Breast Cancer

7 Women's Courageous Journeys

Amy Key
by Caitlin Mayer

2010 was a big year for Amy Key. She moved to the Lowcountry from Toccoa, GA in July, married Michael Prater, her old flame from 20-years ago three months later, and a mere four weeks after that, she found out she had stage III breast cancer. "No newlywed time or honeymoons for us! I remember sitting at that round table with my husband hearing the news. He was already asking questions and listening to my treatment options, when all I could hear was 'you have cancer.'" Amy had three tumors in her left breast, the largest at nine centimeters. The tumors were so large that she was put into chemo right away, before any surgeries, and remained in chemo for four months. "I cried when my hair started falling out. My husband made it easy for me. He shaved his head first, and then shaved mine! I found it quite liberating and freeing."

Amy responded well to treatments, and the tumors basically disappeared. After graduating from 33 radiation treatments, and three surgeries, including a double mastectomy, Amy is basically cancer free!  "It has been a LONG two years and eight months, but I have learned so much about myself. I am so much stronger than I ever could have imagined. I was the one to assure my family that I was going to be okay! It brought me closer to my family and my friends. I have found a confidence that I did not know that I had. You really find out what matters in life and how wonderful it is to live for the moment, instead of worrying about the past or the future. I am grateful beyond words for all who have helped me through this journey. My attitude is gratitude!"

On August 12, Amy found out her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, as well. Her journey has taught her to remain positive, and never give up. "I have learned that cancer is not treatment is complete, but my journey continues. I will offer her all of the wise words that I was given, and I will continue with my positive attitude. Laughter is a huge part of recovery and you must be able to laugh at yourself! What gives me hope is spreading the word about early detection. That's what saves lives."

Rose Jackson-Knighton
By NancyLee Honey Marsh

It's a challenge, but conquerable with faith  that replaces fear. Every cancer survivor not only struggles physically, but emotionally and intellectually to permanently drown the dreaded predator and its insidious insistence on coloring the mind. Not long after the removal of the malignant lump in her breast in 2005, Rose Jackson-Knighton was rushed to the hospital. "It was pure anxiety," she relinquishes. "That fear of the unknown, and will it come back? Will I ever clear my head from this torture? My amazing husband, Jerry, reminded me he knew I was strong and insisted I pull myself together, especially for our girls, Brittany and Cory. I realized I needed to live by my faith, which has always been paramount in my life. We serve an amazing God, and it was no time to change! Family and friends gave me incredible support. My church family at Central Oak Grove Baptist not only bolstered me up, they formed "Pink Out" the fall after my surgery. It was a struggle to make the first meeting in my honor. Even though I had been advised to stay away from crowds, I mustered all my strength and attended. Every year Park Lane Hotel and Suites donates a room for our luncheon, which is held to recognize cancer survivors and honor those we've lost."

Hilton Head native, Rose, holds a degree in banking and finance and worked for Bank of America 18 years.  Her boss, Beth Reed, drove from Columbia, and sat with her husband the entire time Rose was in surgery. "Everyone was wonderful. Sitting at my desk a few months later a group of old friends (we had all worked for Bank of America, but they had scattered to different banks) appeared. To my surprise they declared my good friend, Libby Johnson, had rallied everyone to visit me!" In 2006, Rose helped form Bank Meridian, which was bought out in 2011 by South Carolina Bank &Trust, where she is currently a manager and loves it. Always a runner, she is back to two-miles a day. "We never know why these things happen, but God made me a better person, showed me the reason was so I can help others." Future goals: A cruise to Alaska! Jerry and I love cruising. I'm a Princess Diana fan. London is next! Life is a roller coaster with ups and downs. It's our choice to scream or relax and enjoy the ride...I'm enjoying it!

Jonie Eilenberger
The Soul of a Son - by Olivia Powell

In June of 2011, Jonie Eilenberger discovered a lump the size of a lemon in her breast, and was subsequently diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. After her mastectomy, Jonie traveled a turbulent road to recovery, her son Don offering support throughout the entire journey. "For me, the real moment of success for him and for me was when I told him I had stage III cancer and probably a year to live. I call it success because I did have a choice because I had the most amazing doctors, nurses and my son."  Jonie had to endure many sessions of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, followed by a three-hour surgery to remove what was remaining. "I came through, but I was so sick from all that had to go into my body. With chemo, my taste buds changed and I couldn't even put food into my mouth. Every night without fail, Don would make me a healthy dinner and he would say 'try and eat mom.'  I just couldn't, so not to upset him, I would flush it down the toilet." Jonie laughed, "He finally caught on to me and said 'Mom, at least eat a peanut butter sandwich.'
"When I had draining tubes in and they would leak at night, Don would clean the mattress and change the sheets every day." Joanie is so grateful for the nurturer she discovered in her son.  "I could go on and on about his strength and courage, even when he was going through pain of his own. There came a time when I finally had to relinquish the will to live through others, but when my life was threatened, he was there.and I found the soul of my son."
"I want to thank my co-workers, Marianne, Patti, and Becky, along with my dear friends and customers. (And also little Macy, Don's dog, who would lay by my side and keep me company.) I know I'm nothing more than a miracle!"

