Pro triathlete Amy Cottrill Marsh remains at Seton Medical Center Austin this week, where she has wrapped up a second round of chemotherapy to treat leukemia.
A routine blood test last August showed unusual results that Marsh, 37, initially attributed to overtraining. She cut back the time she spent swimming, biking and running, but a retest in November triggered concern. She underwent a bone marrow biopsy and learned Dec. 23 that she had acute myeloid leukemia, a quick-developing form of cancer that affects the blood.
“We went in at 2:30 p.m. By 6 p.m. we were checked in at the hospital,” said her husband, triathlon coach and former pro-triathlete Brandon Marsh.
Amy started chemotherapy the next day and has been at the hospital since. Doctors have told her she will likely need more chemotherapy and then a stem cell transplant. The triathlete, who is accustomed to training hard up to 25 hours a week, told her husband: “This is like an Ironman and we’re just barely in the swim.”
A “Bone Marrow Jam” in her honor is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Austin Tri-Cyclist, 903 Barton Springs Road. Participants will be orally swabbed and their information entered into a national and global registry for bone marrow donors. If a match is found, blood cells will be filtered from the donor and given to a patient who needs them.
The pro triathlete, who had planned to retire after the 2015 season, works as a youth swim coach at Western Hills Athletic Club in Rollingwood.
“Being fit has really helped her handle the chemo more than anything and will help her handle the next phase, whether it’s additional chemo or if it’s a stem cell transplant,” Brandon Marsh said.
Amy Marsh swam for the University of Minnesota. She has won four Ironman triathlons and two Ironman-distance triathlons consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. She also won a half-distance Ironman in 2014.
Since checking into the hospital, she tries to get up and move 30 to 60 minutes most days, but she’s tired, Brandon Marsh says. She’s passing the time watching HGTV and playing Scrabble and other games, and pedaling a stationary bicycle that physical therapists moved into her hospital room.
“Cancer doesn’t care – it doesn’t care how fit you are, it doesn’t care how fat you are, it just doesn’t care,” Brandon Marsh said, adding that community support has been overwhelming. “Everyone responds differently to treatments.”
He cut her long hair into a bob last week, then shaved it short a few days later. “That was pretty emotional,” he said. “She’s GI Jane now.”The family has health insurance but a fund for incidental costs has been set up here.