A Queensland great-grandma who beat breast cancer three times has set multiple Australian and World powerlifting records at a competition held on the weekend.
Mater Private Hospital Redland patient, Heather Maddern, turned to strength training as part of her exercise regime following her last cancer treatment in April.
Ms Maddern has fought cancer three times since 2015 and, two years ago, received a shock diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
The Capalaba grandmother-of-three, and great-grandmother-of-four, was the first woman in her 80s to compete in the Capo Powerlifting Australia competition on Saturday, where she set two Australian and two world age records with a 75kg and 80kg deadlift.
“Powerlifting has made me mentally and physically stronger, it’s something I never thought I would have been able to do – I mean, can you imagine an 80-year-old in lycra and compression stockings?” she said.
“It all started when I reached out to a local strength training facility asking for help to build up my strength.
“I was at a point where I found hanging the washing out was difficult, even to lift my arms up.
“One of my surgeries involved removing 16 lymph nodes from my left arm and I wasn’t able to do what I used to.”
Ms Maddern said she enjoyed deadlifting but never dreamed of entering a powerlifting competition.
“I told my oncologist I wanted to lift 80kg by my birthday in December,” she laughed.
“I’m an ordinary old lady just throwing a weight around, I feel as fit as a fiddle.
“I’ve still got ‘the girls’, and I never wore a beanie after losing my hair during chemotherapy because I looked like a boiled egg. I just get on with things.”
Diagnosed with a grade one cancer on her right breast in 2015, Ms Maddern underwent surgery and radiation at Mater Private Hospital Redland.
In 2020, she was diagnosed with a grade three cancer on her left breast, again requiring surgery and radiation.
Last year Ms Maddern was told by doctors she had a cancer that had spread into multiple lymph nodes.
Ms Maddern, who is now in remission, received treatment at Mater Cancer Care Centre Redland, which involved removal of lymph nodes, as well as chemotherapy, followed by 25 rounds of radiation ending in April.
Mater Private Hospital Redland oncologist, Dr Vikram Jain, cared for Ms Maddern, along with breast surgeon Dr Jason Lambley, and said her positive mindset helped with her treatment outcomes.
“Heather suffered side effects from her cancer treatment but managed courageously,” Dr Jain said.
“Exercise and fitness is important for cancer patients – and Heather never gave up.
“She was supported by the local team at Mater following her surgeries with Dr Lambley, and of course was cared for by the cancer therapy nurses.
“Her attitude to life has had a lot to do with where she is now. She didn’t get run down, she was fit and that really helped.”
Ms Maddern has inspired the staff and other patients at Mater Private Hospital Redland, said Dr Jain.
Owner of JC Strength and head coach of Anytime Fitness Capalaba Jillian Cox said Ms Maddern was “Australia’s strongest grandma”.
“She’s going to smash the record on her first attempt,” said Ms Cox, who has been training the great-grandma.
“When Heather told me her story, I knew exactly what she needed to do. She could hardly stand up properly when she first walked through the doors – her stability was shot.
“Heather does Bulgarian split squats, and her stability is crazy – it just shows what strength training does for the older generation.
“I remember when she did a split squat for the first time I burst into tears, I was sobbing. Heather asked why I was crying, and I had to remind her of where she started to where she is now.”