Breast cancer survivor, Mary Ellen Slone does not take her health for granted.
Her breast cancer was detected at age 50 during a routine physical with a second opinion confirming her diagnosis. Her initial reaction to the diagnosis was “terror,” she recalls, but soon found strength in prayer. “I did my share of praying, I had great doctors and I had a lot to live for.” She had a mastectomy and has been cancer-free since that time.
Support was found through family, her husband and hero, Bob, their kids, grandkids and her friends and co-workers. Mary Ellen’s biggest challenge throughout her cancer journey was leading a “normal” life. “I kept a full schedule of commitments,” she states, “I came to fully realize how fragile life is.”
Mary Ellen’s advice to others on a breast cancer journey is, “Find a physician you feel comfortable with, read all the current info on breast cancer you can find and don’t be ashamed to divulge your fears to people close to you.”
How did cancer change her life? “I’m genuinely thankful for every single day, I do not take my health for granted; I’ve allowed myself to cry.” Mary Ellen was also very instrumental in the inception of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Lexington 19 years ago. She, along with four other women worked with the local affiliate to get the initial race started. “I think we had perhaps 300 participants,” Mary Ellen recalls. The barrier of media and would-be sponsors being comfortable with using the word ‘breast’ in public needed to be overcome. She credits Luther Deaton, of Central Bank, as a “huge help getting the first Race for the Cure in Lexington publicized and funded. “Without his commitment, we likely would not have been able to make the first race happen.”
Sandra has been cancer-free for nine years now. She works as a school social worker and has two adult children, a son and a daughter. Her father is deceased and her mother is 95 years old. In 2005, Sandra was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was detected through a regular mammogram, a test that she had done yearly. After abnormal results, an ultrasound confirmed the diagnosis that was “surprising and devastating.”
Sandra states, “I found strength in my faith, with great support from my children, girlfriends, and family members.” She also credits the prayers of others and a determination to fight. She was up against a challenge. The sickness that comes with chemotherapy was the biggest challenge of all. Yet, even through the challenge, she sought help through the journey by educating herself to stay ahead. “I read everything: brochures and articles that I could find, and asked many questions,” she says.
What advice would Sandra like to give to others on a breast cancer journey? “Stand on your own faith. Surround yourself with positive people. Ask questions and read everything you can to understand your body and how cancer will effect it.”
It’s been nine years since her cancer diagnosis, but she learned a lot from the experience. Looking back on how cancer has changed her life she states, “Don’t stress the small stuff. Things that I thought were so important really aren’t. Life is too short not to enjoy it.”
Andrea Lynne Higgins
After her diagnosis at the age of 48, Andrea Lynne recalls, “I felt like the universe had shifted from under my feet.” When her family physician, Dr. Little detected three suspicious lumps during a physical exam, Andrea Lynne was referred for a diagnostic mammogram. “I learned on 9/22/14 that I was about to partake in the fight of my life,” she says.
A mother of two, now facing the challenges of being dependant on others, realized that she was really not Super Woman. Andrea Lynne leaned on her biggest supporters, daughter, Aria, “Fairy Godmother” Mrs. Brown, Mama Joyce, her family and dear friends whom she could always count on. She found her strength by continuously reminding herself, “This, too, shall pass” and writing inspirational quotes in her journal, which she continues to revisit. She credits fellow survivor, Bobbie Niehaus with Susan G. Komen Lexington Affiliate with helping to answer her questions about what to expect after surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, etc.
Advice that Andrea Lynne would like to give others who are battling breast cancer is, “Take one day at a time. Otherwise to look too far ahead becomes overwhelming and almost unbearable. Whatever you go through, although frightening and painful, keep in mind that someone may be watching you to see how you handle your adversity.”
Andrea Lynne celebrated being in clinical remission in May 2015. Looking back on her journey, she quotes, “Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think and twice as beautiful as you’d ever imagined.” While things like heavy traffic and copier jams can be frustrating, she also is more aware that “it’s all small stuff in the whole scheme of things.”
Greg Burchett was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 65. He is still currently undergoing treatment 3 years later. His breast cancer was detected by finding a lump which left him “surprised and shocked,” he recalls. There have been challenges along the way, however the most significant has been keeping his daily routine. Greg also found great support through his family and church. He states, “My family and my faith in God” gave him the strength to fight.
Resources that have been useful to him during this time have been Cancer Care and the American Cancer Society. Greg states, “With me it’s genetic. Get tested. Men and women need check-ups.”
