the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Fund, a noted Central New York charity that helps women and their families close to home. There is still time to register and a few volunteer shifts still available. (Email Debbie Sindone at firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer.)
“Brave women like Michele are the heart of this effort,” said Trish Dugan, co-owner of Syracuse Bicycle. “Each year we are simply blown away by the dedication, passion and love that flows out of survivors, their family and their friends all coming together to make breast cancer a thing of the past.”
Michele is ready for exactly that, but understands that some scars, physical and mental, will always remain.
For that, she relies on a close-knit network of family and friends. She had her first surgery on Dec. 19. In the wake of it, she struggled to understand how she would get back to her former athletic lifestyle of daily runs, mud runs, Boilermakers, triathlons and much more.
“On Feb. 1, I ran my first (post-surgical) mile with all my friends, people I go to the gym with,” Michele said. “It was probably the best mile I ever ran.”
It was a case of putting one foot in front of the other. Soon enough, she was reacquainting herself with that same athletic, always on-the-go woman she was before.
Still, there have been changes. She’s always been an advocate for preventative health, but even more so now. She also understands better that innate “toughness” should never stop women from accessing all the care and support they need. Today the woman who once ran on a broken heel for two weeks is 100-percent focused on health, physically and mentally. “I don’t dwell anymore,” she said.
She also reminds ever woman who will listen: Get your mammogram.
“I was going for mammograms every six months because I had very dense, fibrocystic breasts,” she said. “The cancer was so small, they weren’t even going to call it. That doctor saved my life and forever be grateful. I hug him every time I see him.”
And let the people around you help — husbands, family, friends. A friend from way back in 8th grade, a two-time breast cancer survivor herself, “actually changed her chemo day to stay with me the whole week during surgery,” Michele said. The support has made all the difference in her recovery.
“I used to be the cheerleader for my friends and now I’m being cheered for. But I’m still a cheerleader,” she said. “It’s been good.”
Now, back to running.