When Evelyn Debadts of Sodus met her upstairs neighbor at her Florida getaway property, she immediately liked her. She learned over time that her neighbor, Sharon was an athlete from Canada. She was soon to learn so much more about Sharon’s life, struggles and determination, that they became close friends.
Sharon Ingle is a 52 year old former Canadian gold medalist in swimming. She is also a triathlete and strong bicyclist. Credibly inspirational is what she has become.
In 2008, at the peak of her triathletic career, Ingle was diagnosed with breast cancer. Completing a final lap of a swimming race in Florida, she said she “felt funny”, and thought she had pulled muscles in her chest. Doctors were soon to find that the muscle pull was a lump on her pectoral muscle, and this led to 8 months of chemotherapy, hair loss and energy sapping drugs.
Six months into her chemo sessions, Sharon took up with her swimming again, because the exercise seems to help with the sickness she felt after chemo. Her coach also felt that the exercise was beneficial… and encouraged her to not only swim, but to continue to compete.
“I kept competing, and surprised myself by qualifying for the Provincial Championship for swimming, qualifying in 8 events,” she recalled with a smile. Representing Ontario, Canada, Sharon won 3 medals, 2 silver and a bronze.
Three weeks later, after taking off to the Galipagos Islands with a friend to celebrated her “cure”, she enjoyed herself, ziplining and generally letting go.
When she returned, her arm began to hurt badly, and she felt pain in her sternum . Thinking she had cracked her sternum with the ziplining, Sharon’s doctor scolded her and told her to “stop being a crazy person.” The sternum and arm pain turned out to be the breast cancer matatisizing and spread.
She was told to stop running and swimming, and that there was no cure. It was stage 4 cancer.
So she just fought harder.
She went on to the Canadian Championships (similar to the Olympics) and won a gold medal in the 1500 meter event, just four days before surgery to try to remove the latest cancer. She wore her gold medal into the operating room.
“No cure” was not a diagnosis that Sharon took as the final word. She had surgery, radiation and more chemo. She investigated drug therapies and found that there was good success with the drugs Tykerb and Xeloda, drugs not approved by Canadian National Health. The medicine was going to cost $13,800 every three weeks and the coverage would not be there.
Sharon, a Criminal Law attorney by trade, would not take no for an answer. She fought the Minister of Health to get the drugs approved, and threatened a press conference to expose the unfairness and lack of compassion of the Ministry of Health. She won before the press conference happened, and was accepted into a drug trial of TDM-1. “I became a guinea pig for the Public Policy Forum. Only 130 people in the world were in this trial,” she noted. (Xelada and Tykerb are now covered drugs for women in Canada)
She was told that without the drug, she would be dead in three months. Being in a blind random trial, she was not even certain she would be given the drug rather than the placebo. As it turned out, she was given TDM-1 and it has kept her alive. Not only alive – but fighting and defying her odds.
She spends a great deal of time now speaking to groups about fighting for their health and their rights to lifesaving drugs. She wears her “Team Canada” medal. Every 40 days she must return to the hospital for her treatment, but in between she bikes hundreds of miles. She also bikes to and from her treatments (65 kilometers). Just this last week, she took a bike trek from Missiguag to Niagara-on-the-Lake and then down the Seaway Trail to her friend Evelyn’s home in Sodus.
Sharon founded a charity called “Cycle4Dreams” and she sells beautiful stained glass butterflies called: “Freedom from Breast Cancer”, which are made by her glass artist husband, Charles Ciupa.
“I do a lot of biking and travel to inspire and teach others about fighting on. I call my biking “riding away from cancer”. It is a great visualization for me,” Sharon explains.
Sharon Ingle has two messages to impart: “My message to others is to keep fit. If you do get cancer then your fitness will help you get through it. My second message is to get screened. I had no risk factors and did everything right and still got cancer. Had I been screened earlier, my treatment would not have been so aggressive.”
For more information on Sharon, her charity and her fundraising events, go to www.cycle4dreams.com