Greg is retired, married and has a son. He knows that cancer has changed his life. He states that since his diagnosis, the experience has “increased my faith and made me more appreciative of my family, my time here and my health.”
At the age of 47, Denise’s cancer journey began with a letter saying she needed to have a more detailed mammogram after her routine screening. After her diagnosis, Denise says her first reaction was “this could not be happening to me.” She was just devastated. Her husband of 29 years, Randy, went to every doctor’s appointment, treatment and took care of her during her 6 months of chemotherapy. She recalls, “I was not the best patient at times, love his heart.” Denise’s biggest challenge was trying to keep a normal life. “I continued to work through my treatments, and the loss of my hair was really hard to deal with.”
Strength came from her husband and family. She was not ready to leave him or her daughter and was not going to let cancer win! She sends a big thanks to her family and colleagues at Lexington Clinic Pediatrics for helping her as well.
Denise says the main advice she would give to anyone battling cancer is to “never give up, fight the fight, enjoy life.” She also was given advice by her oncologist, Dr. Rachel Harper to not get on the internet and read anything about your diagnosis. Ask your doctor. She is currently in remission for the last 2 1/2 years and enjoys life with her husband, her precious 22-year-old daughter, Tabitha and some pretty wonderful nieces and nephews.
After her cancer experience, Denise reflects, “Cancer has changed my life by not sweating the small things, finding something good in each day (believe it or not that was pretty easy) and doing good for others. And I love and kiss a lot (my nephew, DJ tells me I kiss too much).”
Kelly’s breast cancer was detected at her second annual mammogram at age 41. She knows many women that age who put it off because they think they are too young to have this happen to them. She relates, “I have NO breast cancer history in my family so I could have easily done the same. I’m so thankful I didn’t.” Kelly remembers that she could not believe she’d just heard the words, “You have cancer.” Kelly’s support system was in her family and friends, blessed by too many to name. She remembers this as one of the most positive experiences during her journey, “Seeing the genuine goodness of people.”
Kelly’s biggest struggle during her cancer journey was finding child-care for her young children while she went to her doctor visits, surgeries and treatments. She states, “I believe there is an under-served group of moms out there who need impromptu, short-term, high-quality child care services during this ordeal.” She also recalls the physical, mental and emotional stress being extremely taxing but states, “I just took it one day at a time and hugged my children a lot!”
Kelly’s number one piece of advice to others would be to reach out to other people who have gone through the same experience. “No one knows better than those who have been there before you, and WE WANT TO HELP!”
She has a passion to make a difference and is now on the Board of Directors at the Susan G. Komen Lexington Affiliate to share her story and give back to the local community. She now owns her own CPA business and states, “I feel at peace with where my life is headed.”
Laverne had received yearly mammograms faithfully since age 40. Her cancer diagnosis came at age 54. Having lost her husband of 25 years, Rev. Boris Carter, just three months before she recalls that she was calm when they told her she had cancer. “I was still grieving my husband so maybe it hadn’t kicked in, but I believe my faith in the Lord kept me calm.” Her biggest challenge was telling her daughters, Jessica and Camille about her diagnosis since they’d just lost their father. She was also plagued with health issues during her treatments.
She values the support she received from her family, friends, colleagues at UK and her church family at the First African Baptist Church. “Jesus gave me strength”, she says. “My husband appeared before me when I was in recovery and told me everything would be alright. My granddaughter was born six days after my final treatment. I know I had to fight for her and my two daughters.”
Laverne visited the American Cancer Society and attended their Look Good Feel Better program. “This is a wonderful program that offers you free makeup and instruction on how to apply it when you are struggling with the loss of hair, eyebrows and eyelashes,” she says. Also credited as a resource for information was the UK Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center.
When asked what she would like to tell others experiencing a cancer diagnosis, Laverne answered, “Prayer works for me. Keep a positive attitude and surround yourself with family and friends with positive attitudes. Incorporate a healthier diet and exercise into your lifestyle (this is something I’m still working hard to achieve.)”
Life has changed since her cancer journey. “I believe it made me a stronger person.”
For Leatha Lightsey, 16 years have passed since her breast cancer diagnosis. At age 53, Leatha’s cancer was found through a routine yearly physical and mammogram. After multiple tests, she was put under anesthesia and when she awoke, her surgeon told her that the tumor was indeed malignant.
Chemotherapy became Leatha’s biggest challenge. Uncomfortable during her first treatment, she ended it halfway through the procedure. Her oncologist offered encouragement and she was able to start again. “Losing my hair was a mind altering experience,” she says, “at first I cried and then I convinced myself that I had the look of high fashion.”
