Living Through Cancer…

As an organization, we try to avoid speaking on behalf of Kay Yow. Perhaps it is because we lack adequate words. Perhaps it is because her life, more than her words, spoke for itself.

And then there are amazing women, like Dawn Calhoun, with whom Coach Yow would be so very happy to share her platform, her voice. Women like Dawn are the reason the Kay Yow Cancer Fund exists. Their stories let us know we are winning the fight against cancer.

Dawn was first diagnosed in 2004 with stage 1 breast cancer. Eleven years later, her cancer returned, this time as stage 4 metastatic. Her immediate response was not to allow herself to be paralyzed by fear or worry, but to focus on others.

For those who knew Coach Yow, this singular focus sounds very familiar.

Dawn’s mission became simple: Help others find the strength to live through cancer.

Like Coach Yow, Dawn gives hope through her own example. Kay Yow lived 22-years after her initial diagnosis.  The year after she was diagnosed, she led the United States to an Olympic gold-medal at the 1988 Olympics.

In like manner, in 2016, a year after receiving her stage 4 diagnosis, Dawn would complete her “epic” year: a half ironman and two full marathons.

The half ironman is a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, followed by a 13.1 mile run. It is an elite event. Completing it is an achievement; completing it while battling cancer is Herculean.

One of the blessings of the Fund is meeting women like Dawn, who, by their example, put cancer on notice. Their examples inspire equal parts courage and grace, strength and hope. Dawn is redefining life with cancer. Her measuring stick of health is not vital signs or lab reports, but bike rides. How does her strength and energy vary from one ride to the next? The assumption is, as the rides go, so goes the race with cancer.

Is cancer a race?

In many ways, yes.

Dawn is racing cancer, outlasting cancer. The goal is to see the milestones of her daughters’ lives. Graduations, weddings, children.

More broadly, we are in a collective race with cancer. Each advancement in research inches us closer to the finish line, closer to our greatest win. The fight against cancer, like an ironman, has proven to be a long race. Endurance is a factor, perseverance is paramount.

On the most molecular level, science is winning. Even more importantly, it is the spirit of women like Dawn that is truly prevailing in this fight. While we do not know how far away the finish line in the fight against cancer is, we know the outcome. This is the win we have all been waiting for – the final win against cancer.

 

For more information on the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, visit KayYow.com.

Timing is Everything…

When Connie Bowen faced the loss of a 20-year career with a great company in June 2015, it was hard for her to imagine what the next 20 years might look like. Little did she know what a blessing would be placed before her, during the next 2 years.

Connie approached the loss of her job with a positive attitude, eagerly looking for her next adventure. Somewhere inside of her, a voice was telling her to go back to school to pursue an education in nursing. That was the fall of 2015 when she applied to go back to school and started taking classes.

In September 2016, Connie went back into her doctor’s office for her yearly mammogram. Several days later, she was asked to come back in for a second mammogram, since something looked a little different from her previous year’s screening. Her newly attained knowledge of nursing helped to alleviate any concerns about cancer, dismissing the need for additional tests as the likely result of calcium deposits.

After the second mammogram, however, it was determined that a biopsy would be needed to further examine a specific area. Two days later she received the call that no one wants to hear,  “Connie you have breast cancer!”

Connie never shed a tear, but, as a result of her training, she knew she needed to be on top of this diagnosis from the beginning. So, she started by telling her closest support team, which was her husband, Cory, and her mother, Linda. Since Cory was with her at her second mammogram and the biopsy, he already had the attitude of “we got this”! Telling her mother was more difficult since her family had never experienced anything like this. The gasp in her mother’s voice meant that the next words would need to be very powerful. Connie said, “Mom, you know I got this. I am not a poor me type of girl so let’s call it was it is and fight it.”

Connie is the baby of seven children. With no family history of cancer, she was not concerned when she met with doctor, Oluwadamilola Moturnrayo Fayanju, at the Duke Breast Cancer Center on October 10th, 2016. Her test results showed that she had DCIS, Stage 0, Grade 3 breast cancer – at the very earliest stage. Had another month gone by, her cancer may have advanced to the next stage.

Connie lists many blessings in her journey with cancer: her primary care doctor, who worked in the Duke Oncology department many years ago and recommended Duke to take care of everything from surgery to reconstruction; a neighbor who, at the time, wrote grants for Duke Breast Cancer Center and was able to provide information on all the research from the oncology department at Duke on DCIS; her own experience as a nursing student, giving her a deeper understanding of what was going on with her body; her CNA school instructor, a registered nurse who called on Connie at home to insure she was taking the proper care of herself; her husband, Cory, who stepped up to the plate and supported her emotionally, physically and financially; and, of course, all the family and friends who were by her side from the beginning to the end.

Facing cancer head-on from the beginning, Connie, who always said “what was cancer thinking attacking my body,” now gives hope to others who are in similar battles that life will one day move beyond cancer.” I tell people that I am a breast cancer survivor and I am one of the lucky ones.” Sharing her journey with anyone that will listen may encourage others to have their yearly mammograms done. Just because it does not run in your family doesn’t mean that you will be safe from it. Look at Connie, who would have ever imagined that she would be diagnosed at such an early age.

In Connie’s case, following the protocol of her yearly mammogram was divine. Sadly, there are times that even following the recommended protocol and with no prior symptoms, screenings are not timely enough. We encourage all women to be proactive, be a voice of strength and courage.

Connie beat breast cancer and today is completely cancer free. Research is advancing, and the prognosis of a cancer diagnosis is not what it used to be. Still we can all do our part individually and collectively. Get screened, help the global fight against cancer through donating to research “I just hope people continue to give towards research and do the genetic testing if your family has a history of breast cancer. Keep open communication with your doctors because you are the only spokesperson for your body. Timing is everything so don’t be part of the percentile that may one day may have to say, “if only I had gotten tested sooner.”

By Connie Bowen

For more information on the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, visit Kayyow.com.