Margaret Zuccotti was 37 when her breast became red, swollen and painful to the touch. At the time she was nursing her third child and took the symptoms as a sign of a breast infection, or mastitis. It wasn’t until antibiotics prescribed by her doctor did not resolve the tenderness that Zuccotti was referred for further tests and she discovered she had stage IV inflammatory breast cancer.
“No other woman in my family had had stage IV cancer,” Margaret says. “And it had spread to my bone and liver.”
‘I need to get healthy’
Growing up in Rhode Island, Margaret watched her four siblings play sports and spent time skiing in Vermont with her family. She became an avid lacrosse player in high school and college, and was so good that after her college graduation in 1991, she was invited to try out for the U.S. Women’s National Team.
“I didn’t make the team, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget,” says Margaret. “It was exciting just being around all those athletes who were so enthusiastic to represent the United States.”
Though having a family meant less time for athletics, Margaret stayed active by joining her husband in ski racing, a sport he was devoted to and which Margaret slowly learned. The two even joined the New England Master’s race league, a league for competitors over 25.
But in 2006, after seven months of weekly chemotherapy infusions and trastuzumab (Herceptin) treatments, Margaret felt more out of shape than ever. Post-pregnancy weight was still lingering, and treatment with steroids made her gain more. Running helped her feel healthier, but a mastectomy in 2009 upset her regular exercise schedule.
“Being active and healthy was always part of my happiness, and I got to the point where I knew I had to do something to get healthy again,” says Margaret.
A New Sport
Margaret had taken on running in addition to ski racing as her family commitments grew, and before her diagnosis it had become a standard activity in her life. She participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Manchester, Vt., a few times, in honor of a cousin who died of breast cancer some years before, leaving behind children who were six and four.
“I had genetic testing after chemotherapy, but I don’t carry the gene,” Margaret explains. “Still, there are many similarities and many questions I wish I could have asked. It’s nerve-wracking to think of my family – my kids – going through what my cousins went through. I had the testing done for my sisters and my daughter.”
Participating in the Race for the Cure in Philadelphia, her new hometown, seemed an appropriate next step to getting healthy. Running the 5k race has since become a yearly tradition of training and fundraising. In addition to being a named a top fundraiser, Margaret has also been the first to cross the finish line in the “Survivor Race” for the past five years. The love of competition is what helps her handle the stress of the disease.
“I remember the feelings from before my cancer, those feelings of what it is to compete,” says Margaret. “I run to maintain and remember those feelings of satisfaction.”
After her mastectomy and the end of chemotherapy, follow-up tests showed the cancer in Margaret’s bone and liver, as well as in her breast, had disappeared. Today she acknowledges the chance that it may return, and remains committed to being active.
She applies her active lifestyle to breast cancer events such as the Race for the Cure and Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Yoga on the Steps. In addition to becoming an important fundraiser for both organizations, Margaret created Reading for Reassurance, a project that identifies and provides well-written children’s books about cancer to help families cope with a cancer diagnosis.
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