Devon Eret was your typical 28-year-old amateur rider trying to juggle a relatively new marriage, a demanding career and an active show schedule all at the same time. She was busy making plans for the new year as 2017 drew to a close when she found a lump in her breast. On February 23, 2018, Devon was diagnosed with stage 2, triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. For a moment, her whole world turned upside down, but Devon knew she had a decision to make: let cancer define her or fight like hell to maintain the life that she loved. And Devon chose the latter. JN sat down with Devon to talk about how she balances treatment and training and everything in between.
Bit By the Horse Bug
The Parker, Colorado native began riding with the Pine Ridge Pony Club in Parker at the age of six and has been in love with horses ever since. She spent her entire childhood in the eventing world until she stepped away from the saddle for five years to attend college at Colorado State University, followed by grad school at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
Halfway through grad school Devon came to the realization that she missed having horses in her life, so she began riding at a local hunter barn. After deciding that the hunter ring wasn’t quite for her, she started riding at Crooked Willow Farms in Larkspur, Colorado a couple days a week. In July of 2015, after she had received her Masters in public health, Devon purchased her own horse, Cabriolet, so she could focus on the jumper ring.
Cabriolet, aka Fix, helped take Devon to the 1.20m level and the duo brought home the Colorado Horse Park Summer in the Rockies Circuit Champion in the Modified Junior/AO Jumpers last year, but Devon knew she wanted to move on up through the levels. In early 2018, prior to her diagnosis, Devon packed up and shipped off to Switzerland on an international horse shopping excursion where she purchased her new mount, Calgary II, from Etter Sporthorses. It is her goal that she and Calgary will move up to the 1.30m divisions together.
“The two horses couldn’t be more dissimilar,” Devon shared with JN. “Fix is a small and quick 15.3 dappled grey Holsteiner who is super laid back and a total puppy dog. Calgary has a lot more fire and is a 17-hand bay Oldenburg who can be kind of challenge to handle under saddle and very quirky. He has already taught me a lot and I can’t wait to progress with him! I feel very lucky to have both horses.” To place her emphasis on Calgary, Devon found a wonderful lessee who Fix could help take to new heights.
Knowing that breast cancer ran in her family, Devon was very adamant about doing her self-check breast exams, which is when she found the lump that would lead to her diagnosis.
“It was the worst day of my life and something that I will never forget,” she recalled. “I honestly couldn’t believe it. I truly didn’t think people under the age of 35 got breast cancer and never thought it could happen to me.”
As the emotions regarding her diagnosis overwhelmed her, Devon managed to find a moment of clarity that would help her navigate these tricky waters. “I clearly remember waking up the next morning and thinking that I had a choice: I could either let this horrible thing define me and take over my life, or I could remain positive and continue to live the life that I loved. I chose the latter and have tried to stay positive every day since.”
So Devon tackled her treatment plan head-on. She is currently in the middle of her eight rounds of dose-dense chemotherapy which are split up over a four-month period. Once her chemo is complete, Devon will undergo surgery to remove the mass and will follow up with six weeks of daily radiation as a precautionary measure.
Despite the toll that her chemotherapy took on her, Devon made it a point to find time to ride as often as possible. During the first four rounds of chemotherapy, which included Adriamycin and Cytoxan, Devon struggled with debilitating exhaustion and continuous nausea for as long as five days, but her current chemo drug, Taxol, has given her a bit more freedom. She took things slow and steady at first for her own well-being but did not want to let the treatment hold her back for her own goals for 2018.
“During my first chemos, it took about a week after treatment to be able to ride again. And I took it very easy, mostly just flatting for 20 minutes or less. I found that I really enjoyed flatting my new horse because he has a great foundation from Europe. I get winded very easily and physically tired quickly, so short spurts of quality trot and canter was my best option. Once I switched to my last chemo, I was able to start riding three days after treatment and felt strong enough to jump about a week after.”
With her strength returning to her, Devon decided to attend week four of the Colorado Horse Park’s Summer in the Rockies series where she and Calgary competed in the 1.05m low adult jumper division. The pair had a very successful first outing, placing top five in every class including a fourth-place finish in the classic. “Calgary jumped amazing and really took care of me,” said Devon. “I was completely exhausted by the end of the weekend, but it really got me excited for our future!”
Looking to the Future
With the end of her treatment nearing, Devon is focusing on bettering herself and educating others. “My number one thing I want to share with young women is the importance of self-breast exams. They are easy to do and can save your life! They saved mine. Mammograms typically aren’t recommended till 40, and that would have been too late for me. Also, listen to your body and speak up if you think something is wrong! You are your biggest advocate.”
“A cancer diagnosis can be completely life-changing. For me, it made me realize that life is short and to pursue my passion now and not wait till I’m older. I want to put riding at the forefront of my life and really focus on my goals for the next few years.”
Those goals include competing in the 1.30m mini-prix in Scottsdale, Arizona this fall and moving up to the Medium JR/AO classes with Calgary. Outside of riding, she and her husband want to spend their free time traveling and seeing the world with one another. Her primary goal, however, no matter what life throws her way, is to keep riding a big part of her life.
“I feel very lucky that I have a passion as many people do not. This passion really helped bring me light when I was in a dark place. It gave me something to look forward to. There is something magical about the barn that is good for the soul. I always felt better once I pulled up to the barn and even if it was just a quick groom of my horse, I was instantly happy.” No matter what life throws her way, Devon finds comfort in that happiness every single day and refuses to let anything get in the way of her dreams.