Ray Gora / Lincoln TImes-News
“I wear pink ribbons on my shirt so my granddaughter can wear pink ribbons in her hair,” Cindy Behler, breast cancer survivor and outpatient and registration employee with Carolinas Medical Center-Lincoln, told the Times-News Monday afternoon.
In honor of breast cancer awareness month, Behler joined with several other hospital employees for their annual Survivor Walk around the property, each person celebrating life with breast cancer’s symbolic pink color either on their scrubs, shoes or even hair. Some employees walked in support of a surviving loved one or friend, but most participated as proud victors of what’s become an unfortunately popular struggle for modern-day women.
More than 20 out of every 100,000 women die annually from breast cancer with Lincoln County’s female population also reflecting the national average, according to statistics compiled by Komen Charlotte.
Lincoln County ranks higher than the national average when it comes to women over 40 who’ve neglected to have a mammogram in the last year. In the nine-county area that Komen Charlotte serves, an average of 38 percent of women have not had the necessary annual procedure while 38.3 percent of Lincoln County women have failed to do so in the last 12 months.
It was a regularly-scheduled mammogram that detected Behler’s pea-sized lump in 2002.
Behler was emotionally frantic following the diagnosis because she remembered how her mother succumbed to the disease in her 40s.
As a result, she opted for a full mastectomy after undergoing radiation for the stage-two cancer. She also didn’t want to fear her annual mammogram or give the cancer a chance to return.
“I wasn’t going through that every year,” Behler said.
The Lincolnton native recalled her initial emotions when doctors told her the surprising news eight years ago.
“At first I cried,” she said. “I said, ‘Why me?’” Then I said, ‘Why not me?’ Maybe God was using me to remind people to get their breast exams.”
Through prayer and family support, she remained positive during the trial and said she knew her life and health were in God’s hands.
“Do what the doctors say,” Behler commanded of newly-diagnosed victims. She also encouraged them to get a second opinion and keep from wallowing in self-pity.
The 58-year-old survivor is now thankful for each year God gives her.
“I love every year I have another birthday,” she said.
Fellow CMC-Lincoln employee, Jeannine Hedspeth, 51, of Iron Station, has been in remission nearly a decade and has no plans for the cancer to attack her body again.
“It’s been nine years,” she said. “I consider it a done deal.”
Hedspeth underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatment after the disease metastasized to her lymph nodes.
Surprisingly, she had no family history of breast cancer. In addition, her mammogram didn’t detect the illness. It wasn’t until she noticed a change in one of her breast’s appearance, that she knew something wasn’t right.
“My nipple turned in,” she said. Eventually, an ultrasound discovered the cancer, and surgeons performed a bilateral mastectomy.
Her best advice for newly diagnosed women is to include immediate family in the process.
“Always include your husband,” she said. “They’re going through it, too.”
Yvonne Canipe, a 33-year-old Lincolnton resident and employee in the hospital’s radiation unit where she schedules mammograms, received 33 treatments of radiation without missing a day of work.
Doctors diagnosed her with stage-one breast cancer after noticing a shadow, rather than a lump, on her diagnostic mammogram. Without family history, she, too was surprised to hear the news.
“It had gotten to a node,” she said. “Even doctors had not expected that.”
Like so many local survivors, Canipe clung to her faith, trusting in God for her recovery.
“Without my faith…I probably wouldn’t have made it through,” she said. “You got to put a lot of faith in God, or you won’t make it.”
Lori Newton, 47, of Hickory, who works as a compliant documentation improvement specialist with the hospital, told the Times-News that those stricken with the disease should ensure they’re surrounded by “an excellent team of doctors,” especially since she wasn’t entirely fond of all the staff members on the medical team who treated her cancer more than four years ago.
Doctors also detected her cancerous lump during a mammogram. After surgically removing her breasts and enduring four rounds of chemo, she is healthy and set to get a checkup later this week.
She reminded those still fighting for their lives to “take it one day at a time.”
“That’s all you can do,” Newton said.
CMC-Lincoln currently has an information and fact board displayed in its lobby, reminding residents of general breast cancer statistics and risk factors.
While all ages are encouraged to participate in self-breast exams, women should receive a baseline mammogram and yearly clinical exam starting at age 40.
Women ages 20-39 should have a breast exam every three years, understanding that early detection includes a five-year survival rate of 98 percent.