Fleet Feet West Reading Owner Helps Cancer Fighters in Her Community

A woman running in Mizuno's ProjectZero edition of the Waveknit R2 running shoe

Sorita Averill, an avid runner and owner of Fleet Feet West Reading in Pennsylvania, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2011 right before she was about to leave for a family ski vacation. She had no family history of the disease, and she’d undergone regular mammograms every year, so the diagnosis came as a complete surprise.

“I had no idea how severe it was at the time, I just knew I had breast cancer,” she says. “And so, I decided to ski my butt off because I didn’t know if I would be around the next year.”

Averill spent a lot of that vacation thinking about how she’d lived a pretty good life, and how if the prognosis was really bad, she’d take another ski vacation and enjoy her final days. On the other hand, if the prognosis was OK, she’d opt for a double mastectomy and move on.

Fleet Feet West Reading owner Sorita Averill poses for Project Zero

After vacation, she checked in with her doctor.

“I had DCIS Stage 2, Grade 3,” she says. “We caught it early enough that the doctor suggested we perform a lumpectomy on the left side plus a round of radiation, but I didn’t want that.”

Averill says she saw what one of her best friends went through with radiation and decided she’d rather remove her breasts entirely.

“I wanted a double mastectomy," Averill says. "I didn’t want to worry about the other breast.”

As it turns out, she made a good decision, because during the procedure the surgeon discovered a cancerous tumor on the other side, too.

While Averill argues that her bout with cancer was relatively easy compared to what many of her other friends and community members have gone through, that doesn’t make it any less important to talk about. And as an active member of her running community, Averill says the experience has given her an avenue to help other women.

“The running community really helped me,” she says. “I don’t think I could have gotten through it without them.”

What’s more, as a local business owner, she meets women every day who are either battling breast cancer themselves, are in remission or have a close friend or family member in treatment. As a cancer survivor, she feels well-equipped to support the women around her. But how? And what can we all learn from Averill to better support women in our communities?

We caught up with the store owner to find out more:

How do you help women every day in your store?

I’ll do bra fittings and be chatting with women who say they are hard to fit (for a sports bra) because they had breast cancer, or I’ll hear them talking about how they’re about to go through surgery. And they don’t know that I’ve been through it already. When I tell them my story, it puts them at ease. It helps for them to see me now, to see that I’ve gone through cancer and surgery and come out the other side. Support goes beyond bra fittings. I often meet women through the running community who have a friend or a family member they want me to reach out to. Just simply connecting with someone who had cancer helps to cull many women’s fears.

A person modeling Mizuno's Project Zero Waveknit R2 running shoe

What did you need the most when recovering from surgery?

For me, it was really important to be able to look forward to seeing people every day. A gal from my running group set up a meal train, and it was so helpful to receive meals and see friends every day.

What advice do you have for a caretaker or friend of a cancer fighter?

I think the best thing that you can do for someone is to ask how you can help, and then really do the thing that helps. When I got my diagnosis, for example, my husband was distraught. He was so upset that it was hard to go to appointments with him because he was so sad. And what I needed was someone to be positive and to make light of the situation because I respond well to humor. So, I talked to him about it. After our conversation, he was great.

Why do you think the running community provides such powerful support?

Because when we run together we’re supporting each other to reach our goals. And we’re spending a lot of time with each other on runs. So, if something happens in our lives, we tell our running partners. Running partners often know our deepest secrets; that’s how close we are … even if we only see them during our runs. And, of course, runners are just really, really good people. Period.

Project Zero is a collaboration between Fleet Feet and Mizuno to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Mizuno will donate a portion of proceeds from the limited edition Project Zero Waveknit R2 running shoe and select apparel to the BCRF to advance promising research and breakthrough treatments.

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By Ashley Arnold. Ashley is a storyteller, ultra runner and cat person. As Fleet Feet’s content marketing manager, she manages the Fleet Feet blog and its roster of writers.