SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake’s athletic trainers deal with all sorts of injuries on a weekly basis, but it has been their mothers’ bouts with breast cancer that taught them how to help in an entirely new manner.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The most common invasive cancer in women around the world, it is estimated one in eight women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime. And while it's not nearly as common or discussed, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer.
RSL head athletic trainer Tyson Pace helped his mother Alisa Egan through her diagnosis over the past 12 months, while assistant athletic trainer Tyler Knight saw his mother Renee Doss beat breast cancer after she was diagnosed when he was 13.
There are many causes of breast cancer, some of which scientists are still learning about. And while beating the disease is not always the assured outcome, Pace and Knight have learned that giving support, staying positive and understanding that breast cancer is beatable can go a long way to overcoming what is a scary and uncertain experience.
For Pace, a family history with breast cancer could have been a frightening reminder after Egan's diagnosis last year, but his mother explained the common nature of it meant there was plenty of support to draw upon.
“My mother died when [Tyson] was two of breast cancer and that really was the only person I had known who had cancer,” Egan said. “Then the minute I was diagnosed and started going through it, I think everybody I had spoken to had somebody who had dealt with it. This thing covers everybody at some point, if it hasn’t already it will touch your life.”
The support does not end with the patient, either. When Egan was diagnosed with breast cancer, Pace and Knight got to share their experiences with one another.
“It was nice to have an outlet and a resource to chat with,” Pace (pictured below with Egan) said. “Things you share in common makes dealing with it a lot easier. He's a positive voice and it's nice to hear those stories.”
Doss is a couple years removed from surgery to fix complications from her treatment in 2002 and is still cancer free. As a survivor, she emphasized the way past patients walking the newly diagnosed through the process can be invaluable.
“You never know who you're going to talk to,” Doss said. “You've got to find humor in it or it will kill you. I did a scrapbook on my surgery, recovery, radiation, everything. That book has been passed around to anybody that I heard got breast cancer. I would tell them to 'Take this and show them it's not that bad.'”
For the sons of cancer patients, Pace and Knight found that providing support and positive reinforcement went a long way to keeping spirits up.
“The biggest thing you can do for them is demonstrate love and support, be there, contact them and reach out to them,” Pace said. “There's no problem in over-providing love and support.
“My mom’s oncologist said ‘Your attitude will be what beats breast cancer the most.’”
Knight added, “Stay as strong as you can for that person. I didn't think it would have as great an effect as it did and as it does. Try to be an ear to listen or a rock to stand on, just being there for that person is sometimes all you can do.”
And that idea, the impact of positive thinking, was a theme that the duo has seen in their day jobs with injured athletes.
“Attitude affects a lot of how people recover,” Pace said. "I see that personally with our injuries all the time. A player who is motivated and a part of the process gets better much faster.”
Knight explained further, “A lot of times once you give up mentally you'll lose the physical battle. What we do a lot of is trying to keep spirits up, keep a positive attitude and let people know when they beat whatever it is or overcome whatever it is, we're there to help them come back stronger and better than they were.”
Since her diagnosis last year, Egan is cancer free after getting through her treatment over the past 12 months, and has changed her lifestyle in the process.
“I just wanted to find something that meant more to me and felt I was connected to my family,” Egan said. “Last year was the first time I was able to go to every one of his home games.
"It has been life changing in that aspect. It's put a new spin on what's important and how to balance my life to be less stressed and enjoying the important things in life.”
Doss offered a reminder that breast cancer can be overcome.
“I have survived it for so long,” Doss said. “It's survivable. When people offer help, take it.”