PENTICTON, British Columbia – In the living room of his new home, Kikkan Randall was holding a wig in his hands.
Her own hair is growing back, but there is still much to be done for her mid-length hairstyle to match the pink highlights that she wore for much of her career to remind her audience that cross-country skiers were "not boring".
the blonde wig with a pink trail – bought last year in Anchorage, his hometown – was destined to provide a sense of normalcy in the midst of upheaval.
"It's funny," she said last week placing him on her bald head. "Where we are now, I have the impression of playing the dress up when I wear that."
A year ago, when Randall and Jessie Diggins won the first US Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing and his first A medal of all kinds in sport for 42 years, Randall already had breast cancer.
She did not know it yet.
After all the wide-eyed glee in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on the night of February 21, 2018, Randall realized that something was wrong, came a much quieter evening – and served as a cruel reminder that cancer did not concern him. if you are an Olympic medalist, an icon of your sport, do not have a family history of the disease and are in better shape than 99.99% of the population.
It was May 13, Mother's Day, less than three months after his feat. The new retiree Randall; her husband, Jeff Ellis; and their 2-year-old son, Breck, had just spent a day outdoors near their new home in Penticton, a small Canadian town located between two lakes in the Okanagan Valley.
They had been hiking in the sun in the nearby mountains, bought a grill for their yard and shared the feeling that they were finally settling into the rhythm after months of transition and a post-Olympic move to Anchorage.
"We had the best day," said Randall, 36. "I was so excited by life, wanting to be a mother, to be here to start our life together. And then I was getting ready to go to bed and I noticed it.
His fingers brushed something hard in his right chest.
"At first, I thought it was my side, but it was," Hmm, it feels like it's moving a little bit in there, "she said.
The diagnosis, issued on May 31 by telephone while she was going to a wedding in Sweden, was a stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma.
"At first, there was clearly a difficult phase, why me," said Ellis about Randall's reaction. "How is that possible?" After all these years, I finally got my medal and I can not take advantage of it anymore: so many years of deferred gratification.But Kikkan is pretty indomitable, which means you do not have to. are not always active, but that's the prevailing spirit. "
Randall and Ellis have been exceptionally open throughout his treatment, particularly on social media – an attempt to communicate with Randall's fan base and provide others in similar situations with information and inspiration. She posted wig shop, the hospital's recovery room, the bathroom mirror and her couch in Penticton after chemotherapy and a cold caught by Breck left her exhausted and miserable last year.
Randall found the two pea-sized tumors in his breast relatively early and received an optimistic prognosis for a common type of cancer.
But as a new arrival to Canada, she did not have any health insurance yet. The US Olympic Committee agreed to continue providing coverage throughout its expensive and expensive treatment, but was forced to receive primary cancer care in the United States.
She chose Anchorage, where her parents and many of her closest friends live, and where she remains a local icon after competing in five Olympics. But that meant weeks, apart from Jeff and Breck, while she was shuttling between Canada and Alaska and was going through six rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, a follow-up surgery and 33 radiotherapy sessions. .
Shortly before the end of her last radiation session on January 25, her mother, Deborah, opened a bottle of champagne to mark the occasion. The bottle was originally purchased to celebrate Randall's long-awaited gold medal.
"When the cancer happened, my mother decided that the bottle had a new meaning," Randall said.
There are of course private charges, no more burdensome than the reality that Randall's treatment means that she and Ellis have to postpone their plans to have more children. This made his discovery of Mother's Day all the more poignant.
"When I found out that I had cancer, it was almost incredulity," Randall said. "It was like I did everything right and I took very good care of myself. I had put all this work into my career and I was looking forward to the moment when I would have time not to be so disciplined and enjoy the reward of all these efforts. But what has really been the most upsetting is the fact that we could not try to have another child right away. "
In his mid-thirtiesWith a tight window before starting chemotherapy in July, Randall said she had enough time for a fertility treatment cycle so the couple could try to have another child later. She and Ellis were working in a Seattle clinic, which had not been able to send him the necessary medications because of the import regulations. So Randall drove about 50 miles to the border, picked up the drug and brought it back to Penticton.
She said she produced nine eggs, six of which were viable. Five embryos were then created, but only three spent the first week. Randall said that among these three people, only one did not have a high risk of miscarriage.
"We would have liked to have three, but we had one, and you have about a 60% chance that it will become a viable pregnancy," she said.
Randall and Ellis have dubbed the surviving embryo Little Frosty.
"He spends his time in Seattle and can keep embryos up to 10 years," she said.
Randall said she was expecting to take anti-hormonal medications for at least five years, or as long as ten years. A pregnancy is not recommended during such treatment, although Randall said that she might be able to take a break from the medication to have a child. .
"If we never finish with Breck, it's amazing," Randall said.
The family moved to Penticton to find a job with Ellis, a former 400-meter chopper for Canada, who later became an elite cross-country skier. But he said that he had left his new job in July to play a bigger role with Breck and have more flexibility to help Randall.
After moving to Canada for Ellis' career, Randall's activities once again took over.
The couple is now working outside the home and focuses on Randall's business and charity activities..
His diet includes training in the small gym located on the ground floor. Last Friday, she embarked on a fast circuit of weightlifting, diving, working with resistance bands and other exercises she has tried to maintain since entering what she calls the GI Phase. Jane. She shaved her head after her hair started falling in tufts at the start of chemotherapy.
Randall enjoys doing laundry between sets and his deep breathing was often stifled by the sound of a washing machine that was moving during his cycles. Bottles of detergent share shelves with memories of his sporting career and that of Ellis.
A photo of Pyeongchang's gold medal, with Diggins arms triumphantly raised to the sky, sits atop a heated baseboard where Randall can see her as she sweats. Even though she has signs of fatigue, such as dark semi-dark circles under her eyes, she looks thin and fit.
"Fortunately, not all the muscles are gone," she said.
She put them to good use: cycling to and from her cancer treatments in Anchorage and jumping on skis very shortly after her lumpectomy, using a single pole for a while to avoid overworking her side. law. In September, she won a 10-kilometer race in Penticton, and last month, while finishing radiation therapy, she won the women's event in an Anchorage duathlon race.
"I do not think cancer patients are saying enough about what they're saying can to do, she says.
Randall, who has a port implanted in the chest to continue receiving injections of the drug Herceptin, wants to promote physical activity during treatment. She is inspired by Gabriele Grunewald, the 32-year-old American runner, who spoke with her, even though she fought against more virulent forms of cancer.
Randall does not intend to return to the high level competition and has not skied more than 30 kilometers since his cancer diagnosis, but she will participate in the American Birkebeiner, a 50-kilometer ski marathon in Hayward, Wisconsin, Saturday. She then travels to China to participate in Speed Ski races at Bird's Nest Stadium, as part of preparations for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games. In November, she plans to run the New York City Marathon.
She also has regular meetings as a member of the International Olympic Committee and the U.S.O.C. These positions do not come with a salary, so it needs to generate a regular income through conferences and referrals.
The whirlwind, if it stays healthy, will resume soon enough. But last Saturday, while the weather and schedule were clear, she and Ellis packed their van and drove about 45 minutes westbound to the groomed cross-country ski trails of the Nickel Plate Nordic Center.
Ellis sank into his bindings and towed Breck into an aircraft carrier with Randall shouting beside them as they headed for a gentle slope. Later, while she was running alone in the snow, the rest of her family was taking a break.
"After all, it's great to see her on skis," said Ellis. "It's his happy place."