After surviving cancer, Jeannie never looked back

This story is the first in a series of articles to appear in March in observance of National Women’s History Month. The themes for NWHM 2012 are women’s education and women’s empowerment. Raymond resident Jeannie Ross worked as an educator in Portland high schools and middle schools for 34 years. Seven years ago, Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer; she has been cancer-free for six years. Ross empowers others as a cancer buddy; and also through her small weight-loss and fitness program.

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

JEANNIE ROSS demonstrates a push up from a bench in the room where she operates her weight-loss and fitness business. (De Busk photo)

NAPLES — Procrastination has become a thing of the past for Jeannie Ross.

“I never put anything off anymore,” the 63-year-old breast cancer survivor said.

“Cancer changed my whole life: My priorities changed. I surround myself with healthy, positive people. And, I never put anything off,” Ross said.

“People ask me if it’s because I am worried I will die,” Ross said. “And, I say no, I am not,” she said.

“Lots of good people die, and I am not exempt from it. But, I don’t want to live in fear of death,” she said.

What drives her is determination. Though most times it comes in small tangible steps, determination has helped Ross accomplish many things in her life.

With a dedicated husband by her side and caring medical staff on her side, too, Ross surrendered a year of her life to chemotherapy, breast surgery and radiation treatments. During that time, most days she turned to her treadmill at home. When her treatment was completed, she revved up the speed on the treadmill and started training for marathons again.

Re-training for the marathon she had run in two years earlier was like starting from the beginning. But, Ross had the mindset to do it.

“There wasn’t anything I could do about what had happened to me, but I could do something about the present, about now. There it was — in the past, and I was still alive. I said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ I decided to take my life back,” Ross said.

She ran the Maine Half Marathon for the second time. This go-around, she partnered with her oncologist and family members. Standing on the sidelines on race day, her husband and her surgeon cheered her on.

“I ran the half marathon again. Just to make sure I still could. The first time I did it was pure joy. Then, the second time I ran it, I felt like I had survived cancer. I was healthy and alive,” she said.

Now, cancer-free for six years, Ross volunteers with the Cancer Community Center as a cancer buddy.

“It is nice to talk with people who’ve had the experience. It is helpful for them; and just as helpful for me, really, to have them in my life,” she said.

“I have had brave, courageous people, and those comatose with fear. There is no right way to get a cancer diagnosis. It is how you react,” she said.

Ross appeared on the cover of cancer awareness brochures, and she spoke at a fundraiser at the Holiday Inn.

“I had my whole cancer story told in front of 700 people. If it helps anyone who is dealing with life threatening illness, and helps them get back to their lives, then my having cancer was worth it,” she concluded calmly.

In addition to volunteering, Ross spends time on her in-home business — working with individuals on their weight-loss and fitness goals.

She said her clients’ goals range as widely as their ages, from 18 to 70. One person might have a goal of doing 60 pushups in 15 seconds, and another might want to run a little further each day. Four of her clients are, or have been, cancer patients.

“It’s about meeting people where they are,” she said, adding she provides a plan that is tailored to fit each person and each goal.

The Raymond resident not only meets people on their own terms, but she also leads by example.

This is a common thread — teaching by example and setting achievable goals that made the transition from public school teacher to fitness consultant.

She said her fitness story began with her weight loss goal ten years ago.

A decade ago, while employed as a teacher at King Middle School, Ross vowed to turn around her eating habits, and lost 85 pounds in nine months.

“During my 40s I gained a lot of weight. I had a lot of deaths in my family. My mom died. I was an emotional eater. When thing didn’t go well at school, I ate. I gained considerable amount of weight,” she said.

“In my early 50s, I lost 85 pounds in nine months. I was very determined. I did it by portion control, and reading. I spent a lot of time reading,” she said.

Her family and her students were impressed.

Her next goal: She took up strength training and running, and ran in the Beach to Beacon. Then, to top it off, with only five weeks of preparation, she took on the Maine Half Marathon.

“I ran 13.2 miles without stopping. It was one of the most unbelievable things ever,” she said.

Her life spoke volumes in the classroom.

“I wanted to be a role model for the students,” she said.

“You can take control of your life. The exercise piece they thought was awesome. I transformed it into setting their own goals. What do you see a year from now? We worked on goal setting. We would get together and make active plans to match goals,” Ross said.

“The boys and girls in my class had that feeling of being able to accomplish something, not just in the curriculum, but outside of school,” she said.

“That is the way I connected best: to do it through example, to be kind to them, and respectful,” Ross said.

Just as she was surfing high on the wave of life, feeling good about herself and her body, she found the lump.

“I discovered the lump on a Friday night before I went to bed. By the middle of the next week, I was meeting with an oncologist,” she said.

“I left on that Friday, like any other Friday, and I never went back to school. That was how my career ended, which was sad really,” she continued.

“It was really fast. I was like, “What? It was a very big shock. You think you are invincible , strong , powerful and doing everything right — which shows cancer can hit anyone,” Ross said.

“From then on, it was a different challenge. It was a life or death challenge,” she said.

Now, like procrastination, that challenge is a thing of the past.

But, it is a past challenge that Ross chooses to move forward into aspects of her daily life and her at-home fitness business. It adds an empathetic ear to clients starting with their first fitness goal.

“I wish I could do this for free. There is nothing as satisfying as people getting where they want to be,” she said.

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