CANCER WARRIORS

By Jordan Holt

 

photos by Erica Lee Photography

makeup by Cos Bar Lexington

profiles by Jordan Holt

 

The American Cancer Society reports that 38% of women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetimes. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re reminded of another staggering statistic: one in eight women will face breast cancer, which is by far the most common cancer among women.

Each October, TOPS features the stories of local cancer survivors. This year, we invited eleven women to share their cancer journeys. Not only did they tell us about how cancer changed their lives, but they also offered words of encouragement, hope, strength and support for other women who face cancer.

Not only did they tell us about how cancer changed their lives, but they also offered words of encouragement, hope, strength and support for other women who face cancer.

For our photoshoot, we wrapped them in soft fabrics to represent the ribbons that raise awareness for the types of cancer that each of these women fought and continue to fight.


Kristen Grider 

Kristen is a wife and mother of three.  At 31 years old, she was diagnosed with DCIS Grade 2 er+/pr+ breast cancer. In September 2017, Kristen noticed a small lump during her monthly self-exam and went in for a mammogram.  From there, it was determined she needed five biopsies. Three biopsies came back with atypical cells or DCIS. She opted for an aggressive treatment of bilateral mastectomies, with axillary lymph node removal.

What advice would you give to other women who were recently diagnosed with cancer?

My advice is to understand that your only “job” is to survive by any means necessary. There are so many life altering decisions you have to make in such a short amount of time and it is easy to feel regret or doubt throughout this process. However, be easy on yourself and remember you made the decision you felt was your best chance to beat cancer. Your life will be forever changed, and attitude is a key piece of survival.

Your life will be forever changed, and attitude is a key piece of survival.

What was the most challenging part of your cancer battle?

Beyond understanding the gravity of this life altering diagnosis, my most challenging part was the emotional toll of rebuilding your outward appearance.  I felt so proud and strong when I was healing between my mastectomies (going flat) and my expanders for delayed reconstruction.  However, when I had my implant exchange, I emotionally crashed.  It was the realization ‘this is me now’ and although I was fortunate enough to have a great plastic surgeon, I was upset for what cancer stole from me.  Since I am in my early thirties, cancer stole my option to breastfeed any future children.  Cancer stole my sense of self, which I am learning to rebuild.  However, through all the awful things cancer has taken, it has also opened my life up to a new sisterhood and friendships I would have never had before.

How were you able to find the strength to fight?

My children and family were my strength to fight and push through all the appointments and the four surgeries.  I remember sitting my kids down to tell them I had breast cancer and making sure, even with the unknowns, we would work together to win.  Since then, my 9 year old daughter wanted to cut her hair to donate to wigsforkids.org, and we have started attending breast cancer events as a family.  I am so lucky to have such an amazing support team behind me.


Teddi Smith Robillard 

Teddi Smith Robillard, 79-years-old, is raising her great granddaughter, Nevaeh, who keeps her on her toes. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer at age 78. The discovery of cancer came as a daunting shock, but Teddi’s spirit was unphased. With her steady faith in God, she believed that anything was possible, even overcoming an obstacle as formidable as cancer. By this past April, Teddi had completed 35 rounds of radiation. She now has a new perspective on life; it’s short, and can never be taken for granted.

What advice would you give to other women who were recently diagnosed with cancer?

With God, all things are possible.  My faith sustains me on this journey.

With God, all things are possible.  My faith sustains me on this journey.

Also, educate yourself about your disease. Do not be afraid to ask questions.

What was the most challenging part of your
cancer battle?

Worrying about my loved ones and how they deal with my cancer diagnosis.

What local resources did you utilize to help get you through this journey?

I was educated on the Road to Recovery program by Melanie Hunter, American Cancer Society Patient Navigator at UK Markey Cancer Center. The American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program was a vital part of my journey. Without the generosity of the volunteer drivers at the American Cancer Society, I would not have been able to complete my life saving treatments. Also, the staff at Markey Cancer Center has been kind and helpful.


Shiela Lee

Shiela Lee works for Commonwealth Family Services and enjoys spending time with her family, listening to music, going to the movies, shopping and playing with her dog Milo. In 1998, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at a routine dentist visit. Shiela received radiation and had her Thyroid Gland removed. Thirteen years later, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma breast cancer of the left breast. Shiela’s OBGYN doctor noticed a cyst that seemed to be growing. The cyst was removed by Central Baptist Breast Imaging within two weeks of discovery, and the result came back positive for cancer. Her diagnosis was followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

What was the most challenging part of your cancer battle?

The most challenging part for me was to be in a happy place because I had a sixteen-year-old looking at me, not sure what was going to happen next. So, I had to stay strong and fight back some tears to reassure her that it was going to be okay, that mommy is a fighter and that I had her back. I went to all the school events even when I was drained from treatments. She kept me going. Not only was I living for me, but for my daughter.

Not only was I living for me, but for my daughter.

What advice would you give to other women recently diagnosed with cancer?

Give it to God. He is a healer. Research all the info on your type of cancer and make sure you understand what the doctor is saying to you. Never go to appointments alone. It’s a lot to take in and you will need another listening ear because you can be overwhelmed with the fear of it all.

