woman currently has breast cancer

Gretchen’s #UNSTOPPABLE Journey

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, every week in October we will be sharing the stories of our members and staff who have beaten breast cancer. If you or anyone you know has beaten or currently has breast cancer and is a member at Xperience Fitness, email [email protected] for a chance to share your story and inspire and educate others.

In late 2018, a typical morning became ineffaceable for Gretchen Adrian when she felt a lump in her breast as she rolled over in bed. However, because Adrian had just had a physical and mammogram two months earlier, she was unconcerned but still saw her doctor right away. Much to her surprise and horror, Adrian’s biopsy revealed that the seemingly unassuming lump was cancer. 

Before cancer and after cancer

Adrian received her biopsy results on December 13, 2017. They revealed that the cancer was in the breast and in the lymph nodes adjacent to the breast, in her armpit. Because of the location of the cancer, protocol dictated Adrian would also need a full-body scan to see if it had spread anywhere else. After the initial scan, Adrian waited a disconcerting three weeks filled with four additional tests before confirming that there was also breast cancer present in her liver. Finding breast cancer in her liver meant that Adrian’s diagnosis moved to stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. This type of breast cancer means the cancer has metastasized, or traveled, through the bloodstream to create additional tumors in the liver, in Adrian’s case, lungs, brain, bones, and/or other parts of the body. While it is treatable, this type of cancer cannot be cured, and in a culture focused on survivorship, this type of breast cancer can be especially difficult and isolating for those diagnosed. 

The weeks that Adrian and her family spent waiting for the tests were more than difficult, they were the hardest weeks of their lives, especially since those weeks went straight through the holidays. When Adrian first received the call that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer, the only word she could use to describe how she felt was “shock.” 

“The whole process of all the testing and waiting and testing and waiting all seemed really surreal,” Adrian recalled. “Certainly my family and I cried a lot in those early days; there is just a grieving process as you realize that life will never be the same. It will always be ‘before cancer’ and ‘after cancer.’”  

But, being a mom, Adrian did not want her cancer to get in the way of her kids’ lives. 

“I really want them to be able to focus on becoming adults – finishing high school and college and figuring out what comes next,” Adrian explained. “I don’t want my cancer to interrupt this process for them. At the same time, my husband (Chuck) and kids  (Lucas, 20, Kyra, 18, and Keely, 15) have been amazing through all of this, supporting me in every way – and we all support each other. I think it’s teaching my kids to not take life for granted, to treasure every day.” 

Chemo and unexpected changes

Less than a month after receiving her biopsy results, Adrian began chemotherapy in early January 2018. Adrian underwent four sessions of chemo, each session two weeks apart, over the course of eight weeks. Side effects, like fatigue, were cumulative, so Adrian felt fine after the first treatment, but by the last session it took her nearly a week after the session for her energy to be restored. 

As with many who have undergone chemo, Adrian lost her hair 10 days after the first treatment. By the second round, her tastebuds were affected, even making water taste horrible. Luckily, Adrian’s side effects were short-lived. However, her hair came back looking quite different. 

“My hair came back looking very different,” Adrian expressed. “I used to be blonde, but now my hair is very dark, and it came back extremely curly; I am glad that has settled down so now I just have some wave!”

After four chemo sessions, Adrian’s doctors were pleased to see her cancer knocked back. With her cancer under control, or under as much control as it could be, Adrain switched to an estrogen suppression treatment in late February 2018, a treatment she is still on today. Adrian also used to get a monthly injection to prevent her ovaries from producing estrogen before she opted to have an oophorectomy, a surgery that removes the ovaries, in March 2019. Now, Adrian only has to take a pill every day to destroy the estrogen produced by the adrenal glands.  

Today, Adrian feels normal. Her energy and activity levels are back to where they were before cancer. But just because she feels physically better, does not mean thoughts of her cancer are not looming just below the surface. 

“I have been so blessed to feel quite normal for the last 18 months or so!” Adrian expressed. “There is no way to forget about cancer even though I feel great. I look in the mirror and see my ‘new hair’, and I feel the chemo port that is still in my chest, so there are always those reminders. After the first few months of cancer, and seeing the treatments being effective, I have been less emotional about it all and have come to terms with living with uncertainty about all of this. That’s where my faith comes in.” 

My God is So Big

As soon as Adrian felt the lump that early December morning, she began praying, even more than she had ever before. Her prayers were not necessarily for a clean bill of health, although that would have been ideal, but for the strength to get through whatever comes next. In addition to reviving her prayer life, Adrian also invested more time in reading her Bible.  

“Attending worship has always been part of my life,” Adrian said. “I think the first few months I cried during every service as I listened to Bible readings and sermons that reminded me about God’s power and might, His love, grace, mercy, and most of all, His gift of salvation.”  

Adrian’s family found support in their home parish Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Suamico as well as St. Mark Lutheran and Fox Valley Luthern High School, where their children went to school from grade school on.

Adrian feels this cancer diagnosis has given her a way to get even closer to God, her family, and her friends. 

The morning after her diagnosis, a song popped into Adrian’s head that she had not thought of in years: “My God is So Big” from VeggieTales. This song, a song her children listened to when they were young, soon became her anthem. Adrian also had a few Bible verses she read over and over while waiting for her test results. Her favorites are Psalm 46:10, Exodus 14:14, Romans 8:28, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 27:1, Job 19:25-27, and the ever-popular John 3:16. 

Staying active

Adrian is a member of Xperience Fitness Green Bay. She started working out in her basement, but now absolutely loves attending the various fitness classes offered at Xperience, especially Zumba. In addition to Adrian enjoying meeting new people, both Xperience instructors and members, she works out for the mental and physical benefits. 

“I feel stronger and just ‘better,’ in general; my mood is better, I have more energy,” Adrian expressed. “I believe it’s a big factor for mental clarity too.”


Everyone’s cancer journey is unique to them and experiences and feelings might not line up across the board, but Adrian has advice that might be useful to anyone who is currently diagnosed or knows someone who is. 

First, Adrian said if you have just been diagnosed to make sure you are comfortable with your doctor and medical team. Then look for a second opinion. As well as going to the Bellin Cancer Center, Adrian also went to Froedtert in Milwaukee to make sure the treatment path she was on was right for her and her cancer. Finally, do not forget to ask questions; no question is too small or insignificant. Adrian knows she can ask her team any questions she may have.

“In addition to my oncologist, I have worked with a nutritionist and an integrative doctor [at Bellin Cancer Center] who helps me make choices to keep my body as ‘well’ as I can,” Adrian explained. “They also offer counseling for me and for any of my family. I appreciate this team approach.”  

If your loved one has just been diagnosed with cancer Adrian says all you can do is continue to love them and be there for them. 

“It’s ok to cry with them,” Adrian assured. “Hug them. Ask what they want from you; don’t assume you know. They might not know from one minute to the next what they need from you, so just be ready to sit with them and be with them and respond to them.”

But the most important advice Adrian has, that helped her significantly, is to stay close to God. 

“Cancer may never feel ‘easy,’ but faith in God can bring great peace about all the ‘what-ifs’ that can go through your mind,” Adrian expressed.

Organizations to support

If you are interested in supporting breast cancer research, Adrian suggests the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). BCRF is the highest-rated breast cancer organization in the United States and they focus on researching preventing and curing breast cancer. Donations go towards breast cancer research and awareness programs.