The will to succeedStubborn, determined and incredibly fit, Sindy Hooper is entered to run the 5K and half-marathon this weekend. But the lifelong athlete is also facing a bigger challenge after being diagnosed with pancreatic
cancer, Laura Armstrong writes.
Sindy Hooper, shown with her husband, Ottawa Race Weekend medical director Jon Hooper, is racing the 5K as well as the half-
marathon despite being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January.
Runners often rely on sheer willpower and mental strength to get across the finish line. Sindy Hooper, who plans to run the 5K and half marathon at Ottawa Race Weekend, has more than most. Since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just four months ago, the lifelong athlete has barely missed a beat and hopes to do an Iron Man this summer.
“I think most people, if they’re training properly have the physical fitness to accomplish their goals, but often it comes down to the mental strength to push through at the end when it starts getting really tough.” After participating in Ironman Canada last August, and missing out on a spot at the world competition by two places, Hooper signed up for the 2013 national event almost immediately. Training throughout the fall went well, but by her 50th birthday on Dec. 9, Hopper was experiencing stomach and back pain. Attributing the back ache to referred pain from an earlier disc issue, Hooper and her husband Jon, the director of the Intensive Care Unit at the Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus who moonlights as race weekend’s medical director, assumed her stomach was simply reacting to Celebrex, an anti-inflammatoryHooper was prescribed for pain relief.
A cold over Christmas, Hooper said, took the blame for cramping, diarrhea, and missing training targets, but severe stomach pains on New Year’s Eve and jaundiced eyes the next day caused Dr. Hooper to schedule an ultrasound for his wife, suspecting she had gallstones.
What was supposed to be a short ultrasound took 45 minutes, said Hooper. Trained to read the images, Dr. Hooper identified a four-centimetre tumour on his wife’s pancreas.
“So many things go through your head. How do you tell her? How do you explain this to her? What’s going to happen here,” said Dr. Hooper.
According to Pancreatic Cancer Canada, three quarters of patients diagnosed with the disease die within the first year; the five-year survival rate is six per cent, the lowest of all the major cancers.
Surgery offered Hooper her best chance for long-term survival, but only 15 per cent of patients are diagnosed early enough to be eligible.
A CT-scan determined Hooper was a candidate for the eight hour whipple procedure, which removed the tumour as well as half of her pancreas, half of her stomach, her gallbladder and a third of her small intestine.
Hooper woke to learn the cancer had not spread. Microscopic cancer cells left at the margins of her bile duct and portal vein, however, meant chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Hooper was adamant about getting back to training immediately.
“For me, swimming, biking and running just gives me a lot of pleasure and it’s a time, if I can be doing those things, I don’t feel like a cancer patient.” With her doctors, surgeons and husband on board, Hooper began exercising six weeks after the surgery. She began swimming and worked her way up to cycling and then a walk-run combination, which she plans to test in both the 5K and the half-marathon this weekend, in preparation to compete at Ironman Canada inWhistler in August.
Running the two races in two days is typical for Hooper, but her goals for this weekend are drastically different.
“Two years ago in the 5K atOttawa Race Weekend, I won my age group. I ran it in 20 minutes and 21 seconds. My plan for this year is to run it without a stop and get in under 30 minutes, so that’s a pretty big difference. I can usually run a half marathon in about an hour and 33 minutes, but my goal is to run/walk it in under three hours and 15 minutes and the reason for that time is because that’s the pace I need to finish the marathon at Ironman Canada.” Hooper’s focus is raising awareness about pancreatic cancer. Running with 64 friends and family members, Hooper and her team, including spectators, will sport custom T-shirts, which were made for free and sold for $20 each. The approximately $1,600 she raised through T-shirt sales went toward her fundraising goal of $20,000, managed through a page on Pancreatic Cancer Canada’s website.
Kevin Wilson, a senior exercise physiologist at PEAK Centre in Kanata whose been training Hooper for nearly three years, said the number of people she’s rallied to run in race weekend is no surprise. Calling Hooper “the organizer,” Wilson said she continues to inspire a following of friends to exercise, despite her diagnosis. “She seems to be the centre cog in the spikes. They still look to her. She still organizes the rides, for crying out loud.” By taking her diagnosis and running with it, Hooper, Wilson said, has surprised a lot of people. Instead of dwelling on the cancer, he said, Hooper has maintained her never-give-up attitude.
“She’s never going to have an excuse. She won’t say, ‘Well, I can’t do it because I’m tired. She’ll say, ‘I’ll try, but I’m tired,’ which is a huge difference. That kind of attitude is contagious to people around her.” Though many people call her an inspiration, Hooper said a lot of her days are spent feeling crummy and getting down on herself for the drop in calibre of her training.
“Part of it feels a little bit discouraging and it’s hard not to think about where I’d be had this not happened,” said Hooper, who chokes up as she talks about changing to the slow lane in swimming because she couldn’t keep up. “But, thingshappen for a reason.” Previous Sindy Hooper, shown with her husband, Ottawa Race Weekend medical director Jon Hooper, is racing the 5K as well as the
half-marathon despite being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January.



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