Ottawa triathlete trains for another Ironman 4 years after cancer diagnosis

An Ottawa triathlete who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago is training for another Ironman and raising money for cancer research at the Ottawa Hospital.

'It can offer other people that hope that I didn't have when I was diagnosed,' Hooper says

Four years after Sindy Hooper was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she's training to participate in another Ironman triathlon. (Courtesy Sindy Hooper)

An Ottawa woman who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago is training for another Ironman Triathlon — once again pushing her body to pass the limits of a grim prognosis.

Sindy Hooper was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013 at 50 years old.

Pancreatic Cancer Canada says only 25 per cent of patients survive the first year after they are diagnosed and just eight per cent the subsequent five years.

That dire outlook is part of what is motivating Hooper to keep pushing herself to stay active, raise money for cancer research and try to complete another Ironman in August.

"It's to be able to get my story out," she said. "So that people in Ottawa that are newly-diagnosed with pancreatic cancer can look at me and say, 'Oh wow, look it, she survived for four years and she's doing quite well.

"Hopefully, it can offer other people that hope that I didn't have when I was diagnosed."

While she still loves running, biking and swimming, Hooper is sometimes exhausted by more everyday tasks such as grocery shopping.

"I guess I kind of hoped that after I went through the surgery, chemo and radiation, that I would be able to bounce back to where I was before," she said.

"It's been frustrating trying to do more than my body's ready to do, but, at the same time, it's really hard for me to say that because I'm very, very fortunate to be alive."

Hooper was still undergoing chemotherapy when she completed her last Ironman in 2013. It was mere months after her diagnosis and soon after she had parts of her stomach, pancreas and entire gallbladder removed. (Courtesy Sindy Hooper)

Ironman months after diagnosis

Hooper has participated in Ironman triathlons before, once before her diagnosis and again in August 2013, while she was still undergoing chemotherapy.

She swam four kilometres, biked 180 kilometres and ran 42 kilometres in 16 hours and 24 minutes. The cut-off time for finishing the race is 17 hours.

In her last race before she got sick, her time was 11 hours and 38 minutes. She had been trying to qualify for the world championship, which takes place in Kona, Hawaii.

"I tried twice before I got sick to qualify and just missed out," she said. "It's a passion. It's a dream I have and it's something I would really, really love to fulfill." 

She has raced in a couple of half-triathlons since then, but said her health held her back.

Clock ticking

Hooper said she's never met anyone who has survived pancreatic cancer longer than five years.

"I'm at four years and one month, so it always feels like the clock is kind of ticking," Hooper said.

Every six months she has a CT scan to check whether the cancer is recurring.

"That's all pretty stressful, but on the other hand, it teaches you to live life for the moment. My husband and I live our life in six-month increments. So every time we get a good CT scan, it's like, plan like crazy for the next six months."

She only set the goal of completing another Ironman in the last month.

Hooper said she was training for a five-kilometre run and a half-marathon in Ottawa Race Weekend and decided she felt strong enough to work towards the full triathlon.

She has been training with her team, Marathoners Gone Viral, who raise money for cancer research at the Ottawa Hospital — specifically, Dr. John Bell's research into oncolytic viruses, which are engineered to target cancer cells, with the goal of creating a treatment more effective than chemotherapy and with fewer side effects.

Hooper said she doesn't know why or how she has survived cancer so long. She isn't a recipient of the oncolytic virus treatment.

She has another CT scan scheduled in March and plans to participate in the Ironman triathlon in August.

CBC News spoke to Sindy Hooper when she was training for the Canadian Ironman competition in 2013. Watch below.

An Ottawa mother with pancreatic cancer is flying to B.C. to compete in a grueling triathlon. 2:56