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Jill MacIsaac is the first P.E.I. woman to earn her purple belt in the combat sport
Jill MacIsaac has been fighting her way up the ladder in Brazilian jiu jitsu these past seven years, but it's not the only battle she has been waging.
MacIsaac is the first P.E.I. woman to earn her purple belt in the combat sport, earning the honour recently in Charlottetown.
But, it’s been much more than just making Island history. Brazilian jiu jitsu has helped give her focus, while going through one of the most challenging journeys of her life — breast cancer.
The 39-year-old town councillor in Cornwallk who is also a hair stylist, who also serves on Cornwall town council, was training at the Wulfrun Academy in Charlottetown four years ago when she knew something wasn’t right.
“I was just in a certain position (on the mat) and I felt a bit of pain in my chest and it was not normal,’’ MacIsaac said. “I went home and found a lump in my breast and got it checked out immediately.’’
She was officially diagnosed two weeks later. MacIsaac’s life turned into an instant whirlwind. It took months before it actually sank in.
“At the time, you're just getting through the day; you don’t look too far ahead.’’
“Sometimes, you have to fake it ‘til you make it. You’ll have those little spurts; those moments of time when you’re not feeling so great (but) you have to let it go, move on with your life.’’
- Jill MacIsaac, breast cancer survivor
Within weeks she was undergoing chemotherapy, which would amount to six rounds of treatment every three weeks. A few months into her diagnosis, MacIsaac underwent a double mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery. She chose to have the unaffected breast removed to be proactive “because I was young and because I have (two) children, I wanted to give (myself) the best prognosis I could.’’
MacIsaac spent the next year in treatment and while she had to temporarily step away from her full-time job at The Hair Shop in Cornwall she still attended council meetings.
It’s one message she feels is key to share with anyone else on a cancer journey — have something else to focus on.
“It was nice to have an outlet (and) not always focusing on myself. I find when you’re sick it’s all about you all the time. It’s always doctors ... and treatments, always. It’s nice to (be able to) invest your time and energy in something else, even if it’s in small spurts of time.’’
But, MacIsaac had a bigger goal in mind as she battled through treatment, dealing with the toll it was taking on her body. She wanted to get back to the gym where she was one of two women training. She missed her teammates and her coach, Paul Able. She missed jiu jitsu.
So, she kept her eye on the prize, telling herself that when the treatments were done, she was going back.
“Sometimes I was only able to watch and other times I slowly eased back into it.’’
She credits Able with helping her get on her feet again but Able told The Guardian, "She did it all herself."
Levels of Brazilian jiu jitsu
Through it all, MacIsaac’s has faced life with humility and positivity, as one friend told The Guardian.
“Sometimes, you have to fake it ‘til you make it. You’ll have those little spurts; those moments of time when you’re not feeling so great (but) you have to let it go; move on with your life.’’
MacIsaac is still cancer-free and is looking forward to marrying her fiancé, Christopher Buote, in a New Year’s Eve wedding in Mill River.
The MacIsaac family is no stranger to breast cancer. Jill’s mother, Irene, is a survivor.
Bruce MacIsaac, Jill’s father and owner of The Hair Shop, said it’s different when it hits your own child.
“It’s a parent’s nightmare ... (but) she got through it,’’ Bruce said. “Mainly because of the fact she has had tremendous endurance. She never gave up; never quit.’’