How were you able to find the strength to fight?

Every morning, you wake up and you’re able to put your feet on the floor. That is a blessing, to be able to dress yourself and feed yourself. That’s what you want.


Amy Lakes 

Amy Lakes is a Lexington native and the manager at Locals’ Craft Food & Drink. She enjoys reading, writing, baking and cooking and spending time with her family. She has two sisters, one brother and one sister-in-law. She also considers her boyfriend’s family to be her own. At the age of 40, Amy was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in July 2017 followed by stage 4 brain cancer in July 2018. She immediately started aggressive chemotherapy, followed by a modified radical mastectomy, radiation and steroids.

What did you learn from your cancer journey?

The most important thing I gained from all of this is perspective. You learn VERY fast what is actually important in life.

The most important thing I gained from all of this is perspective. You learn VERY fast what is actually important in life.

How were you able to find the strength to fight?

I come from a long line of willful, stubborn women, and I think that iron will served me nearly as well in my treatments as the medicines did!

How has cancer changed your life?

The best thing that cancer has done for me is to remind me to never stop going after the things you are passionate about. We only have so much time in our lives; it’s up to us to use it the best way we can!


April Nease

Before she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the young age of 39, April worked in healthcare philanthropy. A travel enthusiast, April had a summer trip planned to Spain until her treatments took priority. She was first diagnosed in April 2014 when she noticed skin on her one breast puckering and scheduled her first mammogram. The cancer eventually metastasized to her spine, brain and liver. Chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy followed.

What did you learn from your cancer journey?

Cancer has affected every aspect of day to day activities.  I  have had to completely readjust my goals and thoughts for the future.Don’t be worried about offers of help.

Don’t be worried about offers of help.

I have had a wonderful support system. Anything from a quick text to college sorority sisters organizing a dinner and bringing it to my home.

What local resources did you use to help get you through this time?

I am blessed to have Dr. Jessica Moss and her treatment team at Saint Joseph East on my side. The staff at the Breast Center at Saint Joseph East also were wonderful to walk me through the crazy day of diagnosis when you truly have no idea what is going to happen next. I also joined a support group - something I thought “wasn’t my thing.” The support group meets twice a month at the cancer center at Saint Joseph East. Meeting others who are struggling or thriving has been a blessing.

What was the most challenging part of your cancer battle?

The most challenging part of this battle has been the feeling of wanting to go and to do like I did before but just not feeling well ALL THE TIME.


Tina Hasty

Tina Hasty has been married to the love of her life, Charles, for 31 years. She is the mother of two boys and one girl, and is the director of the wound care center at Saint Joseph Hospital in Lexington. Tina loves jeeping, boating and camping with her family. She was diagnosed with breast HER2+ at age 48. Tina had put off her mammogram after life got in the way of caring for herself. Her diagnosis was a result of a lucky mammogram screen sign-up when Kentucky Cancer Link happened to be conveniently in Tina’s path outside the cafeteria. Ultimately, the screening led to a mastectomy and chemotherapy.

What did you learn from your cancer journey?

That if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of the ones I love.

My strength comes from God and my loved ones. My husband has been my backbone and God my beacon  light.

What local resources did you use to help get you through this time?

Kentucky Cancer Link supported me with my screening, surgical camisole, wig and a class on self-care during chemo.

How were you able to find the strength to fight?

My strength comes from God and my loved ones. My husband has been my backbone and God my beacon  light.

How has cancer changed your life?

I now know who sincerely cares about me and it has made my relationship with my loved ones and God much stronger.


Mina Boyd 

Mina is a retired executive director of convention and entertainment venues.  In 2010, she and her husband moved to Kentucky to be near their eldest son and grandson. Their other son and daughter-in-law reside in Florida. She has been blessed to serve at ACS Lexington and Hope Lodge for eight years. She enjoys reading, tutoring, artwork, serving in her church and teaching at Bible Study Fellowship International. Mina was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 63. Pre-diagnosis, she felt a painful knot that would not go away, so she scheduled an appointment. Her diagnosis was followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

What did you learn from your cancer journey?

I learned that although technology has made very significant strides in the treatment of cancer, maintaining a positive attitude is also extremely important during the treatment process. I learned then and now to turn my problems over to God, and He will sustain me through any challenge that I may encounter.

I cannot take life for granted.

What advice would you give to women recently diagnosed with cancer?

An annual mammogram is very important, but do not ignore something that does not feel right even if you have had a recent mammogram.

What was the most challenging part of your cancer battle?

I had only been in my new job for two weeks when I was diagnosed, so finding time to receive treatment, and feeling fatigued during radiation was extremely challenging.

How has cancer changed your life?

As a result of my cancer and subsequent remission, I cannot take life for granted.

I try to help others by giving my time and attention to ACS Hope Lodge guests who are receiving cancer treatment.


Phyllis Nash Williams 

Phyllis Nash Williams recently retired from a 31 year career in the behavioral sciences department at UK this past April. She enjoys spending time with friends, traveling, reading and watching  sports. In July 2018 she married her high school sweetheart at the age of 71. Six years earlier, she was diagnosed with breast cancer at a regularly scheduled mammogram appointment. Irregularities led to a biopsy that confirmed the cancer was malignant just a day after Christmas. Phyllis underwent chemotherapy and radiation.

