Nils Nilsen, IRONMAN
As Alayna Williamson reached the home stretch of the day’s 140.6-mile journey, she felt herself overcome with emotion. Celebratory music was blaring, and the awaiting crowd cheered her on. Not only was the Kaysville mom on her way to completing one of her lifelong dreams of becoming an Ironman, she was doing it with leukemia.
Williamson is a wife, mother of four, full-time manager of emerging business at Overstock.com, adjunct instructor of finance at the University of Utah and exercise-enthusiast — to scratch the surface.
Her family, including Alayna, her husband, Troy, who is a seminary teacher of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Davis High School, and their four children — Frasier, 14, Elijah, 11, Bodie, 8, and Sloane, 3, is one that she would say tries to be really active. So much so, in fact, that they have started accumulating enough medals to create a “Williamson Wall of Fame” in their home.
“We don’t worry about getting first or second place, but we do finish,” Williamson said.
Frasier, who will be starting ninth grade this fall, is training with the Davis High School track team and has a five-minute mile. Troy recently participated in the Deseret News Classic Marathon, as well as other marathons with his wife. Alayna competed in her first marathon in Ogden in 2008, and to date has 12 under her belt, having run in places like San Francisco, St. George and even Boston in 2010.
Then she got cancer.
Though she believes she has had symptoms for about three or four years, Williamson in early 2012 started noticing swollen lymph nodes, or what she referred to as “some serious knots” in her neck. When she took the problem to her doctor, she said she had a feeling it might be cancerous. Advised against doing a lymphectomy since the chances of cancer were less than 1 percent, Williamson still insisted on the procedure.
On March 7, 2012, she was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and lymph nodes most common in people in their late 60s. Williamson is 37.
“I beat the odds!” she joked. “But in a bad way.”
It was a tough blow. However, ready to combat the disease, Williamson vied for immediate treatment.
“I was like, ‘All right, let’s fight this!’ ” she said. “But then they said, ‘Actually, you’re not going to go through treatment right now.’ ”
Currently, there is no cure for CLL, and in many cases, treatment is postponed since it’s only temporary and the disease is slow-growing.
“I could have done chemo then, and it would have killed off cells, but it wouldn’t have cured me,” she explained. “My B-cells create leukemically — form incorrectly. And that will always happen. So until the side effects of that become a threat to my quality of life, I won’t do treatment. Plus, the longer you go, the better the research.”
But waiting is hard. In the meantime, exercise is her own form of therapy — and fighting back.
“My doctors say ‘when,’ and I say ‘if.’ But ‘when’ I have to go through chemo, the stronger and healthier I am, the better.”
Determined to be at her best if that time should come, Williamson started to eat healthier and exercise more.
That, and signed up with Troy for the Ironman triathlon in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“I don’t even know the first time I saw an Ironman on TV,” Williamson said. “But ever since I’ve known it existed, I knew I wanted to do it.”
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