Facing her biggest fear head on 

Former pro skier gannett takes on brain cancer

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - Honest chat Former pro skier Alison Gannett speaks about her experiences living with brain cancer during the Mountain Story talk at Garibaldi Lift Co. on Feb. 27.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • Honest chat Former pro skier Alison Gannett speaks about her experiences living with brain cancer during the Mountain Story talk at Garibaldi Lift Co. on Feb. 27.

Alison Gannett isn't letting brain cancer slow her down.

The 1998 World Champion free skier has done her best to live life to the fullest since doctors discovered a baseball-sized brain tumour in July 2013. Even in the face of a deadly challenge, Gannett is still running her KEEN Rippin Chix ski, bike and surf camps, farming in Paonia, Colo. and serving as a speaker, which she did on Feb. 27 as the third speaker in the Mountain Story series at Garibaldi Lift Co.

Though she's faced terrifying situations on the mountains, most notably in Alaska, Gannett, 49, acknowledged to interviewer Naheed Henderson the scariest moment of her life thus far came from the stark realization of what she was truly up against after surgery. Before undergoing treatment, she said she experienced migraines, lacked depth perception and suffered memory lapses so severe she once entirely forgot to attend a $10,000 speaking opportunity at Microsoft. She realized something was wrong when the bacon she was cooking caught fire and she sat there looking at the inferno when her husband realized what was happening.

"When I was diagnosed with cancer, I actually don't really remember being told by the doctor that I had it because it was so advanced at that point," she said. "Believe it or not, I was still skiing and still mountain biking.

"But when I woke up from surgery and I saw the pictures that had already been shown to me, I think it was pretty petrifying to realize what I was dealing with."

Since her diagnosis, Gannett has forgone chemotherapy and radiation, but said, considering her state, she is thriving. Instead, Gannett has opted for a local paleo-ketogenic diet, originally designed to fight childhood epilepsy, she said has helped to fight the disease. She and husband Jason Trimm had decided to get into farming in 2010, purchasing the 80-acre Holy Terror Farm in Colorado and have avoided the grocery store ever since.

"If you looked at my plate of food, you would see a giant plate of vegetables, a little bit of protein, but what you're not seeing is that it is slathered in every type of fat possible," she said. "Every time I sit down to eat, it's about how can I get a half-a-cup of fat down my throat while I'm eating food.

"Heavy whipping cream, I go through a pint a day and I go through a jar of butter every two days."

The surgeons missed a small tumour (that she named Junior) that Gannett still lives with, she feels she has been able to keep it in check with her diet. Save for her sodium levels being on the low end, she said her bloodwork is otherwise encouraging.

"Anytime I want to grab something sweet, I think of Junior like a Pac-Man, and he's in there hungry for the only food that he can metabolize, so no sugar, no carbs for me," she said. "Even after 30 days, I looked like a new person. Now after a year and a half, my bloodwork is almost flawless. It's pretty impressive to see."

Gannett said her approach is admittedly risky, but after skiing huge lines and taking a wild approach to the mountains, it's a feeling to which she's become accustomed.

"Chemo and radiation, for my types of cancer, are less than one per cent effective," she said. "After my surgery, I was too sick to get chemo or radiation because they put the fear of God into you.

"I had to wait six months because I was so sick from the surgery and when I had that lucky opportunity to recover, I did my research and I decided that one per cent wasn't enough for me. I wanted to do better than that."

Gannett explained her ordeal has allowed her to speak more openly, especially about the eventual resting place for each and every one of us.

"We don't talk about death very much. We tend to put it away compared to other cultures," she said. "I met my maker a year and a half ago and I ruminated really intensely about death for six months because I really didn't think I was going to make it. My tumours are very aggressive and I didn't think there was a chance."

The series will wrap on March 27 with Paralympic champion Josh Dueck. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $10. For more, visit www.mtnstory.com.



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