Julie Mumpower
by NancyLee Honey Marsh

Whatever is being said about Christian faith, Julie Mumpower feels the gift and blessing of her personal faith strengthened her through her battle with breast cancer. She grew up regularly attending a Baptist church with her parents in their hometown of Williamsport, PA.  Through her 34 years of gifted education teaching, "My faith has been a major stronghold in my life." Recovering from the trauma of divorce, a move to Atlanta, Julie, also caring for her 83-year-old mom with stage IV breast cancer, received another devastating blow. "In the midst of my 2008 teaching year, I was diagnosed with invasive Breast Cancer!" Based on her mother's unsuccessful treatment many years earlier, Julie, hopefully optimistic, opted for a double mastectomy and reconstruction. A guiding light appeared when "I was referred to Turning Point, an amazing rehabilitative organization, strengthening me both physically and emotionally. I felt the dangerous corner had been turned, when suddenly grinding fatigue grabbed me. Fearful and breathless, trying to walk the school halls, it was discovered the re-constructive surgery had failed. I had to return for correction. Once again Turning Point was my inspiration!" However, underlying issues crept into Julie's head. "Worry for my mom, and whether I would ever marry again. What about future sexuality and body image?"  So much for Julie to handle, yet, " I was sure God had a plan for me."

On a normal Starbucks morning God's plan began to materialize when Julie met Bill, "a very intelligent, empathetic man with a great smile. He eventually shared with me the trauma of losing his wife to breast cancer. The news struck a harsh blow, and after I gently told him of my own struggle, I suggested we stop seeing each other. I am in awe God brought Bill into my life, as he graciously accepted the truth, and we married the next year. We love dividing our time between Atlanta and Hilton Head. My mom held on until she knew I was safe with Bill, and his girls, Heather and Christie, my children, Phillip and Emily, and our grandson, Owen, are so blessed to enjoy the harmony and beauty of a combined family! Surround yourself with positive people and a strong medical team. Hold on to your faith and never give up hope! God has so much in store for us!

Karen, Karen & Karen
by Karen Shelly-Genther

Two of my beloved girlfriends, both named Karen, hailed from the county I grew up in. We shared other commonalities, like kids of the same age, and humor that would result in loud, uproarious laughter. Girlfriends are relationships unparalleled by any other. The bond between women goes deeper. Feelings are appreciated and understood.sometimes without even words being spoken.

When Karen One's husband called to tell me that her breast cancer was back for a third time, after she had already endured a mastectomy, chemo, and six previous years, there were no words, just tears. It was Christmas Eve. She and I had plans, for the second week in January, to go to the Jersey shore for a week. I knew in that moment Gary spoke, I was losing a dear friend. Hanging up the phone, I sat in the darkened room for a very long time before I moved. I knew my Karen, would have no fight left.
Damn if that girl didn't insist on her makeup, even on her deathbed. Why should she have to look bad just because she was sick? God love her, she made you laugh. I snuggled on her bed in the hospital, and I cried on her shoulder. Her shoulders were always wider than anyone's I knew. When I said something about missing going with her to the shore, she actually gave a deep, vocal sigh. She hated to miss out on a good time. She passed three weeks after the diagnosis, when we should have been at the shore. Instead, we were at her funeral, watching the snow fall.

My other Karen left a voicemail, "Please call me back, I need to talk with you." Reluctantly I dialed. A brave woman, Karen Two opted to have a double mastectomy, despite only finding a malignancy in one breast. She followed with reconstruction. The chemo cause the inevitable hair loss, and on my doorstep a year later, this tiny sprite of a woman stood wearing a short cut, and her as always stellar figure, and bright smile. She had managed to do things her way, and was living proof that determination is half of the battle.

My mammogram comes up next month. I know I'll sweat through the mammo, and like always, I will joke with the tech to get my mind off of things, and I'll tell her about the time there was a fire, and I was stuck in the machine. No lie. It's stories like this that get you through the agony of waiting for the results. Regardless, be smart and spend five minutes on yourself every month. You'll be glad you did. Early detection is the biggest life saver.

