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By Alyssa Weston, Story330
Bodybuilder and animal lover Michelle Apple ignored the lump she found in her armpit for a year and a half before getting a mammogram. She was told it was just a lymph node and not to worry.
The lump grew as she took care of her sick mother, but she ignored it. When Apple’s mother passed, she decided to get retested at Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center. She was diagnosed with Invasive Carcinoma Breast Cancer.
The center was unable to do her lymph node transfer, so she had that procedure at the Cleveland Clinic.
“The scary part was when they did do my surgery, they did remove lymph nodes, and 21 were cancerous. So, moving forward, obviously, that makes me a little anxious,” she said.
Before cancer, Apple spent her days working and traveling for her full-time job as a dietitian for AVI food systems in Warren Ohio, as well as balance her home life, fur babies and a fitness routine.
Apple said she has continued to work and exercise during her treatments, and her body has responded well to chemotherapy and radiation. Although she has maintained a sense of normalcy, cancer has taught her to slow down her “type A” personality.
“It’s OK to have a bad day. But don’t stay in those days. Pick yourself right back up and the next day you continue to go. Allow yourself to have those moments,” she said.
Apple said through the bad days, her support system of family and friends have been there to lift her spirit.
A difficult part for Apple was telling her father. He has leukemia himself and lost his wife to cancer 18 months before.
“I stood strong. I did not cry in front of him because I didn’t want him to worry. The first thing I told him is ‘you know, I competed as a bodybuilder and I rode my bike hundreds of miles. I’m a strong woman and I’m going to get through this.’ I think that reassured him that I was going to be fine.”
Apple finds strength in mentoring other cancer patients at the Cleveland Clinic and Joanie Abdu, just like women from Apple’s job and gym mentored her.
In Apple’s opinion, being in good physical shape before diagnosis and her bodybuilder mindset helped her navigate her cancer journey.
“I have an athletic mindset. I really truly believed as I approached cancer, I approached it the same way,” she said.
It was important for Apple take full control of the effects of the chemotherapy treatments and shave her own head. So, she invited her girlfriends over for wine and to help her shave.
“I felt like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane,” she said.
Apple participated in Panerathon last year and did the 2-mile walk. She plans to take part this year.
“Panerathon is is a great event. I think it’s a great way to advocate, meet survivors and to honor those that we’ve lost,” she said.
In Apple’s opinion, Panerathon is heartwarming and a great way to raise money for Joanie Abdu.
“It is impactful. You see these people coming together for a cause to raise money to bring not just awareness, but information so that we can help other patients and bring new technology to this area,’ she said.
“I believe now, it’s my duty and my responsibility to advocate, promote and talk about the Joanie Center and talk about this great facility that we have here.”