Occupation: Clinical Preceptor in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
Current City: Riner, VA
“Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.” “We don’t know how strong we are until being strong is the only choice we have.”
If you meet her, you wouldn’t know what challenges she carried with her just in the past year. She smiles with ease and talks of such joy of things she loves.
In 2014, Jay, Angela’s husband was finishing up his last of 13 tours in the Middle East. It has been over a year since they had seen each other, but Angela was keeping the fort held down. That’s how she rolls, in her words: “You just deal with it and go.”
Shortly before Jay returned home, their daughter began developing breathing problems, trips to the emergency room, testing, lots of questions. While her daughter was being treated, Angela would soon need to turn attention to her own health. At 36, she was diagnosed with genetic breast cancer.
“At the age of 36 it wasn’t what I was expecting. My diagnosis, just like any other, came at the wrong time, but what is a right time?”
Angela started her battle with breast cancer with a good friend by her side. The two set off to DC to walk the 60 mile, 3 day, Susan G. Komen Walk for Breast Cancer. After finishing the three days of walking for hours on end, a pact was made, Angela agreed to be genetically tested for breast cancer.
“I thought, easy enough, I will just go and have some blood work done and all will be fine. I however didn’t do it right away. I have known for years that breast cancer ran in our family. It was no shock to me when my results came back years later that I had a genetic stop code for breast and ovarian cancer.”
Turning to a few friends after her diagnosis wasn’t very easy and she decided to keep the information close to only a few. At the end of April, Angela was scheduled for a double mastectomy.
“They wanted to do it sooner, but I knew that I would need help and Jay wouldn’t be home until then. This posed another issue. How would I tell my husband while he was so far away? Jay found out just shy of 2 weeks prior to coming home. I didn’t want him to worry and couldn’t risk him getting hurt. His job, unlike most, required concentration to keep himself and lots of others safe. Meanwhile, our daughter was waiting to be seen at the Aerodigestive Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She had been diagnosed with a condition called VCD. Her vocal cords would close and she was unable to breathe.”
Angela and Jay’s daughter would also need treatment and surgery for her breathing condition. The family faced two surgeries that Spring, they faced them together and with an incredible support system by their side.
“There were so many people that did so many different things that it ran like a well-oiled machine. When I got home it appeared as if a flower shop had taken over the kitchen and our house was busting at the seams with food. I was overwhelmed by the love and support that I had received by our family and friends.”
Four drains. An allergic reaction. Three weeks in recovery. Two surgeries. Fighting every step of the way.
“Jay was my primary care taker at home. I don’t think that I could have made it through the body image piece without him. He kept me laughing, spent many nights on the couch beside me, and talked me through every tear, fear, and hard moment. In fact, he ended up having to bathe me at first until my drain sites healed up. He came in after the third night with a bandana around his head and the Bose sound dock. When I gave him a funny look he stated, “It’s rock and roll bath night.” Although his ability to wash my hair was questionable, he could sure make a bad situation better. I knew then what unconditional love was. It was so humbling to experience.”
The next step in Angela’s journey would be a challenging one, reconstructive surgery.
“I really had a hard time with the way things looked. In fact, I ended up getting so upset that I just showed up at Dr. Grubbs office in tears. The office staff took me back right away and Dr. Grubbs came in immediately. He was so reassuring and kind. He assured me that it was swelling and that it would take time to heal. He was right. I was thankful for his calming bedside manner and his ability to talk me down off the ledge. It was truly what I needed that day.”
Every experience you’re led to gives you the opportunity to find a new piece of yourself or change in ways you never could before. For Angela, it was both.
“I grew stronger in my faith in the Lord for sure. I had an overwhelming calmness and piece when I was diagnosed. I wasn’t nearly as afraid as I thought that I would be. It made me appreciate all of life’s little blessings like birthdays, holidays, and occasions that I may have not been here to experience otherwise. I am thankful for everyday. I have reflected a lot on my friendships with others. I have become more sentimental about certain things. I have had a renewal of purpose. I have fallen more in love with my spouse. I do more things with my family now- its about making the memories. I am more invested in my personal health. It has changed my eating and exercise habits for the good! I have a great empathy for cancer patients-I didn’t have to have the “ugly” chemo and I didn’t loose my hair. I am thankful that I was spared from those things. I know that I am blessed to be living and have the attitude to make the best of my second chance of living.”
Angela’s biggest lesson she learned in the past year?
“You can’t do it all by yourself. I tried so hard in the beginning of all of this to deal with it by myself. Clearly it took a lot of people and a multitude of prayers to get me where I am today. I am not saying it was easy but I know that it is doable.
I will never be able to express the gratitude that I have for my surgeons (Henshaw & Grubbs) and for the hospital staff at Montgomery Regional Hospital. They not only cared for me physically but emotionally as well. I couldn’t have asked for a better team. I also would have never made it through this experience without the support of my family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and church family. They were instrumental in my recovery and continue to be my support system afterwards.”
“Surround yourself with people who love and care about you. You need encouragement not discouragement.”
“Hit your knees and pray. Prayer has always calmed my fears and eased my mind.”
“Talk to trusted friends. They will build you up and encourage you.”
“Admit when you need help. Anyone that knows me well knows that I almost never ask for help. I am willing to help others at the drop of a hat and will do almost anything for anyone but I am the last one to “need” or “want” help. It doesn’t mean you are weak it just means you are human.”
“Let people do things for you. Even if you think you don’t need it. Sometimes just the visit is uplifting.”
“Find the one positive thing for the day. It’s easy to see all of the overwhelming bad and devastation. Take the half-full approach.”
“Take it one day and one step at a time. When Catherine and I walked 60 miles in 3 days it was overwhelming to think about the walk all together. When we broke it up in miles between pit stops along the way it was easier to get to the finish line. Life is a journey and a process. Every step counts.”
Angela’s next journey will be in testing and treating her genetic ovarian cancer. Her strength and faith are so powerful.
If I’ve learned one thing from meeting Angela and her story, it’s to keep going. All of us have a fight in us, we have a choice to make the best out of something or lay down and completely let it take over. It’s your life, live it.