SAN ANTONIO, Texas — As a Mason City native prepares for her third Ironman triathlon next summer, she is grateful for the gift of health this season.
Seven years ago, Brandi Shipman, 43, was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. Today, she is cancer free.
Shipman, who graduated from Mason City High School in 1991 and now teaches at the elementary level in San Antonio, Texas, said she knew something was wrong when her nipple was cracking, peeling and discharging fluid.
“Definitely listen to your body,” Shipman said. “If you think something is wrong, be persistent.”
A couple of doctors initially told her nothing was wrong, she said, saying they thought her sports bra was chafing.
An active individual, Shipman ran track in high school and completed her first triathlon nearly two decades ago after watching a fellow lifeguard race in one.
Since then she has completed two full Ironman triathlons, which involve a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. She has also completed a number of half Ironman triathlons, Olympic triathlons, sprint triathlons, marathons and ultramarathons — races longer than 26.2 miles.
Shipman, who does not have a family history of cancer, was diagnosed with Paget’s disease of the breast on April 1, 2009.
It is a rare disease found in 1 percent to 4 percent of breast cancer cases, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can start as a red, scaly, itchy rash and is normally found in women over 50.
“I moved on from there,” she said. “My first thought was, ‘How am I going to fight this?’”
Although she underwent chemotherapy, losing her hair and 10 to 15 pounds in the process, Shipman kept teaching, training and racing.
“I slowed down but I kept going,” Shipman said. “I’m half-crazy, too, by the way.”
In the process, she slept more than usual, chose healthy foods and followed heart rate training, which would indicate when she needed extra recovery time.
Her oncologist told her it was lucky she was active before her diagnosis, which is believed to have aided her in the healing process.
After ending chemotherapy in October 2009, she was in remission two months later. A medicine she was taking can cause congestive heart failure, but Shipman had no issues then or now.
“I kind of feel like I cheated it,” she said.
Shipman, who offers multisport coaching in her spare time, is working toward Ironman Lake Placid in New York on July 23, 2017.
She ran the San Antonio Rock ‘n Roll Half-Marathon earlier this month amidst rainy conditions, finishing in 2:07.11. She will race in another half-marathon in January.
“I want to continue training and leading a healthy, active lifestyle into my 60s and 70s,” she said.
As for cancer, Shipman said the diagnosis is “not the end of the world.”
“You can get through it,” she said. “Keep fighting and keep a positive attitude and positive people around you at all times.”