Rich Donnelly – Stories From The Finish Line

Rich Donnelly is a remarkable individual who has conquered IRONMAN Lake Placid a staggering 19 times, placing him in an elite category of Placid finishers. However, his story takes an unexpected turn as he finds himself in a distinct group that no one aspires to be part of. Rich belongs to the 1% of men who courageously face the challenges of battling breast cancer, a distinction that sets him apart from the conventional perception of the 1 percenters associated with wealth and success.

On September 27, 2022, while recovering from back surgery, he lay on a yoga mat in his living room, icing his back, when he noticed a lump near his left nipple. He called upon his wife, Jean, to examine it. She knows the devastating reality of breast cancer all too well—Jean has been cancer-free for 28 years. Her expression revealed her concern.
The next morning, he wasted no time and reached out to Jean's doctor, an esteemed chief of breast surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Fortunately, he secured an appointment just two days later. The ultrasound revealed a suspicious mass.

The next step involved a mammogram followed by a more advanced ultrasound. As he waited in the crowded waiting rooms, he stood out as an anomaly. The women huddled in their robes, whispering, "There's a man here."

When both tests also indicated the presence of a suspicious mass, he proceeded to undergo a needle biopsy a few days later. The physician who performed the test strongly advised him to consult a surgeon promptly. She didn't believe the cancer had spread to the surrounding lymph nodes, but further examination was required.

By the time he met with the doctor, the results had confirmed the malignancy—a 2.5-centimeter invasive ductal carcinoma, categorized as stage one/two. It bewildered him that men even possessed milk ducts.
Surgery was scheduled for approximately a week later. The day prior, he visited the hospital's nuclear medicine lab, where a radioactive dye was injected into his left breast. This allowed his doctor to identify the lymph node that needed removal for assessment of potential cancer spread.
Following a lumpectomy and the excision of his left nipple and the closest lymph node, a drain was inserted, requiring him to wear it for a week. He must empty it twice daily, as it fulfills the function of the lymph node that was removed.

The doctor suspected that the node might have tested positive for cancer cells, but he believed chemotherapy would not be necessary. Instead, it appears he will likely undergo three and a half weeks of daily radiation. The final course of action awaits confirmation from the pathologist, but it is anticipated that he will need to take Tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker, for several years. Additionally, he will require lifelong monitoring with annual mammograms and other tests as determined by the medical professionals.

In the three weeks since his diagnosis, he has embarked on an emotional roller coaster—fear, anger, gratitude for life, and an overwhelming urgency to seize every moment and fulfill his desires. When Jean and he exchanged vows in 1999, their wedding song was Aerosmith's "Don't Want to Miss a Thing." Since then, they have filled their lives with countless adventures: skiing in Europe, embarking on bike tours in exotic locations, indulging in golf vacations, and participating in numerous triathlons and other active pursuits. As Jean passionately declares, she is not done with him yet—they still have an extensive to-do wish list.

Sadly, the statistics for men are far more disheartening. According to the American Cancer Society, out of the 2,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed annually, approximately 530 men will lose their lives. He is determined not to become a part of that group, as he is one of the fortunate ones who detected it early.

Rich is an IRONMAN, and he knows when tough stretches on the racecourse hit you, you just keep moving forward. He has found his finish line many times in his career; his positive attitude tells him this is just one more finish line to conquer. Rest assured, Rich will be entering many IRONMAN races in the years to come.