Editor’s note: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we asked breast cancer survivors to share their stories. Stephenville resident Renae Mitchell responded to our request with a story of her journey through breast cancer treatments written in her own words.
Renae’s mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2000, and passed away on Oct. 30, 2004.
“She was a believer and a fighter and never gave up,” Renae said. “She was my role model for my fight.”
In April 2016, at the age of 45, I began having pain in my left breast and felt feverish, so I made an appointment with my primary care doctor to have a female exam, which I hadn’t done in seven years.
After a mammogram, I realized this was something bigger, and as I underwent a biopsy, I knew the results before they inserted the needle.
During this process, I found that Dr. Nanette Evans and Claire Cole had more compassion than I could ever imagine. They set the pace for my journey as I came in contact with more doctors. I learned that they have a difficult job and addressed my situation with compassion and love for my well-being.
During this time, I had a lot of mixed emotions, and I went through all of them.
One afternoon, I was crying and full of doubt, so I set out for a long bike ride.
On the way to begin my 20-mile ride with my best friend Nancy Chapman, we encountered an older woman stopped on the side of the road. She was wearing a long black dress and it was a very warm day, so we stopped.
As we talked to her, she explained that she was a woman of faith and the Lord would take care of all her needs. At the end of our conversation, she convinced us that she didn’t have any car troubles and as we were about to leave, Nancy gave her a $20 bill.
She was grateful and asked Nancy her name, then looked at me and said, “Honey, don’t let your suffering bring you down.”
I knew then that God was in control.
As I read my Bible later that evening, I opened it to Romans 8:18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
On April 29, 2016, I received a call informing me that I had invasive ductal carcinoma stage 2.
I opted for a lumpectomy with chemotherapy and radiation.
I scheduled surgery for May 19, and soon discovered that I have the best coworkers in Stephenville. They gave me physical, emotional and financial support, hosting numerous fundraisers throughout my ordeal.
My bicycle friends also helped with dinners and fundraising.
My surgery was a success and I moved on to chemo.
I was scheduled to have 15 treatments and I started with what they call the Red Devil, and it gets its name honestly.
I had many side effects from this: Hair loss, vertigo, migraines, mouth ulcers and shingles.
After finishing four rounds of the Red Devil, I developed a pulmonary embolism, which forced me to stop chemo earlier than planned.
I then had 33 radiation treatments that left me with big, painful blisters.
In December of that year I had a full hysterectomy and began a five-year treatment of hormone blockers to help prevent a recurrence.
A lot happened in 2016 and that year not only taught me a lot about cancer, but about human nature and how people can be genuine, caring and loving in times of need.
Everyone goes through difficult seasons of life, but the thing I learned most was how the Lord can take a painful experience and see you through it.
UPDATE: Renae is back to the job she loves - working full time as a customer service representative for Saint-Gobain Abrasives.
“I’m feeling great and back to riding my bicycle,” she said. “I go on 20, 30 and 40-mile rides and I love it.”
She also has annual CT scans and mammograms and visits her oncologist every six months.
When asked what advice she would give to those facing a breast cancer diagnosis, she said, “Surround yourself with positive people and always look at the bright side of life.
“And whatever you do, don’t Google anything. Google doesn’t have a medical degree.”