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Patient and Triathlete Has Resolve of Steel

Nov. 21, 2011 – Teri Griege’s to-do list is ambitious, to say the least.

  • Oct. 8: Complete the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii
  • Oct. 12: Chemotherapy treatment at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital
  • Nov. 6: Run the New York Marathon
  • Nov. 7: MRI and CT scan at Siteman
  • Nov. 8: Chemotherapy at Siteman

Teri Griege gave Ben Tan, MD, a framed photo of the two at the
Ironman competition and wrote, “Iron Patient, Iron Doctor.”

That fact that the Creve Coeur wife, mother, nurse and triathlete also is undergoing treatment for colon cancer makes her story even more remarkable.

Exercise always had been a part of Griege’s life. She started running marathons in 2002, adding triathlons in 2005. She even competed in the Ironman, a series of races organized by the World Triathlon Corp. comprising a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

It was while training for her second Ironman in 2009 that Griege began feeling tired and noticed that injuries wouldn’t heal as quickly. In July, she saw blood in her stool. “I told myself that if the symptoms didn’t go away after the August race, I would get checked out,” she says.

Griege, then 48, had a colonoscopy in September 2009. “Two weeks after the Ironman, I found out that I had stage IV colon cancer that had metastasized to my liver,” she says.

Griege’s treatment consisted of radiation treatments and chemotherapy treatments followed by colon and liver resections in January 2010. She resumed chemotherapy in the spring and began maintenance chemotherapy in July.

Through it all, Griege only stopped exercising when she was recovering from surgery. She would even bike on a trainer at home while hooked up to a chemotherapy infusion pack. She credits her care team at Siteman's west county location – including Washington University medical oncologist Benjamin Tan, MD, nurse coordinator Jan Hungerford and nurse practitioner Beth Zubal – with keeping her active.

“Dr. Tan, Jan and Beth have been fabulous about minimizing my side effects,” Griege says. “They give me the freedom to do what I feel I’m capable of. But they also keep an eye on everything. Everyone at Siteman, from the staff at the front desk to the nurses in the infusion area, make the experience as tolerable and comfortable as it can be. They are caring and warm.”

Griege sent her story to the World Triathlon Corp. and was chosen to be a featured athlete at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on Oct. 8. Thirty-four family members and friends traveled to Hawaii in support. Tan and his wife were among the group, wearing shirts that said “Team Teri: Powered by Hope.”

“When I crossed the finish line, the crowd was cheering and yelling my name,” Griege says. “I got to live my dream.”

“It was amazing, and it was a blessing to be a part of it,” Tan says.

Griege was featured in the airing of the Ironman World Championship on Dec. 10 on NBC. She shares her story to save lives. “I want to get out the message that people should get screened for colon cancer and pay attention to symptoms,” she says. “We can save a lot of lives.”

Next goals for Griege are to compete in the Berlin and London marathons, the only two major marathons that she hasn’t completed. “Just because you’ve been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean you cannot live a full life,” Griege says. “Keep pushing and moving forward.”