MUSKEGO — They are Muskego sisters Aimee and Mandi. They grew up together, they work out together, they both are married with two children and they had breast cancer together.
Neither has the gene for breast cancer, or for any other kind of cancer, for that matter. They checked.
Aimee McLain Husting was diagnosed in 2013 at age 39. Her little sister Mandi Greene was diagnosed two years later at age 38.
Their doctors couldn't account for the freak occurrence of both sisters getting breast cancer and at about the same age. One oncologist put it down to coincidence or to a cancer gene that lies menacingly still unidentified.
Now cancer-free, but still taking medicine to deal with its after-effects and still having to be checked every few months, the sisters will be together again as ambassadors for the ProHealth Care Walk for Cancer in Mukwonago. Other ProHealth cancer walks will be in Waukesha and Oconomowoc with their own ambassadors. All the two-mile walks will be at 10 a.m. May 6.
The course in Field Park in Mukwonago will be a piece of cake for the sisters, who have run marathons. McLain Husting even ran a 15K race (9.3 miles) while in the middle of chemotherapy treatments.
She had trouble catching her breath as she ran 10-minute miles, but crossing the finish line was sweet.
"It was probably one of my proudest moments, with the help of my sister and a friend," McLain Husting, wife and mother of two, ages 11 and 9, said.
McLain Husting ran and worked out during their treatments while her sister, was more sick from the chemo and ran after they were done.
But how could they?
They know darkness
McLain Husting, who has a marathon under her belt, and who has stared into the eyes of the killer, said much of life is in the mind -- even a devastating physical condition.
"So much of what we go through is in the mind, not physical," she said. Positivity, determination and motivation to live your life as you always did is critical, McLain Husting said. Don't let exhaustion rule, she said. If you want to do something, then do it. Surround yourself with good people who will strengthen you, she said.
"Don't miss out," McLain Husting urged.
Her sister Mandi, who has two marathons under her belt, was just as determined.
"Running, I think, was the main thing that kept us going," she said. "We thoroughly enjoy it, it's not something we have to do."
"It kept normalcy in our lives," Greene said. That's how you fight cancer, by not letting it win, she said.
"Anything we had control over, we were not going to allow cancer to take from us," Greene said.
“I was not going to let chemo run my life, I was going to run chemo,” McLain Husting agreed.
Asked if they could offer any guidance to those going through desperate challenges of their own, she said, "As hard as it gets, there's always something positive."
Often, it's extremely hard to find, she said. "But if you focus on that, it's amazing what it can do and how it can change everything," she said.
Her sister had similar advice: "Everybody in some way or another has inner strength."
"Find what works for you," she advised. "Mine was going for a walk."
"It took a lot to do it," but afterward she felt refreshed and able to take on the day, no matter what the day held, she said. "It made me powerful."
Walks to help
The Muskego sisters said the ProHealth cancer walk will help many current cancer patients.
"They will know they're not the only ones. They'll see the support of the community," McLain Husting said.
It hasn't been decided where the walk proceeds will go this year, but in the past, they have gone to buy equipment for the ProHealth cancer centers in Mukwonago and Pewaukee, for getting ProHealth cancer patients access to clinic trials for new cancer drugs and to fund nurse navigators, said.Kristin Freiberg, annual gift officer for the ProHealth Care Foundation. The ProHealth cancer centers are not-for-profit, she said.
The nurse navigators have a profound impact on patients, she said, as they step in when patients and their families are still reeling from cancer diagnoses. They help them stay focused, they make doctor and treatment appointments for them, answer questions and stay with them from start to finish, Freiberg said.
The cost to be in the cancer walks is $35. Those registering before May 2 will save $5. Field Park is located at Highways 83 and NN in Mukwonago.
Registrations are being accepted at WalksForCancer@phci.org and at 262-928-9255.