Kathleen "Kaz" Peck
Remembering My friend Kaz - Joan Grasso

We didn't have a long history. We weren't childhood friends or college roommates. We met in a Mothers of Preschoolers group. Kathleen "Kaz" Peck had two small children, one of whom was born with Down Syndrome. Her husband was a documentary film producer and had chronicled her first pregnancy...the final cut showing her holding her son in the hospital and promising to give him a normal life. She never watched it. It was ultimately used to teach empathy to teachers in the New Jersey school system, and her path as an advocate for parents whose children were born with disabilities was carved. She was honored by the governor; a New York Times article referred to her tenacity, calling her "the underdog's bulldog." So when the breast cancer she had fought returned, along with ominous spots on her liver, there was no doubt she would continue the hard fight. And thus began our relationship. Volunteering to deliver a meal led to trips to the pain management facility, long conversations, and my pushing her to share her experiences with the two new mothers who had joined MOPS, both had small children....and both were diagnosed with breast cancer. She didn't want to. I told her she should. She did. They fought. They won.
Upon relocating to South Carolina, mine and Kaz's conversations continued. I would stand at the ironing board and dial her number. She wished she had strength to do her ironing. She liked to iron. Me too. Those chats were painfully honest. We knew what was coming and there was no elephant in the room. I told her that I wished my father, who died when I was two-years-old, had left me a tell me his dreams for me. We spoke of mementos she was planning to leave her daughter to mark the special occasions in her life. She was nine at the time. Kaz planned out gifts for her 16th birthday, high school graduation, college graduation, wedding day and first baby. And she even managed to keep her sense of humor. At the time, my lab, Harry, was suffering from a liver mass. She asked me to tell Harry something for her. "Tell Harry I said, 'you go first!"
It was June 2003 when I flew to Philadelphia, friends picked me up and brought me to her home. It was an unusually cold, windy and rainy summer day, and as I lay there all I could do was stare out at the rain-battered window, gazing over a multitude of prescription bottles, the contents of which were now useless. I held her hand, I rubbed her back and told her I loved her as she wrestled in and out of consciousness. She had asked me what she had done in her life? "You are the pebble thrown into the water, my friend...the ripples of which will continue to go onward and outward and reach thousands of families you will never know who will receive guidance and support for their disabled children...because of you, because of your tenacity, because of your fight."

She fell asleep again and I left her with a kiss to say good-bye to her husband and family who had gathered. And as I turned toward the door, there she stood. She kissed me on both cheeks and said, "This is not good-bye. I will see you again." Kaz passed away several weeks later. To this day, the ironing is still not something I dread. I think of my friend and all those who fight this battle, who only wish they could do such a mundane task and resume normalcy. I smile. She still makes me laugh. This shared secret. The sisterhood of the iron! And as I smooth the cloth, I can only hope that this "wrinkle of life" will be erased for those who walk after her.

Amy Gifford

A Shocking Second Opinion - Lindsay Gifford

It only takes one phone call to turn your life upside down. In August 1998, Amy Gifford, my mom, received that dreaded call. I vividly remember her shocked reaction and inability to even speak from the news she'd just received. She had cancer. At the naive age of 12, I didn't know how to react. I stood there stunned, feeling completely helpless. Little did I know, the whirlwind had just begun.

Due to a maternal history of breast cancer, Mom began getting mammograms every other year beginning at the age of 30. After her recent mammogram that year, they called and told her there was a little something but to just come back in six months for a follow-up mammogram. She took it in stride and didn't think twice about it. My dad was uneasy about the report and pushed her to get a second opinion. After a second mammogram, the radiologist suggested a biopsy. They were both blown away when the biopsy revealed cancer. Within a week, at the age of 37, she was diagnosed with a High-Grade Introductal Carcinoma and underwent a Lumpectomy. Unfortunately, after surgery they received news that the margin was too close and they suggested she undergo more extensive surgery.

A week later, my mom and dad kissed me good-bye as they left for the hospital. This time she had a single mastectomy, removing all of the cancer, followed by reconstructive surgery. The wonderful news came soon after.she was clean and the cancer was gone! "I am so thankful everyday that we were able to catch the cancer early and I didn't have to go through radiation or chemotherapy. I guess the motto is always trust your husband's opinion." mom laughs.

This September our family is celebrating 15 years cancer free! My mother's strength throughout the whirlwind of doctors and hospitals was truly amazing. It also helped having Dad to help make decisions and support us all through it. Our extended family and friends were indispensable, as well. With our family history we've learned that early detection is key. I braved the dreaded machine for the first time last October, having my first mammogram at age 26-it wasn't fun, but it was totally worth it.

"I am so thankful everyday that we were able to catch the cancer early and I didn't have to go through radiation or chemotherapy. I guess the motto is always trust your husband's opinion."