Athlete Profile: Cheryl Jestis - A New Race: Cancer + 1st Triathlon!

It’s common to toss and turn the night before your first triathlon. You’re either too excited or too nervous to rest well, but hours later you step out bed and get it done, eventually crossing a finish line—and life goes on.

Unfortunately it wasn’t nerves or adrenaline messing with Cheryl Jestis’ pre-race slumber—it was something with a bigger kick. Jestis needed more than rest, she required a cure.

Two days before her first triathlon Jestis learned the lump on her shoulder blade was cancer, changing the type and scope of the new race waiting for her. The Champaign MiniTri was now small potatoes.
After deciding to go through with the tri, she didn’t spend much time thinking about it. “I would love to say I spent that night having some deeply spiritual experience or that I prayed all through the night to the only one would could make a difference,” says Jestis. And while she did pray a little, she thought most about life. “I stared at the ceiling a lot. Then I stared at the wall. Eventually I stared at the ceiling again, then the other wall.”

Between periods of numbness and denial, Jestis came to two conclusions. “I decided for me the only things that mattered were my relationship with God and my relationship with others,” she says. The predominate thought that night was, “I can’t leave my daughters. My husband can’t do it without me. It’s not acceptable therefore I will not accept it,” she says.

After maybe two hours of rest, Jestis got out bed for the big race.
“I have to admit, once I got there and I got into the training I was SO glad to be there. Three years of dreaming and months of training led to this day,” she says.
In the minutes before the race Jestis chose to forget awhile about the diagnosis and what that might mean and simply run her race. That’s when Hebrews 12:1 came to mind, she says. “I needed to ‘throw off everything that hinders’ and ‘run the race marked out for me with perseverance,’” says Jestis.

The Champaign MiniTri was a reverse tri, so Jestis swam first, a 400-meter pool swim, followed by a six-mile bike and two-mile run.

Race day went well. The swim was fun and easy, a nice warm-up for the bike says Jestis. She wanted to take it easy on the bike and save her legs for the run but says once she got on the bike her competitive juices kicked in and she pretty much went all out.

After T2, her sister Vicky and friend Suzi jumped in running behind Jestis for part of the run course. The women realized how symbolic this bandit-running role was post-race.

“I was running out in front and they were there right behind me representing the many that would support me through the cancer and its treatments in the coming months,” she says. The bandits took off, letting Jestis drive toward the finish. “That part I had to do alone and I ran with all I had. I summoned every ounce of strength and emotion I had left and poured it all out on the last stretch of pavement. I crossed the finish line. I survived!” Jestis took sixth in her age-group, well done!

Jestis' friends and family surrounded her at the finish. “Steve, Emily, Kelsey, Mark, Rusty, Vicki, Tony, Suzi, David and Aaron were all there to support me, encourage me, cheer for me, photograph the event and celebrate endurance when it was over,” she says. “These same people and many more did the same thing for me in my race with cancer.”

“This mini-triathlon is symbolic of the new race I'm in—my race to victory over cancer. I’ve trained for it physically, I don't particularly want to be in this race, but I'll run it with all I've got and I am so blessed knowing I have TONS of bandit runners along with me. I look forward to the day when we stand and celebrate together, blissfully exhausted, with the finish line behind and a future ahead!" she says.

7-4-09 Her sister Vicki noticed a bump on Jestis' left scapula. She mentioned the bump to her doctor that week at her annual physical. To be safe the doctor sent her for x-rays that day and scheduled an MRI for after Jestis' vacation. Cheryl and her family went to San Diego (the birthplace of U.S. triathlon) and had the best vacation of their lives. She ran around Mission Bay each morning while watching the sunrise.
7-30-09 MRI followed by a phone call. The doctor seemed certain it was cancer.
7-31-09 Jestis read the MRI report. “When I read this report I wanted to throw up,” she says. “I learned there was one very large mass, another large mass and possibly a third (or maybe it was an extension of the first, they couldn't tell). There were several other smaller ones around the large ones. They could not tell if there was bony involvement but there was definite stranding with other tissue. In addition to that lots of medical terminology I didn't understand. That was a most difficult day but God had friends and family members positioned strategically in the exact times and places to give me the support I so desperately needed.”
8-1-09 Champaign Mini Triathlon.
8-22-09 Grade 3 Follicular Lymphoma. Stage II This is a Non-Hodgkins B-cell slow growing form of lymphoma. Started treatments. During treatments Jestis ran the Woolyworm 5K. She was frustrated because she had to walk some that day. “It was tough to know I was losing ground to chemo,” she says.
1-12-10 Last radiation treatment.
3-31-10 Cancer free day.
Cheryl Jestis lost 100 pounds before becoming a triathlete! Motivated by the early deaths of her parents and in-laws, Jestis lost the weight over five years through a combination of healthy eating, strong relationships and exercise. Stay tuned for more about Jestis and this aspect of her fitness experience!

$100 Winner!
After reading hundreds of amazing stories, recently chose Jestis’ entry as winner of its “Favorite Active Experience” contest. Read Jestis’ inspirational entry and the 35-plus reader responses here.

“I was shocked when I got the facebook message from telling me I’d won!” says Jestis. She reads’s facebook posts almost every day and frequently reads articles on many different topics. Jestis put the gift card to good use—she bought new running shoes. Congratulations Cheryl!

Jestis' Favorite Quotes, Verses & Songs

  • "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” ~unknown,
  • “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” ~John Wooden,
  • “Live in day-tight compartments.” ~Dale Carnegie,
  • “He has turned your walls into a platform.” ~Molly Jones,
  • “Adjust your attitude, adjust your pace, adjust your face.” ~Cheryl Jestis,
  • “This is the last hill.” ~Rusty Van Rheeden (and especially fond of this version from Rusty, just before my first chemo treatment, “I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I told you this is the last hill.”
  • Hebrews 12:1 1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
  • Matthew 22:37-40 37 Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[a] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
  • Mandisa’s songs "God Speaking" and "Broken Hallelujah" are special to Jestis. She heard Mandisa perform both songs live at a Women of Faith conference shortly after her diagnosis.

Photos: taken by Jestis' friends and family.

Questions for You:
- How long did you dream of becoming a triathlete?
- What's the least amount of sleep you've gotten pre-race?
- Have you seen bandit athletes in an event?

**Thanks Cheryl for the interview! I hope you'll have more chances to Tell Your Story!


Victory is Finishing said...

Talk about an Ironmakover!
Cheryl you rock! Congrats and best in all you do, you truely inspire!

Cheryl Jestis said...

Thanks Brian! Sara has asked if I wouldn't mind posting an update abotu where I am now. I am still celebrating at the finish line of the race called cancer. I'm standing gratefully and humbly victorious for a victory that does not belong to me. To celebrate endurance I ran my first half-marathon on May 1 and I've signed up for my first sprint distance tri (The Aflac Iron Girl in Racine WI on July 31). I'm training but I could use a little more focus. All this celebrating may be interferring with my training! Any great tips to get back on track?