2018 Honoree, Betsy Burgess
I was 36 years old and in the prime of my life when my breast cancer story began. I had a great job as a shareholder at Carr Allison Law Firm, three precious little kids, a loving husband, a big boisterous extended family and fun, hilarious friends. I had just returned from a football filled weekend in September 2016 when I found the lump in the shower. I broke into a cold sweat. I made my husband feel it to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating – he felt it, too. Despite my fear, I sprang into action and went through all the proper testing, concluding with a biopsy. I got “the call” at work. It was the most devastating moment of my life, yet looking back, it was just the beginning of a life-changing journey.
My medical team was spearheaded by both Shelby Blank, MD and Karen Russell, MD. Both physicians helped me decipher my early test results, strategically working out a surgical and treatment plan with me. Dr. Blank assured me my prognosis was good, comforting me with “This is just part of your story now.” I felt empowered – my team had a plan and I knew we could do this.
However, the toughest part of this whole adventure was telling my loved ones the news – enduring their own scared reactions, and initially not having any answers for them. At the time, my daughter was six and my twin boys were four. They accepted the news and, to my astonishment, handled my hair loss and physical changes like champions. From reassuring me that I looked pretty when I nervously wore my scarves and wigs, to fanning me with the nearest object whenever I had a hot flash from the treatment; they were my biggest cheerleaders.
My loved ones have often asked why this happened to me. I have no family history and have always been in good health, so my belief is that it is because I’ve been equipped to fight this since day one. I am now navigating the next phase of life as a cancer survivor. I am different, but better. My hair is curlier, and my perspective is much broader. I find fulfillment in reaching out and helping current patients through their journey – whether answering questions, accompanying them to treatments or just being a sounding board for venting.
At the end of the day, a lot of good has come into my life from this process and I am thankful for every day. Have I beaten cancer forever? The truth is we don’t know, and that’s ok. I hope and pray the day comes when I can say I have beaten cancer, because we as a community have beaten cancer, and found a cure.
With love and gratitude,
2017 Honoree, Lea Lane
I found the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center when my son had a Boy Scout Eagle project to build an arbor in the Healing Garden, and my father-in-law was receiving radiation treatments. Maye Walker graciously worked with us with the Eagle project, and I thought, this is a special place. This led me to begin working as a Registered Nurse downstairs in the radiation department. As fate would have it, I later became Dr. Iman Imanirad’s nurse. God’s Hand…
Triple negative… Really? I was on a six-month mammogram schedule as my physician was concerned about an area in my left breast, when I found a lump and a biopsy was taken. It was a Friday at work when radiologist Mary Swain, MD, called to tell me I had cancer. A week later she called again to let me know the pathology was back and it was Triple Negative breast cancer. There was silence on both sides, and she said she usually wasn’t giving this information to someone who was a nurse, and she realized the impact the news had on me. I thought to myself, get to work, pull patients back, I would think about this later. Wow, Triple Negative! Of course I went home and researched, and the reality set in. I had been aching under that armpit and down my arm so the fear of metastases was always in the back of my mind. I knew surgery would give me answers, but the wait can be so long.
I had not told my children yet because I wanted as much information as I could get, and I selfishly wanted their life and mine to stay “normal” as long as possible. My husband Randy and I have two boys and a girl, and at the time they were 17, 19, and 21. My youngest was a senior in high school, playing volleyball, and her worries consisted of where to go to college, prom, and things a high school senior should think about! All my extended family is in Tallahassee, my parents are elderly, and I knew once my diagnosis was out our world as a family would never be the same. Randy and a few close friends and coworkers knew, but this time allowed me to think, cry alone, pray, find my strength, and find a faith in God that says “why not me” instead of why me.
I have had a book for a long time by Anne Graham Lotz titled, “WHY.” She recounts how her son was diagnosed with cancer, and she prayed with him. “We acknowledged that he could bring God glory through faithfully trusting him if the cancer led to death, or if the cancer went into remission, or if the cancer was surgically and successfully removed, or if the cancer simply disappeared.” I felt those words; I needed to pray, have faith, and trust God. I knew I had the best doctors around me, and an amazing group of coworkers by my side. Some patients asked me if I was going anywhere else to get treatment or another opinion…such an easy answer…absolutely not when the best are right here.
