Breast cancer is one of those insidious diseases that touches each of us at some point, whether directly or on the fringes of our lives. Despite somewhat daunting statistics, research advances have improved the futures of women diagnosed with breast cancer, and survival rates are steadily increasing. Even with as much research and progress as has been made in both treating and curing the disease, however, a breast cancer diagnosis is still a serious, scary thing; and science still has quite a way to go. As a reminder of this continuing battle, the month of October seems to be enrobed in pink, bearing a reminder of those women who have become soldiers in the battle against this disease, women whose daily lives have been attacked by this quiet enemy.
Standing with them, watching and waiting and praying, are their friends and families––relationships fundamentally and permanently altered during each step of diagnosis and recovery—and these are the people who cheer them on as they fight. For those who lose that battle, these are the people who carry their memories in their hearts and try to honor them in their own lives. And whether you’re a breast cancer survivor yourself or have been affected by a loved one’s diagnosis, that is a story that needs to be told, one that needs to be shared. In doing so, the fight is continued as communities band together to raise funding for research and offer one another support; and it is events like Amity Salon’s Breast Cancer Awareness Event on October 19 that shed yet one more light on the need to continue the progress forward even as we look back at the previous struggles.
"Cancer changes you forever, so it’s important to focus on the good—in whatever ways you can." - Amy Miles, Survivor
The event itself was created to honor the courage and strength of the people who have willingly shared their stories with their community in Clarksville in addition to raising money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation both through a portion of the sales of Aveda’s Hand Relief lotion as well through donations. Leading up to the event, various women—and even men—wrote in and shared their touching stories when owner Tony DeRose put out the call on the salon’s social media feed; and six of those letters were featured in weekly posts on Facebook, offering stories of hope, healing, and sometimes grief—but never without a reminder of how love makes all the difference. “We really wanted to show support for women who are going through these tough times, to offer them a reminder that there are others who understand and can relate and who are willing to talk to them and offer encouragement,” says DeRose, whose own story was the first shared on the Facebook feed.
The daughter of a breast cancer survivor, DeRose might not have faced the diagnosis herself, but she certainly felt the fear as she watched her mother battle the disease and undergo a double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. “Our relationship really changed, and our roles almost seemed to reverse because I became more of the mom to her and she became more of the person who needed care,” DeRose recalls. “It was certainly a struggle for all of us, and I watched her go through depression for what I refer to as a ‘black-out year’ in my life; but in the end, family, friends, church, and God got us through it. And now, she’s been cancer free for nine years.”
Nine years after her own story began, DeRose’s mom Judy Etheridge recalls the way her double mastectomy left her feeling a loss of femininity and spiraled her into a deep depression before she finally found the strength to fight. “When I looked down to see the bandages, I felt very empty and emotional…I had to have therapy, and during it all, my family and friends and church family showed me so much love and faith.” After discussing things with a few experts and seeking the help of a surgeon to handle her reconstruction, Etheridge found a reason to hope she would feel normal and whole again. And while the physical change was certainly something to hold on to, it was the faith, support, and love that truly changed her and gave her the greatest reasons to fight. “My journey totally made me feel and see so much more for my life and had a big change on my faith and me…and I see how precious life is.”
"My journey totally made me feel and see so much more for my life and had a big change on my faith and me…and I see how precious life is."- judy Etheridge, Survivor
Proving that breast cancer truly does require a united front, Etheridge’s husband, Bobby Etheridge, faced his own struggle as he dug in deep to be a source of strength for his wife when she was diagnosed in 2009. “I had to stay positive and upbeat for my wife and be the rock she needed to make it one day at a time,” he says. “During all this, your feelings are like a roller coaster…but you still have to be strong and put on a brave face so that your partner can draw on that positive energy. You have to keep telling them that everything is going to be okay and not to worry because you’re with them and you love them and will always be there for them.” Now nine years later, the couple is living to their fullest, and Bobby has come to “cherish every moment together that we have left on this earth.”
Cherishing her own six years of being cancer-free, Mary Ann Leath’s two daughters were regular clients at Amity who shared the stress and heartache of their mother’s recent diagnosis one day during a routine cut and styling session. After entrusting the news with DeRose and hearing her own story of watching her mother fight the disease, Leath’s youngest asked if the two women could meet and the story she now tells is a testament to just how much it means to have love, support, and faith in your corner. “I gained a sense of understanding and became more mature in my relationship with God; and I saw love and support from my mom, husband, and daughters that kept me full of love and amazement. Their strength and consistent love and understanding surpassed anything I knew could exist.” Having gone through a double mastectomy as well as reconstructive surgery, Leath feels that she has learned to take nothing in life for granted.
"I gained a sense of understanding and became more mature in my relationship with God; and I saw love and support from my mom, husband, and daughters that kept me full of love and amazement. Their strength and consistent love and understanding surpassed anything I knew could exist." - Mary Ann Leath, Survivor
With two years living cancer-free behind her, longtime Amity client Amy Miles can now look back on her diagnosis with a sense of celebration and triumph, though she admits that she went through a time of shock that left her almost unnaturally calm during the entire process—a response that she credits largely to the trauma response training she had recently received after her own mother was diagnosed with the disease. Once her cancerous cells were found, Miles had a lumpectomy followed by reconstruction surgery that returned her to “being perky again,” and now she willingly shares her story with anyone who needs to hear. “Cancer changes you forever, so it’s important to focus on the good in whatever ways you can,” Miles says.
When you’ve already gone through a cancer diagnosis and remission once, receiving the news again can make focusing on the good a hard thing to do—especially when you’ve just come through a bitter divorce and are raising two children on your own. But for two-time survivor Brenda Watts, the good came in the support she received from the men and women with whom she worked, co-workers whose love and dedication far surpassed a mere workplace relationship into one that drew them as close as family. “I cannot express the gratitude I have for them,” she says now, cancer-free for eight years with breast cancer and all that came with it—the medication, the hair loss, and the emotional turmoil—in her “rearview mirror.” And while it may not always be convenient, Watts cannot champion enough the importance of having a regular mammogram.
"I had to stay positive and upbeat for my wife and be the rock she needed to make it one day at a time."- Bobby Etheridge, husband of a Survivor
As scientific research has repeatedly shown, mind and body are intrinsically linked, and what affects one very deeply affects the other. It only makes sense, then, that having love and support during the challenging, painful, uncertain days following a breast cancer diagnosis can have immense impact on the entire process. It is the greatest hope of these women––and women all over the world just like them––that their stories, their messages of hope, their testaments of triumph, will inspire and minister and offer comfort that they are not alone. They can fight the fight and win.