Breast Cancer Survivor Continues to (Up) Lift Her Way Through Life

Marianne Huebner was relatively new to weightlifting when a biopsy revealed she had breast cancer. But with the help of her care team, she was competing internationally just five months after treatment.

Marianne Huebner, Ph.D., was just a few months into her newly adopted hobby of weightlifting when she noticed a small lump on one of her breasts during a self-exam. "I thought it was a cyst, so I didn't do anything right away," she tells our friends at Sharing Mayo Clinic. Instead, Marianne waited until her next annual health exam before mentioning it to her primary care physician. "I was then sent for a biopsy, and it turned out to be cancerous," she says.

Marianne, an associate professor of statistics and probability at Michigan State University, had spent a considerable amount of time analyzing breast cancer-related data alongside and in collaboration with surgeons at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. But that research did little to prepare her for her own diagnosis. "At the time of a cancer diagnosis, one experiences an onslaught of information, uncertainty and confusion," she says. "There were so many questions I'd never thought about before."

Not all of those questions were about her immediate treatment plan or long-term prognosis as one might assume. "My initial reaction was, 'Oh, no! How can I possibly do weightlifting now?'" she says.

The answer to that question would come in two parts, beginning with a successful bilateral mastectomy under the care of James Jakub, M.D., chair of Mayo's Division of Breast, Endocrine, Metabolic and Gastroenterologic Surgery. "I was particularly concerned about returning to exercise after my surgery, and Dr. Jakub was super helpful with that," Marianne says. "After my surgery, he arranged for an appointment with Dr. Andrea Cheville in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She's an expert in physical activity after breast cancer surgery, so this was a very interesting appointment for me, and very helpful in thinking about and designing my rehabilitation program."

It was a rehab program Marianne would breeze through, much to her amazement. "I could begin doing things like shoulder stretches and core exercises within three days of my procedure," she says. "I was back in the gym within two weeks doing back squats. That was so exciting for me, and as my progress continued, my excitement grew."

As did her results in the gym. "I was continually getting stronger and was able to compete in the World Master Championships in Europe just five months after my mastectomy," Marianne says. "I lifted well enough to earn a fourth-place finish. A month later, I achieved second place at the American Masters Weightlifting Championship."

Since then, Marianne has successfully competed in more national and international weightlifting competitions, including the National Masters Weightlifting Championship and the International Women Weightlifting Grand Prix. Most recently, she took home a gold medal in the American Open Series, and another gold in her weight class at the World Masters Weightlifting Championships in Barcelona. She's also become more involved in the Olympic weightlifting community by becoming a National Referee for USA Weightlifting and helping out at local, national and international competitions. "One of the best experiences is meeting other female breast cancer survivors and weightlifters who all encourage and support each other," she says.

Most importantly, though, Marianne tells us she feels better than she did before her cancer diagnosis. "I feel great, and very healthy right now," she says. "I'm obviously very thankful to Dr. Jakub and everyone else at Mayo Clinic for giving me that chance."

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