Surgery was a defining moment. I knew my life could change drastically after that, but at this point, I was ready to move forward. I can certainly appreciate the emotions patients face between diagnosis, further testing, waiting on results, and getting surgery scheduled. I remember waking up in recovery, after a double mastectomy, and Randy looking over me and telling me the lymph nodes were negative. Groggy, and out of it, all I could think was thank you. Chemotherapy was next. I scheduled a patient for chemotherapy and he started the same day I did. It was so strange to be on the receiving end. Each treatment, I felt blessed to have people I worked with taking care of me. A co-worker gave me a card with a girl pushing a boulder that said, “You may not see us standing behind you on the front end, but we are all there pushing that boulder with you.” Family and friends also pushed that boulder… meals were provided, that helped give us a sense of normalcy. My book club and Sunday school sent cards, texts, and random acts of kindness carried me and my family through a difficult time.
I am a cancer survivor, a term I have a hard time saying for many reasons. My story is not remarkable, and as an oncology nurse I live and breathe cancer most every day. My point is, there are so many courageous people who I admire: people that don’t see a cure in sight, there is just hope for scans that show remission, or at least don’t show progression, people that keep enduring treatment after treatment to stay alive a little longer to be with family and friends another day, just waiting for the shoe to drop and be told it is progressing, time to try a different regimen. They are truly courageous. I am honored and blessed to be a part of the team at One Healing Place. Each person at the Cancer Center makes a difference, from the greeter when you walk in the door, the schedulers who know you by name, the medical assistants, nurses, physicians, housekeeping, management, and the behind the scenes heroes that get authorizations for treatments and scans. There is research being done to find new treatments and funding is the driving force, but we need to remember to take care of those that take care of us too, and also to remember not only those with breast cancer, but everyone enduring a cancer diagnosis. This community is blessed to have so many people dedicated to helping patients through their cancer journey. Thank you for helping me through mine…
To a cure for all cancers, with gratitude and love,
2016 Honoree Abby Bender Kirkland
It was May 20, 2014, the night before her annual gynecological exam and 39-year-old Abby Bender Kirkland knew Dr. Vikki McKinnie, OBGYN, would ask if she had performed self-breast checks over the past year. Abby had not done this, so she did a self exam, even though she had her annual mammogram seven months prior and the results were normal. To Abby’s surprise, she found a dime-size lump in the right breast. The next morning, Abby shared her discovery with Dr. McKinnie.
Taking Abby’s medical history into consideration, Dr. McKinnie advised they closely monitor the lump over the next few weeks and if there was even the slightest change in size or if she experienced any pain, she should be seen immediately. After one month, the lump was still present and Abby started experiencing discomfort. “I wasn’t sure if this was all in my head or not,” said Abby. “I contacted Dr. McKinnie’s office to schedule an appointment and also reached out to my primary care physician.” Abby was scheduled immediately at her primary care office.
Within several days, the results were in and Abby was diagnosed with a clogged duct. She was referred to Dr. Richard Zorn, a general surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. “My first impression was Dr. Zorn was so kind and made me feel very comfortable,” said Abby. “He examined me and stated he felt I had intraductal papilloma, a benign breast condition, and he could remove the benign tumors for peace of mind.” Surgery to remove the benign tumors was scheduled for September 8, 2014. During her surgery, Dr. Zorn discovered something that would forever change Abby’s life and those of her family. “Dr. Zorn told my husband he found suspicious areas in my breast and he decided to perform an emergency pathology evaluation. It was determined I had invasive ductal carcinoma.” Invasive ductal carcinoma is a common form of breast cancer, which starts in the milk ducts and accounts for about 80% of breast cancers in women and 90% in men.
When Abby woke from her surgery, her husband had to tell her that she had breast cancer. “That ride home was the most blurred memory. Having to go home and tell my daughters was by far the most difficult part of this process. We called family and friends and explained the diagnosis. Many were in shock to say the least.” The following day, Abby received a call from Dr. Zorn with his recommendation for a single or double mastectomy. “Because I am a worrier by nature, we decided on a double mastectomy,” said Abby. “There was a sense of comfort for me having Dr. Zorn call me each time personally. That first week after diagnosis was so stressful waiting for answers as to stage and cancer type. Each piece of news my husband and I received, we researched and became experts. We rejoiced when we were told my situation and stage was the most curable of breast cancers.” In addition to her double mastectomy, Abby decided to move forward with reconstruction with plastic surgeon, Dr. Ben J. Kirbo. “My husband and I met with Dr. Kirbo and decided the best option was to do reconstruction at the time of the mastectomy.”
