Laurie Forcade rode 30 miles at the ninth annual Connecticut Challenge Bike Ride.

She was supposed to ride 25.

“I got lost,” said Forcade. “I eventually asked someone in a car for directions and they told me how to get back to the race route.”

The slight detour was a minor setback for Forcade. She was taking part in the ride due to her major setback, which she has also found her way back from.

In 2004, at the age of 45, Forcade was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, which had spread to three lymph nodes. Her husband, Carlos, a diagnostic radiologist, read his wife’s mammogram on his birthday.

“I had chronic Lyme disease for 20 years before being diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Forcade, who has four children and has lived in Wilton for 17 years. “I couldn't understand why the divine plan for me now included cancer, as I had already suffered so much with Lyme.”

Because her cancer was considered multifocal (several areas of concern), Forcade decided to have both breasts removed.

“My treatments consisted of bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction (implants), full chemotherapy (adriamycin, cytoxan, and taxotere), SOFT trial (chemical ovarian suppression for five years, with tamoxifen), radiation, and aromatase inhibitor (Femara) continuing to the present,” she said. “I was very overweight and have lost over 120 pounds since diagnosis and treatment.”

Despite her recovery — she has been in remission for nearly a decade — Forcade still has some uncertainty.

“With ER (estrogen) and PR (progesterone) positive breast cancer, it is not uncommon for women to have recurrences more than 10 or 15 years later, so there is really no such thing as ‘cured,’ ” she said.

Along with fear and worry, Forcade did find something motivational in her diagnosis.

“I became a fitness fanatic and a nutrition expert,” said Forcade. “My exercise program is varied but always includes walking and strength training several times a week. I have had a personal trainer at home, no matter what else I am doing in addition, for the past six years. My cross training includes hiking, biking, yoga, Pilates, crew, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, boot camps, kayaking, swimming, water aerobics, and Zumba.

“I am a member of the National Weight Loss Registry, for people who have lost and kept off more than 100 pounds, and regularly take part in their surveys,” added Forcade. “My eating style has evolved as I studied with a macrobiotic coach but ultimately moved away from grains and now consider myself a Paleo eater — grass-fed meat, wild fish, tons of organic vegetables, Greek yogurt and berries, superfoods like chia, turmeric, garlic, etc., and top quality oils. I use a slow juicer to juice vegetables regularly and take supplements. I also receive massages twice a month, meditate, have an infrared sauna, and go on retreats/spa vacations. In general, I became convinced that people with cancer, whether in remission or not,  would lead much longer — and better — lives being active and fit.”

Forcade’s lifestyle changes melded smoothly with the outlook of the Connecticut Challenge, which aims to empower cancer survivors through varied programs, including those geared toward exercise and nutrition.

“When I first heard about the CT Challenge, it was like a dream come true,” said Forcade. “I was already passionate about this path for myself and other survivors and knew I would become involved.”

Money raised from previous bike rides helped finance the Center for Survivorship, a research and wellness center that opened last September in Southport.

“Before the Survivorship Center opened last fall, we held classes in a gallery in Southport and I attended those (primarily yoga and Pilates),” said Forcade. “The Survivorship Center to me is magical.  It represents the new approach to living with cancer, free from hospital walls, emphasizing exercise of all types, including cardiovascular, strength training, and flexibility and balance.

“Millions of people today are living after treatment with cancer, and support groups alone do little to facilitate change. Through places like the CT Challenge — the first of its kind in the entire United States — survivors learn to share experiences while moving forward, taking charge of their health, and living more fully.

“Myriad new studies point to exercise as perhaps even more powerful than chemotherapy in adding years to the lives of survivors. In fact, people regularly overestimate the benefit of chemotherapy in reducing mortality. Yoga will help them breathe more deeply; lifting weights will give them confidence and help them grow stronger. Even if you only had another year to live, wouldn't you want to live it climbing mountains with friends or running after your grandchildren, rather than sitting in  a chair too tired and sad to do anything other than watch TV?”

Although she has participated in numerous fund-raisers for cancer, Forcade said her first experience at last month’s Connecticut Challenge Bike Ride was a breed apart.

“I think the ride is one of the great cancer events in the country,” said Forcade, who was part of a three-person team. “It’s impossible to put into words, but there was just something so special about the day. Nothing that I have done feels as valuable.”

Forcade said that she plans on riding again next year and upping her trek to 50 miles. In the meantime, she is grateful to be looking ahead.

“I once prayed I’d see my youngest graduate from high school,” said Forcade. “Now I'm riding the Challenge and hope to see my grandchildren.”