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Patient Care Blood Cancer Leukemia

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Won’t Slow World Champion Triathlete Down

Siri Lindley didn’t know how important mental toughness would be until she was diagnosed with cancer

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date September 2, 2020

Siri Lindley couldn’t swim. She had never learned how. So the idea of competing in a triathlon seemed completely out of the question.

“I couldn’t help but fall in love with the sport,” says Siri. “Something about it drew me in and I knew I had to start training.”

For eight years Siri dedicated her life to training for the sport she loved. In 1992, at the age of 23, she completed her first event. Just four years later, in 1996, Siri was competing in the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Cup Races. But competing was not enough. Siri had a goal - she wanted to be number one in the world.

Her dedication and passion for the sport climaxed in 2001 when Siri won the title of ITU World Champion after winning six consecutive ITU World Cup Races. She retired from the sport on top and turned to coaching athletes competing in the Olympics and Ironman World Championships.

“The thought of competing in a triathlon was an impossible dream at one point in my life,” says Siri. “I was able to make the impossible possible.”

Saved by the hip

After years of training and competing, it was normal for Siri to have some aches and pains occasionally. However, her hip had become so bothersome that she was no longer able to do her signature “silly dance” that she performed before every speech.  

“As fate would have it, I ended up as a speaker in multiple Tony Robbins events,” explains Siri. “It started out as an interview in Hawaii after an event, which turned into participating in one of his podcasts, which eventually would lead Tony Robbins asking me to speak at a leadership meeting. I had never done any public speaking before. Luckily, it came naturally and is now what I live for. But my sore hip was definitely taking away from my dance moves.”

Siri needed hip surgery. During her pre-operation appointment she had the standard tests, including a blood sample. Little did she know that these blood samples would ultimately save her life.

“The doctors called me and said that they were very concerned about the results of my blood samples,” says Siri. “They mentioned the word leukemia, and I thought ‘there is no way.’ Looking back now, I am so thankful for my hip issues. I probably would not have caught it or caught it way too late had it not been for my sore hip.”

Doing the impossible (again)

Many tests later, Siri’s world was turned upside down by the diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). According to the American Cancer Society, AML is a cancer that starts in the bone marrow but quickly moves into the blood as well. It is usually a very aggressive disease that needs incredibly invasive and harsh treatments.

“When I got diagnosed my immediate thought was ‘this is not my time to go...I am going to survive this...I am going to thrive through this,’” says Siri. “Rather than focusing on the present situation I focused on the final outcome.”

Siri knew that she had to come up with the best treatment plan and work with the best doctors to get through her diagnosis. After receiving many recommendations, she ended at the University of Colorado Cancer Center under the care of doctors Daniel Pollyea, MD, and Jonathan Gutman, MD.

“My doctors are my absolute heroes.
I have no doubt they saved my life.”

Siri was put on a clinical trial that has had incredible results for many patients with AML. She was able to achieve remission with no traditional chemotherapy and while being treated mainly as an outpatient. She then went on to a bone marrow transplant intended to cure the disease permanently.

“As soon as I went into remission I immediately went in for my bone marrow transplant,” says Siri. “It was the hardest experience I had ever gone through, but I was determined to come out stronger than before.”

Her bone marrow transplant was possible thank to her sister and a donated umbilical cord.

Siri used vision boards in her hospital that motivated her through her hospital experience. Pictures of her running her favorite trail, enjoying life with her wife Rebekah, and her beloved horses kept her going.

Once again, Siri has defied the odds and done the impossible. She is almost six months out from her transplant and cancer free.

Finding the good

Siri, AML Survivor

Siri with one of her many rescue horses

Although it can be difficult to find good from a cancer diagnosis, Siri knows that the experience came with a lot of positive outcomes.

“The diagnosis brought my family back together. We had grown apart but they all gathered around me in such an incredible way,” explains Siri. “My mom, my wife and the doctors were all superheroes.”

Siri’s mom slept at the hospital every day for a month.

“I also got to spend more time with my horses, which is so therapeutic and healing.” 

Siri and her wife run a horse rescue in Longmont called Believe Ranch and Rescue.

“In the last three years we have saved 117 beautiful horses,” says Siri. “It has been the most beautiful experience saving these horses and giving them a loving life. For me, the horses gave me a sense of safety and calm while I was going through treatments.”

Today, Siri is back to doing what she loves most - public speaking and coaching a world class group of triathletes. She has already done multiple online events with three more planned later this year. She also has a new appreciation for life that probably would not have happened without a cancer diagnosis.

“I get to live!” says Siri. “It is a miracle. I will make the most out of this life, I will love, I will share, every single moment of life is a gift. I am just so grateful.”

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