Once scheduled for surgery, Abby was referred to receive chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center. Abby admitted that, “Knowing you are walking into a Cancer Center to receive chemotherapy is about as intense as it gets emotionally. I remember feeling like this can’t be real, and can’t really be happening to me. But, immediately when I walked in, I was greeted by many smiling faces, which reminds you that you are human. Dr. Iman Imanirad, hematologist/oncologist, and his nurse Lea Lane had the same smiles. His willingness to hear us out and take his time with us, we knew we had made the right selection for my oncologist.”
Dr. Imanirad met with Abby to review her plan of care. After reviewing her results, he shared that she had a highly treatable form of breast cancer and her treatment period should be fairly quick. “I remember my first chemotherapy session,” said Abby. “I was so nervous but an amazing patient navigator, Dreama Taylor, showed me the infusion room where I would receive treatment and explained exactly what I could expect. I was put at ease.” After just one month of chemotherapy, Abby was sent downstairs at the Cancer Center to receive radiation treatment with Dr. Raj Bendre, radiation oncologist. “When Dr. Bendre entered the room,” Abby said, “he knew my entire medical history. We discussed the best options for me and he seemed to know every case study regarding my type of cancer. Knowing Dr. Bendre and Dr. Imanirad were my oncology team made me feel much more secure. I was then taken to the radiation room to meet the technicians who would be working with me daily for the next seven weeks. I instantly felt a connection to all three of them and knew I was in good hands.”
As of March 2015, Abby was declared cancer free. Having returned to full health, giving back became her mission. With much involvement in the community, she wants to remind everyone about the importance of self examinations and regular doctor appointments. “My attitude in life has surely shifted to being more accepting of what God’s plan is for me,” said Abby. “This very crazy journey was filled with every emotion possible. Seeing the love I received from so many people made me truly understand my meaning to others. Today I work hard to give back to those who need to feel that same love during such a difficult time.”
2013 Honoree Erin Petcher and Family
Erin Petscher is a stay-at-home mother raising two daughters (a five-year-old and a two-year-old). She is upbeat and full of hope. But, in October 2011, at age 32, Erin noticed a lump that had seemingly developed while breastfeeding her youngest daughter. A month later she learned she had Stage 4 Inductive Ductal Carcinoma, and it had spread to her lymph nodes, lungs and spine. Statistically, Erin was quite young to develop breast cancer, and it is very rare for the disease to spread so quickly from the time of the initial diagnosis. She appeared to be a statistical anomaly. Her physicians would not commit on how long she would survive, but published data suggested one to five years. Erin and her husband, Yaacov, have a strong faith that sustains them in crisis, and so they did not let this news dim their hope.
Erin later discovered that her paternal grandmother died of the same disease, but prior to this diagnosis Erin had not been aware of any family history of breast cancer. She had always been healthy and no red flags had appeared during routine physical exams.
Initially, Erin and Yaacov had no family nearby to help when she began an aggressive treatment program. This burden was immediately eased by her father and mother moving to town, and the outpouring of help from the community. People ranging from close friends to complete strangers sent notes, gifts, money, and food. Erin created a blog and asked for prayers on her behalf, and soon people from all 50 states and 11 different countries were praying for complete healing.
Erin visited several physicians with the hope of finding a promising new treatment or a different opinion about her diagnosis. However, every expert quickly told her there was no cure, no chance of being cancer-free, no hope.
She went through aggressive chemotherapy that targeted the primary tumor and her lungs. There wasn’t a treatment goal for reaching inside her spine to kill the cancer there. Thus, a large group began praying specifically that the cancer inside those vertebrae would disappear. Her next PET scan results returned with news that brought real hope. After no surgeries and just three chemotherapy treatments, all the metastases were gone! By the time Erin had a bilateral mastectomy at TMH, and completed chemotherapy, her pathology report and follow-up PET scan showed she was cancer-free.
Erin has been cancer-free for almost a year and is grateful for the new outlook she has on life. She says, “I know that the physicians who were put in my path were wise and all the medication helped dramatically. I thank God for my healing and extended life and I am very aware that so few people have encouraging stories like this to tell.” Erin feels that her new job is to spread hope to those who don’t have it, and is grateful for every day she gets to do so.
