In July of 2015, At the Samoens Enduro World Series race, the winningest mountain biker in history, Anne-Caroline Chausson, suddenly quit the race and disappeared from view.
Anne had not been feeling right for quite some time, and had an MRI before the race. When she returned to the doctor the following week, she found out that she had Ovarian cancer.
After a long fall and winter of numerous operations, surprises and chemo, ACC is on the road to recovery, and hopes to be racing again this summer.
We caught up with Anne at her home in Southern France in mid-March, 2016. Here is her story.
Hello Anne-Caro, happy to know that the hard part is behind you.
Yes, I had my last appointment in late February. As with every appointment, waiting for the results was unbearable. And I was really happy to know that all was well after seven difficult months.
How did you find out you had cancer?
During the winter 2014/2015, sometimes I had painful stomach aches. I went through periods of feeling great and periods of fatigue. But I was not too worried about it. In late March, I went to New Zealand and I won the first round of the Enduro World Series. The return was difficult and I was slow to recover. In late May, during the round in Scotland, I was tired, I had a stomach ache and I was not feeling well. When I returned home to France, I could not recover. I thought it was because of overtraining. Then I decided to do a blood test. We saw that there was a lack of red blood cells, which is quite surprising for an athlete. Then in late June, I raced the Coupe de France of Enduro in Millau. I won, but I was very very tired. When back, I did an MRI. Waiting for the results, I went to the EWS mid-July in Samoens. I left because I was not really good. Then I got the MRI results. At the hospital, the doctor warned me that I had a tumor to be removed. But nothing more.
In late July, the tumor has grown rapidly. It was decided to operate in early August. During the surgery, they saw that it was more serious than it appeared. We decided for a second operation in early September, just to give me time to recover from the 1st. I started chemotherapy in early October. The day after the chemo, Tom (Tom Morgan from Ibis) came to see me. We went for a walk towards the Dentelles of Montmirail. I was tired, I had back pain and trouble to breath. I thought it was because of the chemo. I spent 10 days feeling like this. One day I went to the mountains. There, I could not breathe. We went to the emergency room and I was diagnosed with a pneumothorax [collapsed lung], which was not caused by the chemo. It was the icing on the cake!
Have you had already one?
Yes, two years ago at the opening of the World Cup in Punta Ala. I fell and broke 3 ribs.
What happened next ?
I had a 3rd operation! The operation was not the most painful, it was a pleural talcage to repair the pneumothorax. After 3 operations, I had lost a lot of weight and I was down in the dumps. I had to go through a 6 chemo program, every 3 weeks. The last sessions were spaced out a little more, because my red cells were not high enough. So, they lasted from early October to late January. They call these preventive chemo. Late January, my results were good. Everything that could have been affected by the bad cells was removed. Today, we can't say I'm healed, because cancer is complicated. But everything was done so that it goes well. Above all, it was treated in time and hit nothing else. The important thing they told me, is to listen to my body. If I'm tired, I rest. And if I'm OK, I do what I want to do.
Did you do some activities during your treatment?
When you are opened in two, it takes few weeks to recover, walk or move normally. Treatment is heavy. This is not a small injury or a little weak moment. Chemo knocks you down. When you are tired, you don't need to add tiredness in your body. I tried cycling, not for training, but to clear my mind. I did a lot of skiing, a little motorcycle and electric bike. For many people, what I did was a bit too much. For me, it was just a way to clear my mind and to think about something else.
With your competitive spirit, it should not be easy to go slow.
I had no choice, I had to rest! I want to do lots of things, but I have to live at the rhythm of my body. For once, I’m listening to my body! The goal is not to tire it more, but restart it gently.
What’s the latest with your pneumothorax?
I still have pain in breathing. I do a lot of rehabilitation. I think my lung capacity decreased a little bit. So, it will take time to re-educate all this.
How do you see the future?
I need a goal, because I've always lived this way. Today, what will help me is telling myself that I will return to race. Without cutting corners. It will allow me to re-mobilize and be back in shape faster. I'm sure about that. I hope to start doing smaller competitions in June, without specific performance goals.
And you told us about another goal.
My real goal is to be able to finish a big enduro race by August. I want to go to Whistler on August 13 and finish the race. If I would race downhill or cross country, I think it would be really easy to get to the finish. On the other hand, I'm not able to spend 6 hours on a bike for 3-4 days for now, honestly speaking. But this goal will allow me to motivate me, after seven months without making real sport.
See you in Whistler?
You can count on that !
Many thanks to Arnaud Bachelard for the interview and translation.