Leatha’s strength and support came from her family, friends, those who adopted her as family, the encouragement of everyone and her Faith in a true and living God. She made a friend in a fellow radiation patient, Wilma. “Through an unspoken agreement, we decided to go through those procedures with a positive, joyous, encouraging attitude.” She recalls a song that she would listen to daily, “The Battle Is Not Yours, It’s the Lord’s.” To this day when she hears that song, it brings a smile and reminds her of how it soothed her spirit each day.
She encourages all on a cancer journey to educate themselves. “Don’t hold back any uneasiness that you may have from doctors, talk to people who have been through the experience, and cry when you are afraid (it’s normal). Wherever your faith lies, pray for comfort and strength,” she says.
Cancer changed her life. She shares, “I accept this life, love and appreciate everything that comes into my space. I enjoy victories, accept mistakes and try to encompass, with love, all the lives that enter into this journey of MY life and give all that I can’t handle to The Most Supreme Being.”
Lorraine Le Stephens
At age 34, Oncology Nurse, Lorraine Le Stephens was told that she had breast cancer. “I felt a lump while I was breastfeeding,” she recalls. “My OB/GYN told me I had ‘lumpy’ breasts due to breastfeeding.” Not feeling comfortable with that diagnosis, she pursued another opinion. “I almost doubted myself, but I personally knew that the lump I felt was abnormal and shouldn’t be there,” she states. Despite hearing patients at work being diagnosed daily with cancer, to hear that news given to her was “very shocking.”
“The biggest challenge in my journey was having restrictions after the mastectomies, which limited me caring for my children,” states Lorraine. A mother of 3 girls, the youngest being 6 months at the time of her surgery, it was difficult to watch family and friends help care for her children. “They were very little and for me to not be able to carry them or hold them was overwhelming.” She did have a strong support system. Her husband, Craig, as well as other family and friends, both from California and Kentucky, and her Baptist Health/UK BMT work family helped her in so many ways. Her strength to fight came from her daughters. “I had a long life to live and I needed to make sure I did everything I could on my side to make sure I got through this journey to see my girls grow,” she says.
She wants others to know that “although breast cancer isn’t common in young women and harder to detect in young women, I advise anyone who thinks something is odd about their breast to get it checked out. Be persistent.”
Amanda Hale was 37 years old when her doctor recommended a mammogram after a tiny bump was found in her breast. After the test, they decided to “monitor” the spot for six months. When she returned for the follow-up six months later, she recalls, “The cancer had decided to get nasty!”
Overwhelmed by the diagnosis, the decisions to make and the information, Amanda got emotional. “At first I was angry, and felt pretty sorry for myself. But I quickly realized that settling in that place was not going to help me fight and was not going to keep me around longer,” she says. “It woke me up to the frailty of life, the value of every day and taught me what it means to find peace by trusting in God’s plan for me and my family.”
The greatest challenge for Amanda to overcome was mental. She says, “The physical challenges were not a breeze, but I found that when I got my head and my heart in the right place, the physical challenges were just something to endure and do my best to survive.”
Having a great support system through her husband, Clark, her two “awesome kids” (Leah and Fisher), family, church (Calvary Baptist Church), and co-workers (The Lexington School) was priceless. Strength came through prayer, music, writing, family, friends and coworkers. “Scripture and music. An awesome pink wig. Really smart doctors and nurses,” she says.
Looking back, now just over 4 years cancer-free she states, “Learning that there are certain things I can control, and ultimately, things I cannot, has been life-changing in a positive way.”
Marilee recalls feeling a lump. “It was high on my chest, almost out of the breast. The radiologists were never able to visualize it on a mammogram even after they knew it was there. Never disregard a lump,” she says. At age 49, she resolved to do what needed to be done to eliminate the breast cancer and be around for her children. “I didn’t get emotional,” she says, “It felt like it was happening to someone else.”
Marilee encourages others on a cancer journey with advice that she hopes will make a difference. “Take time for yourself. Respond in the way that suits you, not everyone deals with adversity in the same manner. Remember there is no right or wrong way.”
There are several elements to the outfit that Marilee chose for her photo shoot. “The scarf was one of my favorite head coverings, a gift from my mother, and I chose it to honor a friend’s child who is currently in treatment for breast cancer. This young woman’s mother was a friend to me when I was being treated and I wish for a speedy recovery for that whole family. The pearl earrings were a gift from my children. While not real, I love them. The sweater is for my parents, Judy and Robert Goodman for all they have done for me both then and always. I wear a smile in honor of all the many friends that supported me. I am grateful to each and every one.”
