BY BILL PHILLIPS
If life pushes you around, you have to push back.
That’s the philosophy of Dr. Tracey Lotze who received a ‘push’ earlier this year in the form of a cancer diagnosis and is pushing back by setting her sights on competing in the 2019 Whistler Ironman.
She’s well on her way, having a couple of Tough Mudder competitions under her belt with competitions in Seattle and Las Vegas coming up this fall. Most recently, the emergency room physician at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. completed the Emperor’s Challenge in Tumbler Ridge last weekend.
“I enjoy fitness,” she says, adding it feeds her competitive nature.
What makes the fact she competed in the Emperor’s Challenge and is now setting her sights on the Whistler Ironman incredible is that in March she was diagnosed with cancer.
“I had melanoma, which is a type of skin cancer,” she says. “It’s somewhat to be expected, I’m from South Africa. It’s caused by the sun.”
Luckily the cancer was caught early. It was classed as Stage 1, almost Stage 2.
“I was able to, luckily, get it controlled with a couple of procedures,” she says.
Doctors took an eight-inch skin graft off her hip to replace the cancerous area that was removed and she also had seven lesions removed. Follow up scanning has not shown any cancer spread since the skin graft, so she does not require any more treatment, however she will require check-ups for the rest of her life.
Melanoma makes up about 25 per cent of skin cancers, but causes 75-80 of skin cancer deaths. Once it takes hold, it rapidly advances throughout the body.
And one might think that being a physician would be a benefit in dealing with such a diagnosis. Not so. Lotze soon learned that her health insurance doesn’t cover melanoma. That meant should the unthinkable happen, there wouldn’t be that support for her two children. And, as a physician she is self-employed, which means taking a lot of time off work isn’t really in the cards either.
“It was a situation where I just needed to keep going,” she says.
Luckily, the procedures she needed didn’t require extensive bed rest. The timing of her skin graft worked well with her shifts at the hospital, so she didn’t have to take time off … just make sure she took it easy.
“It’s very sobering,” she says. “Even myself, who deals with this on a daily basis … the realization of our own mortality … is humbling. When it’s your time, it’s your time. Some people’s journeys are a lot harder.”
Even still, it’s a tough road and she realizes that her battle with cancer was not as difficult as many.
“You’re pretty upset at the world, at times,” she says. “If this is all I have, then I’m going to push it to what it will do for me.”
Being physically fit also helped, physically and mentally, along with her knowledge of both eastern and western medical techniques.
“I honestly believe it was all of that together that probably got me through this,” she says. “If life is going to push me, I’m going to push right back.”
It’s tough because the skin graft is on her hip, which goes through a lot of motion when competing. However, she managed OK in Tumbler Ridge.
“My body got me through, clearly it was up to the challenge, so I’m going to challenge it,” she says.
And now she’s going to push a little harder with the Tough Mudder competitions coming up and the Whistler Ironman, which is a full Ironman meaning it’s a 180-kilometre bike ride, 42-kilometre run (full marathon), and a 3.8-kilometre swim.
“I’ve never done any of them at that length,” she says. “I’ve got 11 months to train. I know my body can do it. The fun part now is to have others in my team have this challenge with me.”
Those will include her trainer and physicians who will help guide her.
“I’m the minion … you’ve got to pick the right minion, the right quarterback to win the game,” she says. “It takes everyone on team to get there.”
Lotze fulfilled a childhood dream 10 years ago when she emigrated from South Africa. She has since become a Canadian citizen.
“When I was six, I wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to live in Canada,” she says. “That’s it.”