2012 Honoree Darcy Cavell
Darcy Cavell is a breast cancer survivor, the mother of Ryan 24 and Blake 18, one of the owners of Haute Headz Salon in midtown and an interior designer. But, she is so much more - an inspiration to all who know her with a story of faith and resilience. Darcy was married to a wonderful man, Brian Cavell, for 16 years. In 2006, Brian was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and lost his fight to that disease. Darcy and her sons lost a husband, father, and to all three, a best friend. Drawing on the loving spirit of husband and father, the family weathered this loss together and created an incredible bond.
Two years after Brian's death, in 2008, Darcy was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. She was scared, not so much for herself, but for her two boys who had just lost their dad. “If there is one thing I have tried to teach my boys,” said Darcy, “it is to find the silver lining in all circumstances.” During this time, Darcy and her boys held their collective breaths until she got the scan back that indicated the cancer was nowhere else in her body. It was the silver lining she had been looking for…she was going to live.
Darcy lost her mom around the same time and that in itself was hard. “Going through my mom’s death, my surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation were tough,” Darcy said, “I drew on the strength of my friends. I knew what great friends I had because they rallied around me when my husband died, but for them to show up again for me was amazing!” Friends brought dinners, drove her to appointments and checked on the boys. Once again Darcy saw the silver lining. “I knew I was loved and that gave me the strength to carry on,” she said. “What I know for sure is that I am right where I am supposed to be in my life.”
Darcy stated “Being chosen as the 2012 Cards for a Cure Honoree is such an incredible privilege, and being loved through all of the journeys in my life inspired me to give back the same way, by loving. I know it was God who led me to this position of Honoree.” Darcy’s battle with breast cancer has instilled a passion in her to support other breast cancer survivors with love. “Whether it's decorating their home, a shoulder to lean on or even putting on a fashion show, my love is endless in this endeavor,” she said. “First and foremost, I want to thank TMH for being part of my cancer treatment, the TMH Foundation, through Cards for a Cure, and all of Tallahassee for letting me shine my light on breast cancer survivors.” Darcy says she learned to cherish the relationships she has and to love with not just part of her heart but ALL of it…and to always look for the silver lining.
2011 Honoree Stefany Lewis Lendon
The TMH Foundation and the Cards for a Cure Committee invite you to the 2011 Cards for a Cure celebration. This year’s event will be held on October 1, at the Tallahassee Automobile Museum from 7:00 p.m. to midnight. Cards for a Cure will benefit the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center and its programs. Tickets are $75 and include heavy hors d’oeuvres, beverages, live music and much more. In its sixth year, Cards for a Cure honors a woman each year for her valiant fight with breast cancer. This year’s honoree is Steffany Lewis Lendon.
Steffany grew up knowing about cancer. She watched her paternal grandfather valiantly fight, but ultimately lose his battle with lung and brain cancer. She heard stories about her great-grandfather losing his battle with breast cancer and her great-grandmother succumbing to ovarian cancer. Then 15 years ago, her own mother, Kay Cable, was diagnosed with breast cancer; Kay fought and won her battle. In 2006, during a self-exam, Steffany found a lump in her right breast and knew immediately something was very wrong. Two weeks later Steffany was diagnosed with invasive ductile breast cancer. She immediately became the aggressor in her battle with this disease. Within weeks Steffany had a double mastectomy, began reconstructive surgery and started chemotherapy (receiving her surgeries at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital).
Realizing that knowledge is power and worrying about her sisters and her young daughter, Steffany had a comprehensive BRAC Analysis performed. Unfortunately, but not to her surprise, Steffany tested positive for the BRAC2 mutation. As a result of this information, Steffany had a total abdominal hysterectomy and oophorectomy in November 2006, to lessen her chance for ovarian cancer. Later, following in her footsteps, Steffany’s two sisters went through the genetic testing and decided to have prophylactic double mastectomies.
During her battle, Steffany faced many challenges: being laid off from her work (the same week she started chemotherapy), divorce and ultimately raising her daughter by herself; however, during this time Steffany never gave up. She always stated there was a reason this was happening and she was going to turn all of this into a positive. Steffany became involved with Cards for a Cure from its inception and is now following her life-long dream of working in the Oncology field as a pharmaceutical consultant.