What advice would you give to other women recently diagnosed with cancer?

Take care of yourself during your treatment. Do what is best for you.

Take care of yourself during your treatment. Do what is best for you. For example I continued to work  most days. My work at UK was very accommodating.  Some days I needed to lie down for a few minutes and so I bought a pallet in my office that I could use.

What was the most challenging part of your cancer battle?

I had recently gone through a divorce after 47 years of marriage. In addition, my mother who had dementia was living with me. She was so concerned about me but couldn’t really understand what was happening. It was a time of high stress.

How has cancer changed your life?

I certainly understand how vulnerable we are and how precious life is every day.


Vivian Lasley Bibbs

Vivian Lasley Bibbs is an epidemiologist and branch manager of the of the Office of Health and Equity at the Kentucky Department for Public Health. She is a sports enthusiast who loves to travel, and enjoys working with community organizations. She is the mother of twin daughters and has been married to her husband, Phillip, for 29 years. Vivian was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma at age 32, and is now 56. Entering medical school at UK, student health services noticed a warm lump in her neck. Tests came back positive for Reed-Sternberg cells and a biopsy the next day confirmed Hodgkins Lymphoma. Eleven months of chemotherapy at Markey Cancer Center followed.

What advice would you give to other women recently diagnosed with cancer?

I have cancer, but cancer does not have me. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think and twice as beautiful as you’d ever imagined.

I have cancer, but cancer does not have me. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think and twice as beautiful as you’d ever imagined.

How were you able to find the strength to fight?

I found strength from family, prayers and a husband that came to every treatment with me.

How has cancer changed your life?

It has made me appreciate every day and take nothing for granted. I would not trade one day of my journey!

What did you learn from your cancer journey?

I learned to prioritize what was most important to me and how to truly trust and have faith. I let go and let God.


Elizabeth Bartlett

Elizabeth Bartlett and her husband Marvin have two children; Cooper, 12, and Eliza, 9.  Her family enjoys attending arts events, playing board games and watching talent shows on television. This past March, at just 40 years old, Elizabeth was diagnosed with an early form of breast cancer called DCIS through a routine mammogram. Elizabeth had not experienced any symptoms and did not have any concern of family history. She had a lumpectomy, followed by radiation treatments, and now takes daily medication.

What did you learn from your cancer journey?

I learned to be strong and courageous, but at the same time, I learned that it was okay to be weak and vulnerable. 

I learned to be strong and courageous, but at the same time, I learned that it was okay to be weak and vulnerable. I learned that I am capable and powerful, but that I am also in need of the support of those around me. I learned to let others take care of me, to allow people to see me cry, and to give myself the space to fall apart if I needed to.  It was such a powerful experience to feel so independent and strong while also depending on those around me. I never knew you could be both things at the same time.

What advice would you give to other women recently diagnosed with cancer?

Focus on the blessings along the way. In the midst of the storm, there is also so much beauty, and it is the beauty that stays with you when the cancer is gone. I cherish the memory of phone conversations with friends, quiet dinners with my husband, funny moments with my children, and deep counseling sessions with my pastor. These are the things that sustain you, and the things you want to remember for the rest of your life.

How has cancer changed your life?

When I was first diagnosed, I had such a terrible fear that my life would change forever.  Now, that is one of my greatest hopes.  I emerged from the cocoon feeling like a beautiful butterfly, and I don’t want that feeling to ever go away.  There is just so much to appreciate in life – the relationships we have with our families, the friendships we cherish, the strangers that take care of us, the comforts of our home, the beauty of our surroundings.


Severn Miller 

Severn Miller has been a bartender at Ramsey’s for 18 years. She and her boyfriend of over 10 years enjoy hiking, camping and kayaking together. She also loves to garden, cook and read. Eight days before her 40th birthday this year, Severn was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast, HER2-positive. She had a mammogram and a biopsy on the same day in March 2018. She was given her diagnosis in May 2018, just two days before her boyfriend’s birthday, and proceeded to complete many tests over the following five weeks. She began chemotherapy and immunotherapies shortly after. Severn will receive a targeted chemotherapy for the rest of her life.

What advice would you give to other women recently diagnosed with cancer?

Please stay strong and believe in yourself. Know that all of us who have been through this are with you in spirit. Never give up!  Believe me, you can do this!

Please stay strong and believe in yourself. Know that all of us who have been through this are with you in spirit. Never give up!  Believe me, you can do this!

How were you able to find the strength to fight?

I found my strength in the love of my family, friends and work community. Everyone made me feel loved and supported during this process.

How has cancer changed your life?

Cancer made everything more difficult for periods of time but made me stronger. Cancer has made me feel even more connected to my loved ones. Cancer has made me more grateful and positive.

What was the most challenging part of your diagnosis?

The most challenging part for me were the limitations. I am very determined, stubborn and active. Slowing down isn’t something I do easily and in this situation, I had to.


 

 

 

 



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