Emily Brunemann Has Surgery To Remove Benign Breast Lumps

Emily Brunemann
Photo Courtesy: David Farr

No one expects to have surgery to remove lumps from their breasts in their 20s, but that’s what Emily Brunemann faced earlier this week, as the open water star announced on Twitter that she had several benign lumps removed from her breast.

Brunemann found two lumps in her breast after a self-examination in March, which led her to a visit to the doctor’s office for a biopsy. Because the discovery took place just one month before she was to compete at the USA Swimming open water nationals, surgery was postponed. Nationals served as a qualifier for the world championships, where the top two finishers would race in the 10K event that would qualify the first 10 for the Olympics. Brunemann finished fourth at nationals, qualifying for a spot on the Pan American Games team.

“I was just happy to be competing (at nationals),” Brunemann told Swimming World. “Going into nationals, it changed my perspective of the Olympics as the end-all, be-all to just enjoying the journey and being a part of something bigger than myself. I was thrilled with how I did after having experiencing everything that I had.”

With the Pan American Games in July on the horizon, Brunemann found the mental strength to train through the summer knowing she had lumps – albeit benign – in her breast. Her husband, Michael Klueh, remained a pillar of support, as did her coaches and teammates at Club Wolverine.

“He grounds me,” Brunemann said of Klueh. “He keeps me from worrying so much, and it’s so important to have someone like that in my life.”

Emily Brunemann and Michael Klueh

Photo Courtesy: Daily News of Open Water Swimming

Brunemann was fourth in the 10K race at the Pan American Games in Toronto, then proceeded to plan for her surgery. Two weeks ago, on a trip to attend the wedding of fellow swimmer Michael McBroom, Brunemann received a phone call from her surgeon.

“He said, ‘We’re going to need to remove another (lump),’ and we were in the Atlanta airport and I just started crying,” Brunemann said. “It’s on your mind because there’s so much unknown. You feel helpless because you can’t do anything in this situation. It’s not like if you have something going on with a shoulder injury or with rehab. That’s the scary part about it.”

The surgery at University of Michigan Hospital was a success, requiring the removal of a five-centimeter mass of tissue from her breast. Brunemann is taking a couple of weeks off to recover and is excited to return to the water and resume training. As is the case with everyone who has found a lump in their breast, a successful surgery does not mean she never has to worry about lumps returning. But, she said she knows how to detect anomalies and what steps to take.

“I just keep an eye on myself,” she said. “It’s important for people to be proactive and take ownership of their health. I know how to catch it early.”

Two things stand out regarding Brunemann’s health scare. First, she’s in her 20s (she turns 29 on Friday), which is extremely young for a woman to find a lump of any kind in her breast. Second, her family does not have a history of breast cancer.

“They say that there’s a gene for breast cancer, but I still think it’s important for anybody and everybody to check themselves and just be proactive,” she said. “You never know what can happen. Breast cancer does not run in my family, and yet I still had to go through this.”

Brunemann, who won the 1650 freestyle for the University of Michigan in 2008, attributes being an athlete as one of the reasons she was more aware that something was not right with her body, and hopes other athletes learn to take control of their health.

“We are very aware of our bodies, and as an athlete, you know when the littlest thing hurts,” Brunemann said. “You’re so hyper-aware of what’s going on in your body. That’s just part of our sport. For me, it was so natural to do self-exams and to be able to have that awareness.”


  1. Amy Lynn

    I think benign and cancer are contradictory in this title.

  2. avatar
    Dick Roeding

    What a great article! The media does not write about the American elite athletics enough. It is the way to give our children the positive roll models they can use to better their lives.

  3. Elyssa Glenn

    You Go Girl ” Strong Women Rule”