By: Susan G. Komen
Kristi Mangan, Manassas, VA – Survivor
“When I learned that Komen provided breast cancer screenings and treatment for uninsured, low-income women, I knew I had to participate in the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure even though it would be just one week after my last chemo treatment.”
“I hope to help other women, especially moms, to receive screenings and treatment and to ensure no other mother has to tell her children ‘Mommy has cancer.’”
I thought I was doing everything right. January 2012, at the age of 37, I was a fanatic runner, eating organic foods and avoiding chemicals in makeup and cleaning products. I had breastfed my boys exclusively for a year each. So, I was concerned but not overly worried when I discovered a lump in my right breast. Then, like so many other 30-something women, I was utterly shocked when I was told the next day that the 1.5 cm tumor appeared cancerous. My immediate concerns were not for me but for my sons, 3 and 5. The thought that I might not live to help them grow up was devastating. Four weeks later, after a whirlwind of scans, doctors’ appointments, and biopsies, I began chemotherapy for aggressive HER-2/neu positive stage II cancer.
Those first months of treatment were a struggle: Scared, bald, exhausted, and incredibly (annoyingly!) gaining weight during chemo, I swung from disbelief to sadness to anger. My family dropped everything to help me, repeatedly insisting that something positive would come of my fight. With their help, I became determined to beat breast cancer and emerge from it stronger than before. I scoured the web for other women’s success stories. I continued to run through withering fatigue, achiness and anemia that robbed me of my breath and brought me to within a point of a blood transfusion. My awesome oncology nurse, Harlene, called me “runner girl” and liked to announce my low pulse rate to everyone in the room. My mantra became: “Cancer, you’re just another finish line for me to cross.”
By April, knowing the tumor had shrunk significantly, I yearned to connect with fellow survivors and to do my part to draw attention to this devastating illness. I felt a need to share my hopes, my heartbreak, my struggle and my triumph. When I learned that Komen provided breast cancer screenings and treatment for uninsured, low-income women, I knew I had to participate in the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure even though it would be just one week after my last chemo treatment. I ran bald as my way of shouting to the world that even seemingly healthy, younger women were being affected by this devastating disease. I was self-conscious as I walked into the survivors’ area but an elderly woman saw me, held out her arms, and simply said: “Come here, baby.” I sobbed in the arms of that 11-year survivor, a stranger and now a sister. I will never forget the strength I felt as she prayed for me and my continued healing.
Then, with my bald head gleaming, I ran the entire 5K with my family, lapping up the shouts of encouragement and cries of “go baldie!” The triumph was made even sweeter because I had learned days before that the tumor and affected lymph nodes were no longer detectable by mammogram or sonogram; a few weeks later, pathology following surgery would show no evidence of disease. A Komen photographer captured the joyful moment my sister and I crossed the finish line and she kissed my bald head.
Seeing that photo on Komen’s homepage in February 2013 was a sign to me that I had to share my story and help other cancer patients and survivors. One year after my first Komen race, I am back to running half marathons, managing lymphedema, preparing for my last surgery, and gathering “Team Stronger” to run the Komen Global Race for the Cure on May 11. One year later, I now know six other women in their 30s who were recently diagnosed with breast cancer. It has made me more determined than ever to support Komen’s efforts to raise awareness about early detection, funding for treatment, and investing in research to find the cures for breast cancer. I hope to help other women, especially moms, to receive screenings and treatment and to ensure no other mother has to tell her children “Mommy has cancer.” I hope to reassure other women that cancer is a diagnosis, not a death sentence. I want the world to know that, with the faith, love and support of this inspiring Komen family, we are stronger than ever.
Learn more about the Komen Global Race for the Cure – May 11, 2013.
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