By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Grafton – At age 58, Annie Sheehan of Grafton is a passionate personal trainer who, with a mix of tough love and humor, motivates her clients at the Boston Sports Club in Westborough. She also is certified to work with cancer patients and cancer survivors. To those clients, she brings a very personal perspective. In 2009 she was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer. Now cancer-free, Sheehan’s journey back to health inspires her to help others fighting their own battles, whether that be cancer or any other obstacles holding them back from being the best that they can be.
Born and raised in Iowa, Sheehan grew up on farm, doing chores, such as gardening, baling hay and rounding up cattle.
It was during Sheehan’s senior year of high school that her mother, Margaret, who was not a smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 47. Sheehan became her caretaker.
“I was determined she would get better,” Sheehan. But sadly Margaret did not.
After her mother’s passing, Sheehan was depressed and unsure what to do next. It was when her father, Clarence, finally got through to her by asking, “What are you going to do with your life now?” that Sheehan knew she had to move on.
She decided going to a college or university was not for her but knew she wanted a big change in her life. So she moved to Boston to study hair and skin care at Elizabeth Grady.
“I knew how short life is,” she said. “I also knew there was so much more I wanted to do.”
Exercising also became an important part of her life.
“I had always loved being active and moving. I love how it inspires you, releases energy and makes you feel good, feel healthy,” she said.
With her husband, Tim, she now has two children, Connor, 18, and Maggie, 16.
In 2006 she became certified to teach spin and group exercise and then in 2008 started working at Boston Sports Club in Westborough.
But when Sheehan turned 50, her life changed dramatically when cancer once again reared its ugly head when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer.
After Sheehan and her husband met with a team of doctors at Dana Farber in Boston for a second opinion, they decided to pursue her treatment there.
“When the doctors asked me why I wanted [to be treated there] I told them ‘I am not leaving my kids. I have been there already,’” she said.
Over the following months, Sheehan went through a grueling period of chemotherapy, radiation and then reconstructive surgery.
Once she was released from the hospital, she continued to teach spin class, with her chemo pack strapped to her body.
“I might have had to take a break now and then but I told [everyone in the class] if I can do while having chemo you can do this, too!” she recalled.
She also continued to work out on her own, including after having reconstructive surgery.
“I would go to Target and walk slowly across the store and then back,” she said. “It was grueling but then I would get up and do it again the next day.”
During her recovery she also studied to become certified as a personal trainer.
Now, looking back, Sheehan said that cancer “was one of the best things that happened to me.”
“I always appreciated my life but this made me do so even more. It really makes me live in the moment now.”
Sheehan is also now certified as a personal trainer who works with cancer survivors and cancer patients.
“I can really relate to them – I can tell them I have been where you are. I’m not a doctor – I don’t give them medical advice,” she said. “But I can help them with what they are going through.”
Sheehan is also passionate about working with men and women over 50 on regular exercise and nutrition programs. Food, she feels, “can either be your poison or your medicine.” As such, she has worked with people all the way up to age 93.
“I am an unapologetic 58 year old!” she said. “I have wrinkles – so what? Lines are knowledge and wisdom.”
“And I love learning from older people. They have so much to share.”
“As long as you are moving and keep learning, you can live your life to the fullest,” she added.
Women, in particular, she said, too often put themselves last.
“Take time for yourself and don’t feel bad about it. There’s nothing wrong with feeling good.”
Mindset is so critical as well, she added.
“Too many times people let fear come into play or they want instant gratification. Don’t be afraid to grab that fear and walk right through it,” she stressed. “Allow yourself to follow the process and enjoy each step towards getting healthier and better. But just start moving now and enjoying your life.”
“You need to stop and think about what if you are not here?” she added. “How will that affect the people who love you? I know – I have been there.”
And although she has now been cancer-free for six years, she is prepared should the disease strike again, she said.
“I have my boots already on – and as my son, who was then only 11, said to me when I was first diagnosed, I just need to tie them up and fight the fight,” she said.
To contact Sheehan, call 508-769-8778 or email [email protected].