Equestrian Eventer Takes Most Challenging Course, Jumping Breast Cancer

Beth Perkins, equestrian trainer and international eventer, grew up riding horses, a member of one of America’s most prominent eventing families. Her parents, Essie and Read Perkins, were leaders in the growth of eventing in the United States, and both Beth and sister Bea were two of the youngest A-level Pony Club riders ever. U.S. Olympic equestrians George Morris and Anne Kursinski helped mold Beth’s technique. Beth rode in the 1974 World Games at age 18 and placed 6th individually. She also rode on the gold medal team in the 1975 Pan American Games, placing 5th individually.

Before Beth’s breast cancer diagnosis in September of 2000, she was training eight to 10 horses a week and teaching riding. Twelve years later, she is not showing signs of slowing down. “I compete all year long; I do a competition once or twice a month,” she said. And while her schedule hasn’t really slowed down, she says there’s less pressure. Beth and her husband, Mick Doyle, moved from California to North Carolina, and now have their own farm, Hobby Horse Farm. “I can keep my own horses and work at home. It’s pretty idyllic I would say.” She noted that she still works relatively hard, but it’s a “very different feeling than before.”

During the time of her diagnosis, Beth was going through a divorce, and believes that stress may have played a part in her becoming sick. “I think if your immune system isn’t working properly, then your body wouldn’t have allowed a tumor to grow there. You have to have the perfect conditions for it. I think stress is one of the biggest factors in cancer; all it takes is one little weakness,” she said. Despite the stress in her life, Beth was vigilant about yearly mammograms and self-exams, which is what led to the discovery of her cancer.

Because Beth’s mother was diagnosed with cancer at an early age, it was recommended that she get yearly mammograms. The year before she was diagnosed, Beth had a mammogram that had some suspicious white dots on it. Doctors said not to worry and return a year later. When she returned, the mammogram again showed suspicious dots, and she was told to return for a second test. Before her appointment, however, Beth found a lump during a self-exam, and when she returned to Kaiser, she was adamant about having a biopsy done. “They were able to fit me in that day and do the biopsy, which did turn out to be positive.”

After Beth’s diagnosis, and the reality of a mastectomy and four months of chemo on the way, several of her riding students and friends banned together in hopes of helping her through the treatment. Thus, the Beth Perkins Equestrian Foundation was born. The first years’ contributions would be used to aid Beth and her family, but she made it clear she wanted the foundation to benefit others in the equestrian community experiencing similar illness and hardship. And, it has.

Nowadays, Beth is feeling good. She says she has a lot of energy, but still gets more tired. “But that could be because I’m getting older,” she laughed. Many doctors and patients say it takes a year to recover from treatment and get their energy back, but Beth feels like it took her a little longer. “I think it took more than a year because I moved, and I was supposed to be on Tamoxifen for five years after – I had an estrogen receptive tumor – but I only did that for two years. It’s a very hard drug. It’s strongly recommended, and I’m really glad I did it for as long as I did, but I’m glad I stopped when I did, too.”

Beth also cites her work with horses and close ties to the equestrian community in helping her feel well to this day. “Horses are big, powerful animals, and they’re very rewarding to work with because there is a lot of give and take. I think working with animals has its own rewards,” she said. She also noted that having the challenges of eventing helped keep goals in front of her.

“I think one of the most important things is to keep working, stay involved. Lead a life as normal as possible.”

Category: Survivors in the News

Tags: Beth Perkins, Beth Perkins Equestrian Foundation, Breast Cancer, CancerForward Survivor in The News, equestrian trainer, international eventer, mammogram, Pan American Games, Tamoxifen, World Games