Completing the race is an impressive feat in and of itself. But completing the race with stage IV lung cancer? Astounding.
Isabella de la Houssaye - a 54-year-old Lawrenceville, New Jersey, native - crossed the finish line ahead of 147 other athletes at the IRONMAN World Championship on October 13, just nine months after receiving her initial cancer diagnosis.
"At that point, it was stage IV lung cancer," she told PEOPLE. "I had a good size tumour, 7 centimetres, in my lungs. My entire sacrum was cancer. I had six tumours in my brain, I had them in my sternum, I had them in my pelvis. It was a huge wake-up call."
De la Houssaye began treatment in February and reached a point where she could not walk. She slowly built up the strength to walk using canes. Soon enough, she was walking without any aid, and shortly after that was running up to 41km each day.
"Every day I got stronger and stronger," she said. "It continues to amaze me how the body responds to the load you put on it."
De la Houssaye comes from a family of remarkable achievers. Her eldest son, Cason Crane, became the first openly gay mountaineer to scale the Seven Summits at 21 years old. At 19 years old, another of her sons, Oliver, became the youngest person to row across the Atlantic Ocean alone. During their gap years before college, daughter Bella hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and son David biked the length of Africa. All four children completed these feats to raise money for charity. De la Houssaye hoped that she would be able to wait for her youngest son to turn 18 so the whole family could compete at the IRONMAN World Championship together, but fate had other ideas.
As the race approached, De la Houssaye got nervous about disappointing those supporting her. She wasn't sure she'd be able to finish but promised, "I'm going to give it everything I have. That's the only thing I can do."
Despite a fall midway through the event, she managed to do both. De la Houssaye finished the race in 14:56:56 and came in 65th place in her age group. And though her cancer still qualifies as stage IV, she has made a lot of progress in her treatment as well.
"Part of what I'm hearing from my doctors is that because I came in so strong and healthy, and that I continued to be, it helped my treatment," she said. "Much like running, I know that if I put one foot in front of the other I'll keep going, and that's the same with my treatment."
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