Story by Destiny Mizell / Contributing Writer
Photo via Pexels
Breast cancer is a disease that alters the lives of roughly 250,000 women in America and will take the lives of around 42,000 of those women each year.
While it is uncommon, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states, “About 1 out of every 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the United States is found in a man.” Men who have breast cancer also face the risk of losing their lives.
Each year the month of October is dedicated to all who have suffered from breast cancer. The goal of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to remember those who have battled cancer, those who have passed because of it and to advise women to monitor their health closely because it could happen to anyone.
Susan Rhea is a breast cancer survivor and music teacher.
Rhea was diagnosed with fast-growing, triple-negative breast cancer when she was 48-years-old. She explained that there were a couple of times she almost did not survive during her year-long battle with breast cancer but managed to pull through.
“I have Crohn’s disease, and my doctor had me on a medication which was a biologic. We think that may be what caused my cancer. I had lots of health problems while I was on it. After I had been off of it for six months, I developed cancer. I also read articles while I was going through cancer that men and women both were coming down with breast cancer because of this medication,” Rhea said.
When Rhea was diagnosed with breast cancer, her three children were 13 and 17. She was also responsible for taking care of her elderly father and her two aunts with Alzheimer’s.
“I was determined I would fight it with everything I had in me for children and family. I am self-employed, and some days I couldn’t work. On the days I could work, I would take an IV pole with me to work and take IVs. My two oldest would run the music business on the days I couldn’t be there. They did an amazing job, and my three kids even started their own furniture business to help with bills. My husband was a huge support through cancer, too,” she explained.
Rhea was carrying her family life, her job and battling breast cancer on her shoulders all at once. She had the support of her family, friends, students, doctors, nurses, surgeons and her “prayer warriors” who helped her through this very trying time in her life.
Rhea added that, on top of an extensive line of support, “You have to have a fighter mindset because it may be the hardest thing you have ever had to do in your life.”
Breast cancer is a horrible and frightening disease, but Rhea had always sought for people to “realize it wasn’t a death sentence and you could still enjoy life.”
“I decided to make it fun anytime I could,” She explained. “I let my daughter cut my hair and then shave it off. I then bought all kinds of wigs which was fun. I could be a blonde one day, a brunette or redhead the next. I could have long hair or short hair, and on days I just felt like crap — no hair. My students would give me new names depending on which wig I had on, and they had a blast doing that. I tried to not make cancer look so scary to the kids and other people.”
Cancer is a life-threatening disease that completely flips worlds upside down. It takes a lot of strength to bare it and especially make light of it. Nevertheless, Rhea manages to view her story as a learning experience for her, describing her battle as a “very rough year, but at the same time a very special year.”
“It taught me to cherish people and enjoy the simple things in life and also to slow down and enjoy life,” she explained, “I take life at a more stress-free pace, don’t stress over life, and I don’t worry about what other people think about me. Once you have lost all your hair and had a double mastectomy, you realize that how you look to other people really isn’t important at all.”
There are many women and men across the world who have suffered from the same disease Rhea did. It changes the way one lives and the way one thinks forever. Unfortunately, not everyone who falls victim to breast cancer survives. Breast cancer is a serious disease, so it is important to spread awareness not only every October but also year-round.
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