Photo credit: Abby Gibbon for Chronicle of the Horse
Hi – Shannon Dueck here. Last year I blogged about my experiences as my lovely mare Ayscha and I tried to make it to the WEG in Kentucky – it was a fabulous year and we did end up with the scores to be a reserve rider for the Canadian Team, but unfortunately we could not make it back in time to the US from Germany to clear the quarantine requirements for a mare. I was disappointed of course, but I think it was for the better, as the WEG venue might have been a bit too much atmosphere for my very sensitive young mare in her first year of Grand Prix.
Now I have my sights set on riding at the London Olympics – it’s been a dream of mine since I was a wee child! In those days I dreamed of riding in the Three Day Event, but I lost my fearlessness in my 30’s and left those daredevil days behind. I think I really have a good chance of making the team in 2012, Ayscha is getting more experienced and is much less reactive at the shows, and she is getting much stronger in the Grand Prix work – it does take years for a horse to gain the strength needed to do the work easily, and especially so in the case of a very big and long horse (yep, Ayscha could fit a family of 5 on her back….)
Being October, and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought I could start my story with this disease. Within the course of a few months in 2009 my mother was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, my aunt was diagnosed with an advanced ductal carcinoma of the breast, and I was diagnosed with an early stage ductal carcinoma. Mom passed away in December of 2010, my aunt is fighting and winning her battle, and I can count myself cancer free after aggressive treatment.
Cancer is a terrifying word for everyone. I was so damn lucky to be diagnosed with an early stage of cancer, I knew from the beginning that I had a super chance of being “cured”. Even so it was the first time I had to really face the idea of my own mortality. I was also very lucky to be surrounded by a loving husband and supportive friends and family, they all gave me inspiration. My doctors were caring and experienced, and they still are as they continue to monitor me. My coach, Robert Dover, went the extra mile and drove daily to my place to ride my two FEI horses while I was recovering.
My mare and my clients gave me a compelling reason to fight hard and heal fast. At the time of my diagnosis I already had Olympic 2012 aspirations – and the path I had mapped out to get there included getting into the Grand Prix ring in 2010. I needed to teach and ride as soon as possible after the surgery – it was a matter of financial urgency, but that’s not the whole story. I believe that having a goal, having people and horses who needed me healthy and fit, and having the satisfaction of doing something well was crucial in my healing process. It got me out of the house as soon as possible to teach, and I was on (a safe) horse 17 days post surgery. (Don’t tell my doctors…..)
I hope you will never have cancer in your life, but odds are you or a loved one will be affected at some time. My cancer story hopefully holds two messages: Please don’t put off regular diagnostic exams like mammograms and colonoscopies – early detection is crucial to positive outcomes. And if you are diagnosed with cancer, please plan for the future. Your goals will help you fight harder and heal faster. My horses were my inspiration, and my husband Lorne was my rock. Thank you to everyone who stood beside me and helped!
I don’t live each day as if it is my last (I hope I would be much wilder if I truly believed it was my last day on earth) but I really do believe that we should not put off our dreams and desires (selfish or selfless, whatever they are) until sometime in the future. With that in mind, I am going for it, and have put together a plan that (with luck) will have Ayscha and I proudly riding down the centerline in London next year. I spent a few weeks training at Carl Hester’s lovely yard this past summer – the training was so fabulous I decided to leave her there (not an easy decision for me, the ultimate control freak). I am traveling back monthly to train and compete, and will bring her home to Florida in December in time for the “season” down here. I will be chronicling my travels and experiences, and I hope you will join me in the journey!