Editor’s note: In honor of October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, The Fremont Tribune is publishing a series, “Think Pink” that shares a story every Tuesday of community members who battled or are currently battling breast cancer. The Tribune’s masthead is also pink on these days instead of its normal black to commemorate the month.Fifteen days after her first chemotherapy treatment, Stacie Roberts looked in the mirror.
She tugged at a piece of her hair.
An entire chunk came out.
The Scribner woman texted her hairdresser.
“It’s time,” Roberts said.
Roberts and her hairdresser had made an arrangement.
“I knew as soon as I started losing my hair, I was going to get my head shaved, because I didn’t want to go through losing little bits at a time,” she said.
Two years later, Roberts sat in a small room just off the kitchen in St. Patrick’s Auditorium, where she serves as lunch program manager for Bergan students.
Roberts recalled when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and what’s helped as she’s made her journey through it.
It had been a while since the married mother of six had seen a doctor when she felt a lump in her breast in late 2016.
During a regular checkup in January 2017, Roberts’ doctor sent her to the hospital, where she had a mammogram and ultrasound.
A biopsy indicated she had cancer.
“It was kind of a surreal feeling,” she said. “I couldn’t really wrap my head around the fact that I had cancer.
“You hear about it happening to other people, but you don’t ever expect something like that will happen to you.”
One of the hardest parts would be telling her children.
At the time, she had two children in college, two in high school and two in elementary school.
“I wanted to get all the kids home and sit them down to tell them altogether,” she said.
But the time between her diagnosis and first surgery would be short.
“I knew we weren’t going to have time so I was going to have to call the older kids and tell them over the phone,” she said. “I felt awful having to do it.”
She and her husband, Joe, were able to sit and tell the younger children — the two youngest of whom were ages 7 and 9 at the time.
But for the youngest, their only experiences with any sort of cancer had involved people who didn’t survive.
She remembers the looks on their faces.
“They immediately started crying and came to sit by me,” she said.
Roberts told the children that her cancer had been caught early and the outcome looked promising.
The hardest part was telling them she was going to lose her hair.
“Visual stuff for little kids, especially, is so hard,” she said. “It makes it more real.”
All six children were with Roberts before her first surgery.
Roberts had a lumpectomy, but the outside edge of the tissue tested positive for cancer. She could have had a surgeon take more tissue or had a mastectomy.
She chose the mastectomy, saying she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life worrying if all the cancer had been removed.
Her second surgery took place on Valentine’s Day in 2017 and her kids returned for it. Staff from the emergency room, where she also works as a patient care assistant, sent flowers and visited.
She put every card, note or printed-out email or text in a binder.
“It was a very humbling experience — just the number of people who reached out when we were going through this,” she said.
Every other day, someone stopped by with food. An aunt and cousins made meals and put them in the family’s freezer.
Her husband manages a helicopter service. His employees took a collection and hired a cleaning service while Roberts was undergoing chemotherapy.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to like it (the cleaning service), but I loved it,” she said. “It was awesome.”
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After her first two surgeries, she had difficulty sleeping. So she’d sleep in a recliner.
Her spouse’s boss organized a PTO donation to pay for a new adjustable bed.
She’d have a round of chemotherapy every three weeks for 12 weeks.
She was given high doses of steroids to prevent nausea and help her body from having a reaction to the chemo.
The steroids made her jittery. She couldn’t sleep for three days after getting the steroids.
“Every time I laid down I felt like I was crawling out of my skin,” she said.
But she didn’t feel nauseous.
She did have severe bone pain from medicine designed to keep up her white blood cell count up to prevent infection.
And one side effect from chemo was hair loss. So she daily checked her hair.
Roberts remembers when the piece of hair came out in her fingers.
Having already talked to her hairdresser about shaving her head, Roberts immediately contacted the woman.
Facing the inevitable wasn’t easy.
“It was really hard knowing we were going to have that daily reminder,” she said.
The hairdresser had time to see her that night.
“We kind of made a big deal out of it with the kids, because we didn’t want them to be scared. So we brought them along,” Roberts said.
The hairdresser let the kids each shave a section of Roberts’ head.
“They thought that was really cool,” she said. “It was hard for me. I tried to keep that to myself. I didn’t want the kids to be more upset than they were and I think it helped for them to be involved in that.”
Roberts said steroids made her emotional.
“My family had to deal with so much while I went through all this and I thank God every day that they stayed and did go through it with me, because I’m sure I would not have made it without them,” she said. “It was tough, but I survived it.”
Despite the side effects, Roberts is glad she had the treatment.
She had chemo from March to May 19, 2017.
Like other cancer patients, she notes that difficulties don’t always end along with the treatment.
“Once you’re done the anxiety kind of sets in,” she said.
While undergoing treatments, labs and doctors’ visits, patients constantly see medical professionals. When all that ends, a patient can almost feel lost.
And every time she had an ache or pain, Roberts wondered if the cancer had returned.
“I was super anxious all the time,” she said. “Even now — I’m two years out — and I still find myself feeling that way. Not as much, obviously. Time helps, but I still worry all the time that they didn’t get it all or it’s going to come back.”
Yet she tries not to live her life based on that.
And today, she doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
She looks at situations against the backdrop of whether they will matter five or 10 years in the future.
Roberts believes she’s a little stronger person now and tries to live more in the moment.
She’s about 2 ½ years away from being considered cancer free. She takes medicine daily to reduce the risk of her cancer returning. She said the chances of it returning are small and is encouraged because of advances in medicine.
Sitting near St. Patrick’s auditorium, Roberts has long, flowing dark hair, which after the chemo, grew back with some curl in it.
Her future plans include taking care of her family.
“We are so busy all of the time,” she said, noting that her children are involved in sports. “We are going every night to something.”