The number of medals Vancouver resident Arlene Delmage won during the 2012 U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championships is impressive.
But the year that led up to the July event makes the victories incredible.
Just 10 weeks before the championship meet, the 50-year-old underwent a mastectomy, the latest procedure in her treatment for breast cancer. The surgery meant replacing her breast tissue with an expander, a sort of place-holder for a breast implant, and required cutting her pectoral muscle, which kept her out of the pool for a month. When she registered for the swim meet, Delmage wasn’t even sure if she would be able to perform her favorite stroke, the butterfly.
But come race time, not only was she able to perform the butterfly stroke, she earned gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter races for women 50 to 54 years old.
“Swimming saved my life,” she said. “It’s so cliche, but it’s true.”
Delmage first noticed the lumps in her breast last summer. Three biopsies found cancer in her breast and lymph nodes. She had a port put into her chest and underwent chemotherapy for five months. The treatment ended in January, but the side effects lasted through March.
Delmage stayed in the pool as much as possible.
“I’d just go flop around in the pool for a while,” she said. “It made me feel better.”