Kikkan battles breast cancer with a smile and positive attitude
With a huge grin on her face, Kikkan Randall waves at the camera and nods at her hairstylist. Three seconds later, you hear the buzz of shears as Kikkan’s long blonde and pink locks fall to the floor. Less than four minutes later, she’s rubbing her bald head and joking about how it feels like shark skin. It’s a moment that sums up the Olympic gold medalist's fight with breast cancer: in the face of a scary disease, Kikkan chooses positivity and laughter.
“I’ve kinda caught people looking at me going, 'okay, there’s someone with no hair. Wait, I know that face! Oh wait, it’s Kikkan!' A lot of people have told me I have a nice head, so I guess I have that going for me,” she laughs, as she stokes her buzzed head.
Want to touch it? Kikkan doesn’t mind. This could be the best part of getting cancer – no more four-hour appointments to dye her hair pink.
There are dark moments, though. After her first round of chemotherapy, the cross-country skier got sick. For four days, she fought flu-like symptoms and low energy levels. Then there were another four days of dry mouth and discomfort.
There are other signs of cancer, too. At her second chemo appointment, Kikkan forgot to take two of her medications. The week before, she spaced off two meetings. Doctors told her this might happen. After every tough moment, however, there’s one of hope.
“I am finding I’m more forgetful than usual,” Kikkan reflects. After a slight pause, she smiles and chuckles, “I can just write myself sticky notes and put them everywhere.”
Kikkan is up bright and early the morning of her second chemo appointment. Her parent’s garage door opens at 7:15 a.m. After strapping on a helmet over her shaved head, Kikkan hops on her bike and is off in a flash. Wigs are too much work for the athlete. Besides, she likes feeling the wind on her scalp.
By 7:30, Kikkan is on the treadmill at the Alaska Club East running high-intensity ladder drills. Seven sprints at increased time intervals – all at a pace less than six minutes per mile. After some upper body work and a 30-second shower – another perk of having no hair – Kikkan is back on her bike and on the way to the hospital.
At 9:06, Kikkan is getting her port flushed out and ready for chemotherapy drugs. The device is implanted in her chest and will stay there until November after all six infusions are over.
Two months after the stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis, Kikkan says her new reality is beginning to sink in. It wouldn’t be hard to blame Kikkan if she was bitter or angry. Afterall, just five months ago, she was standing on an Olympic podium. The Alaskan had just made history as the first American cross-country skier to win gold.
From extreme high to extreme low, Kikkan says it was the outpouring of support from complete strangers that took her by surprise.
“Everyone can cheer you on when you’re winning and on a high note, but when everyone comes to support you when you’re on a lower point and you need strength from them? You know, it’s unfortunate to go through something to be able to appreciate that, but it’s been incredible.”
Kikkan wants the thousands of people who have reached out to her to know that she reads every single message. She hoards them like candy and unwraps them when she’s having a tough moment. There’s also the boxes of presents she’s received from family and strangers alike: throat lozenges and coloring books, eye pillows and ginger tea-- and a Wonder Woman action figure complete with a cape for her 3-year-old son Breck.
“I did bring one of the coloring books today! We could all color later if we want!” Kikkan suggests to the gaggle of friends surrounding her in the treatment room.
Most have known her since elementary school, and all of them show up with a small gift or funny item in hand. Kikkan’s favorite is a pair of bright pink socks with “I’m with awesome” penned in bold letters and an arrow pointed upwards.
“It applies to me!” Kikkan laughs then pauses before following up with, “or maybe I have awesome knees, I don’t know.”
The bright colors and light-hearted jokes help Kikkan navigate her way through a scary diagnosis. While the East High grad is the same strong athlete she’s been since she splashed on the cross-country scene as a teenager, there’s something a little more subdued about her manner these days. The toughest moments come when she’s away from her family. Kikkan is getting treatment here in Anchorage at Providence Hospital while her family is back at their new home in British Columbia. Kikkan didn’t have Canadian health insurance when she was diagnosed so she’s using her insurance through the International Olympic Committee here in the U.S.
She hasn’t seen her husband Jeff or son Breck in nearly a month. She perks up when she talks about getting on a plane in just a few short hours and seeing them again.
A few hours later, Kikkan leaves Katmai Oncology with a smile on her face and her tie-dyed sneakers she’s dubbed her “happy shoes” on her feet. Two treatments down-- four to go. Each one should be shorter than the last and when she gets home, she’ll take a big red marker and cross off another day on her calendar. Another day down and another day closer to beating cancer.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.