During our recent interview, Sally Kinter remained composed nearly the entire time she recounted her breast cancer story — from diagnosis and treatment to joining Breast Cancer 2 Bikini (B2B). But when asked why she applied to B2B — a rigorous training program that prepares breast cancer survivors for a public bodybuilding competition – her voice cracked. “I lost a lot of friends when I got cancer — people who had a hard time dealing with my diagnosis. I wanted to build a community of fellow survivors.”
Through B2B, Sally got her community — and a whole lot more.
Breast Cancer 2 Bikini & Beyond
More than showing off newly toned abs and sleek shoulders, the event provides breast cancer survivors with an alternate route to survivorship through a 24-week fitness and nutrition program. According to the Each One. Tell One. website (B2B’s host organization), the program is designed to be consuming and focused, similar to the cancer treatment schedule. “It requires the participant to choose themselves and commit to the details of the program and in return gain back their health both emotionally and physically. It also offers the chance for each participant to support one another.”
Kinter’s cancer journey began in the fall of 2017 when she was 47 years old. She felt a lump in her right breast and was diagnosed with triple negative, stage II, grade B breast cancer. After three rounds of chemotherapy, her oncologist gave her the devastating news that the tumors were not responding as she’d hoped, and he was adding additional chemo rounds.
“They call chemotherapy the red devil,” says Kinter. “It was very debilitating. It made me very weak, my bones hurt. I told my sister, ‘I’m not doing that again, I’m done,’ and she said, ‘You have to fight.’ My family said, ‘You have to fight.’”
Despite the pain, hair loss, and fatigue, Kinter did fight and completed her chemotherapy treatment. Following chemo, she had a double mastectomy, followed by 33 rounds of radiation. There were low points, including severe, painful radiation burns in her arm pit. And there were high points, like shrinking tumors and a light at the end of the treatment tunnel.
Her Road to Recovery
In March 2018, Kinter was declared NED — ‘no evidence of disease.’ She had beaten cancer. In the spring of 2019, she had full breast reconstruction surgery and learned about B2B. She desperately wanted to do it, but the 2019 class was already selected, and the program was underway. According to Kinter, she “stalked the B2B Facebook page” waiting for 2020 applications to open.
While finding a support group of peers was what led Kinter to B2B, she also wanted to get healthy and create a “better version of herself,” in case her cancer came back. Many cancer survivors live with that dread that their cancer will recur. She had gained 47 pounds through her treatment and was having a hard time losing the steroid weight. And in the year before her cancer diagnosis, Kinter had also been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
She applied to B2B, interviewed (via Zoom), and found out in March of this year that she had been accepted. Amidst pandemic protocols, 13 women started the program on April 20, 2020, exercising at home via Zoom session with coach Gina Benedict for the first few weeks. As things in the state opened up, they moved group workouts to Benedict's garage.
Kinter worked out six days a week, for two to three hours each day, and followed a strict meal plan. For someone who had never been particularly active beyond taking Zumba classes, it was a huge change. She was tired and sore, but the food was the biggest challenge. “It was very hard to do the meal plan at first,” recounts Kinter. “I was never a breakfast person. And I’m craving sweets so badly!”
The entire time she was working out, eating four meals a day with lots of chicken and vegetables and practicing bodybuilding poses with a coach, the specter of walking across a stage in a tiny bikini in front of a crowd loomed large. The week leading up to the show, when asked if she was ready, Kinter laughed and answered, “No. I’m nervous as all get out. I have major stage fright. I don’t like being the center of attention.”
And yet, she is a woman transformed.
‘I Can Breathe Again’
During the program, Kinter lost 31 pounds and 22 ¼ inches. She no longer requires medication for diabetes When asked how the program has changed her, Kinter replies, “I am so much more confident now. I feel so healthy. I feel so good. I feel like I can breathe again – I don’t have all this heavy weight on me.” In an Aug. 8 social media post, Kinter said that her breast cancer saved her life.
In 2019, following her cancer treatment, Kinter began offering peer support to recently diagnosed women. She also shares a lot of her cancer journey and her B2B experience on social media because that’s how she found out about the program, and she wants to inspire other women to get involved.
On Oct. 10, 2020, Kinter and nine other breast cancer survivors took the final step in their B2B journey in an exposition hall at the Silver Legacy as part of the NPC Nevada State Bodybuilding, Figure, Bikini & Physique Championship. In front of a pandemic limited crowd of 250, the women strutted across the stage in sequined, custom-made bikinis, clear stilettos, a lot of spray tan and, new for 2020, face shields. In that moment, it was easy to see them simply as polished fitness contestants. And that is just the way they want it.
Starting Oct. 18, the Nevada Museum of Art will display a gallery of the scar photos of each of the women from Breast Cancer 2 Bikini, for a presentation known as "Beyond the Ribbon."
Strangers six months ago, the women of B2B now consider themselves soul sisters, bound by a terrible shared disease and a beautiful life-changing experience. “I don’t know if I would have had the motivation to do this without the coach and team of girls,” Kinter says, “This is a life change. I’m not going back”