Now in remission for about 3 years, how has life since cancer changed? “I feel great. I have a new and wonderful position at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, that I love. Honestly, life couldn’t be better and I appreciate each and every day!”
A few days prior to finding out he had Stage 3 breast cancer, Mike had been in Baton Rouge, sitting two rows behind the Kentucky Wildcat bench, listening to every word Coach Calipari was saying to the Cats team, who would go on to win an 8th National Championship. A knot on his chest, which he’d ignored for a while, had started to itch and be very uncomfortable. After a discussion with his wife, he went to his personal doctor for evaluation and immediately, it was a concern he had breast cancer. He followed up at Baptist Health with his wife of 36 years, Diane and daughter, Eryn. He recalls, “I walked into a room filled with women and felt very embarrassed. The nurse assured me they see lots of men, but she admitted I had to walk down to the next floor just to find a restroom for men. I found this a little humorous.”
Finding strength within was difficult, but Mike credits his wife as the strong one. When he thought he could not go on with treatments, she rallied him by reminding him of what was good in his life, such as their grandchildren.
Advice he’d like to share with other men is to not go into a shell like he did. “Reach out, fight, find strength in others who love you and others who have experienced this before.” Looking back after his journey Mike states, “My family is stronger, my marriage is unbreakable and I am a better person due to breast cancer.”
Now a volunteer for Susan G. Komen Lexington Affiliate, Mike is an advocate for men’s breast cancer. “I am proud to tell people that I beat it.”
Elisete Correa Amaral
Elisete was 39 years old when she found out she had breast cancer. “I always checked myself, but one night I woke up with really bad pains in my left breast.” Her husband encouraged her to see a doctor and they confirmed it was breast cancer. Elisete elected to have a mastectomy, had three months of chemotherapy and then reconstruction in February 2010.
Elisete and her family are from Brazil and had come to the United States in 2007. Married for 17 years, she has three children. Her youngest son was just 10 months old when she was diagnosed. Strength came “with lots of love and support from all who were around me,” she says. She wanted to see her boys grow up. “The biggest challenges throughout my journey were taking care of my 10 month old son, accepting the transformation of my body and my hair falling out,” says Elisete. She remembers waking up every morning and believing that it would all be done soon.
She had a great support system. “My husband was the one who gave me more strength. He was patient, present and sensible all of the time,” she says. Her sons and friends were a great help as well, and even though her mom and sisters were far away in Brazil, they made her feel like they were by her side. One of the resources that Elisete sought help from was a psychologist. “I looked for a psychologist that showed me at the time I needed to let those who love me take care of me.”
Elisete now goes to the oncologist for a yearly check-up. Looking back on her cancer journey she believes that, “Those who go through these experiences always come out strengthened.”
Tammy Parker Crupper
At age 55, Tammy’s breast cancer was detected through a routine, yearly screening mammogram and an ultrasound. “I couldn’t believe it,” she recalls, “I really didn’t think it could happen to me.” Then the questions of “Why me?” started to arise. “I would have ‘pity parties’ for myself and this would just make me mad!” she says. For Tammy, the mental challenge outweighed the physical. She states, “It was very difficult not being depressed. It seemed I would go from one procedure to another and once I would start feeling like myself it would be time for a treatment or procedure.”
Throughout her challenges, however, she was also surrounded by support. Tammy credits her husband Jim, sons, Chris and Hunter and her friends at Lexington Women’s Health for the impressive encouragement and support. “You really find out your true friends when something like this happens.”
Resources that were useful during her cancer journey were her “wonderful oncologist, John Gohmann, an amazing surgeon, Dr. A.J. and a very compassionate plastic surgeon, Dr. Terese LeVan.” Throughout, Tammy continued working and praying. “I continued my life as normal as cancer would allow,” she says.
If there was advice that Tammy would like to share with others on a cancer journey it would be, “Get a great surgical and oncology team. Keep your head up. Lean on the special people in your life, who you will discover.”
Cancer-free for 2 years, Tammy works as a Registered Nurse/Clinical Supervisor at Lexington Women’s Health. She has 2 grandchildren, Ryan Elizabeth and Henry Parker, and is expecting another grandson, Cameron, in December.
Looking back, Tammy reflects on how cancer changed her life. “I don’t take as many things for granted. Trying not to be too cliche, life is short, enjoy life and don’t waste time on things that don’t really matter in the end.”
In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are proud to share the stories of local survivors.
Photos by Phillips Mitchell Photography