Nadine Brack is a strong woman, and if there are any doubts about that a quick visit to the website of the World Association of Benchers and Dead Lifters organization will dispel them post haste.
There she’s listed as both the holder of a couple of strength world records and a member of the organization’s Hall of Fame.
That said, when Brack learned she had breast cancer, she felt like most people who hear the same news — vulnerable, frightened and weak in the knees.
“It was horrifying,” Brack remembers.
She was annoyed to even have to be in a doctor’s office in the first place. She was busy at her job with Siemens Energy, and couldn’t really afford to take time out to travel from Goldendale to The Dalles office of Dr. Ann Rust in the middle of the day.
Brack had already taken time off to have a digital mammogram at Mid-Columbia Medical Center after developing a painful lump in her breast. Then she got called back in for an ultrasound.
When she got called yet again for the appointment with Dr. Rust, a surgeon with Mid-Columbia Surgical Specialists, she was thinking less about the possible reason for the visit than the disruption it was causing.
“I didn’t even take anyone with me; I was just sort of irritated because I was so busy,” Brack says.
Her emotions would change quickly.
“When Dr. Rust walked into the room I saw the look on her face and thought, Oh my goodness,” she remembers.
The bad news was tempered some by the fact that Brack’s cancer had been diagnosed as stage 1. Because of her own vigilance, it had been caught early enough to treat with a lumpectomy and radiation. As it turned out, Brack was a candidate for a procedure called brachytherapy, which shortens radiation treatment from six weeks to only five days in patients who meet certain criteria.
Besides being as effective as external radiation therapy, the procedure enabled Brack to maintain some semblance of her normal busy life during treatment.
“I had treatment twice a day for five days and that was it; I was done,” she says. “A co-worker had a friend with an office in The Dalles, and I can do my job from anywhere, so I would get my treatment in the morning, go to the office and work, then go back and get my second treatment. It hardly disrupted my life.”
Brack did have to take a brief break from her power lifting, of course, but not for long. That was a good thing, considering she was training for her next competition.
She took up the hobby of lifting heavy objects several years ago, after recovering from knee surgery. She had been rehabbing with physical therapy, but had plans to climb Mt. Shasta “and PT wasn’t getting me ready to climb a mountain,” she says.
Brack had heard of the Black Iron Gym just outside of Goldendale, where members were training for their first lifting competition.
It wasn’t long before she was too.
“I’m a klutz,” she says. “I’m no ballerina; if I even tried running I would trip and fall. But I saw what they were doing at the gym and figured I could do that.”
Indeed, she could. She now holds the Washington state records for her age category in the deadlift and bench press as well as two bench press world records.
She competes twice a year, and lifts at the gym four times a week, often with Dorothy, her 83-year-old mother — as in, 83-year-old weightlifting mother!
Needless to say she was thrilled when Dr. Rust and the rest of her care team, including Drs. Steve Fu and Keith Stelzer from Celilo Cancer Center, encouraged her to try to keep her life as close to normal as possible during her treatment.
“All the fear I had at first went away soon because everyone was so positive and supportive,” she says.
“No one ever told me Don’t do this or Don’t do that. They never told me my life was going to be changing completely. They just encouraged me to go ahead and do the things that were important to me.”
Brack says she never imagined the cancer treatment process could go so smoothly.
“The entire care team works so well together. They never left me hanging, not knowing what I would be doing or where I would be going next. When I went from one place to the next, they all knew who I was, what I was supposed to be doing there and what I had done previously.
“Because I live in Goldendale, they went out of their way to schedule multiple appointments on the same day for my convenience. I went from being horrified to thinking, This isn’t so bad.”
Seven days after her lumpectomy, Brack was able to start lifting.
She competed three months later and set one of her world records, then came home and had her five-day radiation treatment. And then she was back at it.
It was time to start lifting heavy objects again, now that all that weight was finally off her shoulders.