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Our Towns: Fitness lover expands business while recovering from cancer

  • Michelle Tanguay, right, teaches a class in her new space at Infinite Health in Boscawen on Monday afternoon, June 17, 2013. Tanguay is recovering from ovarian cancer and growing her fitness business in Boscawen. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Michelle Tanguay, right, teaches a class in her new space at Infinite Health in Boscawen on Monday afternoon, June 17, 2013. Tanguay is recovering from ovarian cancer and growing her fitness business in Boscawen.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Michelle Tanguay lays on the carpet while demonstrating a leg exercise to her class on Monday afternoon, June 17, 2013 at Infinite Health in Boscawen. Tanguay is recovering from ovarian cancer and growing her fitness business in Boscawen. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Michelle Tanguay lays on the carpet while demonstrating a leg exercise to her class on Monday afternoon, June 17, 2013 at Infinite Health in Boscawen. Tanguay is recovering from ovarian cancer and growing her fitness business in Boscawen.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Rhiley Tanguay, 10, pushes an exercise ball across the room while helping her mom, Michelle, center, clean up after her exercise class. Michelle Tanguay is recovering from ovarian cancer and growing her fitness business in Boscawen. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Rhiley Tanguay, 10, pushes an exercise ball across the room while helping her mom, Michelle, center, clean up after her exercise class. Michelle Tanguay is recovering from ovarian cancer and growing her fitness business in Boscawen.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Michelle Tanguay, right, teaches a class in her new space at Infinite Health in Boscawen on Monday afternoon, June 17, 2013. Tanguay is recovering from ovarian cancer and growing her fitness business in Boscawen. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Michelle Tanguay lays on the carpet while demonstrating a leg exercise to her class on Monday afternoon, June 17, 2013 at Infinite Health in Boscawen. Tanguay is recovering from ovarian cancer and growing her fitness business in Boscawen. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Rhiley Tanguay, 10, pushes an exercise ball across the room while helping her mom, Michelle, center, clean up after her exercise class. Michelle Tanguay is recovering from ovarian cancer and growing her fitness business in Boscawen. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Cancer encroaches on one’s life – it weakens the body, tires the mind and exhausts the emotions.

But Michelle Tanguay only let it go so far. Less than three months after surgery to remove a tumor from her ovaries and several rounds into chemotherapy, she started instructing community fitness classes in Boscawen again. And last month, before her final chemotherapy treatment and before she knew she was cancer-free, Tanguay decided to take a leap and expand her classes into a complete fitness business.

“When she gets something in her mind, she’s more of a doer. As soon as she gets an idea in her head she tries to run with it,” said her husband, Bill. “I think the whole process that she’s gone through has even made her more determined and

given her that added perspective of how fragile and short life can be.”

Tanguay, 38, plans to open her business, Up 2 U Fitness, by Aug. 1. She is renting
space in the Infinite Health Family Chiropractic building on Fisher Avenue in Boscawen, where she previously used
a community room to teach her classes on weeknights. In her new space, she’ll be open all day and run classes, provide an open gym and offer weight training, suspension training and more. Owning her own studio is a dream for Tanguay, who said she enjoys helping others become their best selves.

“I like to see transformations and I like to see people feeling good about themselves and making good choices,” she said, sharing a story about one of her students who cried when she was strong enough to sit and stretch in a way she never could before.

“This is why I do this: Their life is changing step by step.”

She faced her own changes beginning in December. At the time, Tanguay was working as an administrative assistant at Dick’s Sporting Goods and teaching her classes at night. She’d just held a Zumba event to raise money for a Merrimack Valley High School student with brain cancer. Physically and emotionally, she was feeling great.

But she soon began to notice a change in her bladder and bowels, which she first attributed to her diet. She was cooking more during the holiday season with her 10-year-old twins and adding junk food to her normally healthy diet. After about 10 days she called her physician, who told her to immediately go to the emergency room.

At first, she resisted. Who would pick her daughters up from school? Who would teach her Zumba class that night?

But the doctor persisted, and several tests later she learned she had a softball-sized cyst on her left ovary. It was removed several days later and burst in the process, but everything appeared to be fine. Less than 24 hours later, however, the doctor called her at home: That cyst had a malignant tumor underneath that also burst, leaking fluid into her abdomen. She had a hysterectomy Dec. 28.

Caught early, the cancer had a 10 percent chance of returning. Doctors encouraged Tanguay to undergo six rounds of chemotherapy to remove that slim chance, and beginning in early February she went for treatment every 21 days. Her last session was May 17, and two weeks ago doctors told her she is cancer-free.

A cancer diagnosis is a terrifying moment in anyone’s life, but Tanguay’s thoughts quickly turned to the people in her fitness classes.

“One of the first things she said to me, if not the first thing that she said to me, the day I came home, the day we found out about this was, ‘What am I going to do about my classes?’ ” Bill said.

From her first surgery in December to the beginning of March, Tanguay couldn’t work out. But through her Facebook page she continued posting workouts for her clients and asking them to check in and log their work with her, said Jessica Laflamme, who takes Tanguay’s classes. In early March, a few rounds into chemotherapy, she was feeling well enough to restart two of her classes, boot camp and circuit training, which she could instruct without doing too much activity herself.

“A lot of people said, ‘Well, you bring classes back when you’re ready.’ And (I said), ‘No, I’m bringing classes back because you’re ready. It’s not about when I’m ready,’ ” Tanguay said.

That positive attitude was an inspiration to her friends and clients.

“She made you want to go work out, because seeing how much she was going through made you realize, ‘Okay, I can go work out for 45 minutes,’ ” Laflamme said. “She makes you not want to complain about the small things.”

In early May, the owner of the Infinite Health building told Tanguay he had an entire portion of the building available for rent. She was about to complete her final chemotherapy treatment and decided to seize her dream of opening a studio. She believes that her own good health led her to catch her cancer early and kept the chemotherapy from weakening her body as much as it could have.

By promoting a healthy lifestyle through both her business and her personal story, Tanguay’s mission is to change people’s lives.

“This was supposed to happen,” she said. “Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’m not supposed to know. But in my eyes, I am going to help somebody, and if it means I save one person’s life because they were aware of what happened to me, it’s worth it.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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