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Buddy Check 10: Breast cancer fighter and runner takes diagnosis in stride

Gretchen Dietrich takes each day one step at a time, whether it's training for a race or battling a breast cancer diagnosis.

MARYVILLE, Tenn. — One East Tennessee breast cancer fighter is taking her diagnosis in stride. She has continued to run multiple races through treatment.

Gretchen Dietrich is a Maryville native who now lives in the Tri-Cities. She has spent decades running races and marathons, and she's not planning on stopping any time soon.

Dietrich lives each day by putting one foot in front of the other.

"Sometimes you feel defeated, and sometimes you feel like a champ, but just know that if you just keep [going] you'll get to the finish line," Dietrich said.

What started as a seventh grade hobby, eventually became her therapy.

"Now it's just a matter of life for me, I just enjoy it, and it gets me through a lot," Dietrich said.

That includes a breast cancer diagnosis. It started when she was 33.

"I found a lump in my breast and had went to the doctor, and she was like, 'You're too young, but since you have so much cancer in your family, we're going to go ahead and test you,' and sure enough, I had a ultrasound and then that's when they found it," Dietrich said.

That was 13 years ago. When she was initially trying to figure out what treatment and surgery method she wanted, the doctors encouraged genetic testing.

Dietrich found out she has Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. It's an inherited familial predisposition to a wide range of certain, often rare, cancers, according to the LFS Association.

She opted for a double mastectomy and has been on some form of treatment ever since then.

"Every time I've gone off of something or it stops working, it comes back even worse," Dietrich said.

She was training for an Iron Man when she discovered the cancer had come back as stage four. She's lived with stage four breast cancer for a decade.

Credit: Gretchen Dietrich

"It just won't go away," Dietrich said.

Every step of the way, she's continued to run big races: 16 marathons, two 50k, three 50 milers, one full Iron Man in Louisville, KY and numerous half-marathons and triathlons.

"My cancer, it's like running a marathon: it's pretty hard during the marathon and you don't think you're gonna do it, you want to quit, you want to give up," Dietrich said. "You know, you just put one foot in front of the other, and if you can just make it to the next station, or get right into your next treatment, then you've done it."

Her doctor says running, and her healthy lifestyle are what's keeping her here.

"For me, it's never been really about competition," Dietrich said. "It's just been about competition within myself and just pushing myself to what my body  can do."

She believes it's her positive outlook and her daughter, who was diagnosed with leukemia as a child, that keeps her going.

Credit: Gretchen Dietrich

“I know running is my inspiration, but my daughter, too, is a big inspiration," Dietrich said.

Whether it's a run, walk or sprint, she believes life is all about the steps you choose to take.

“Don't give up, be your advocate, get the answers you need," Dietrich said. "You need to get the right treatment and get the advice.”

Dietrich's home is filled with medals and trophies from past races. 

She believes men and women should push for answers when it comes to their health.