Hundreds gathered together in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month on Friday during the Conway Regional Women’s Council luncheon at New Life Church.
During the event, Dr. Lauren Nolen, a physician at Conway OB/GYN, spoke with guests about the disease, its symptoms and treatments available and how to be proactive in their breast health.
Nolen said she has always enjoyed taking care of the women of Faulkner County and is passionate about preventative medicine and hounds her patients about getting mammograms.
While she’s not an oncologist, she said, she gets to play a role in helping diagnose the disease early and be the person to “hold their hand” and guide the patient to the right place for treatment.
Nolen said there are many emotions and fears that surround the common disease.
“Breast cancer is the most feared diagnosis in women,” she said.
She addressed the crowd and said if they are scared of the diagnosis and dread what goes along with it — losing their hair, the struggle with self-image and lifestyle and possibly death — they are not alone.
“These fears are definitely common and they’re understandable but the danger in that is some women are paralyzed in their fear and they postpone their screenings,” Nolen said.
She said women often skip it altogether out of fear of bad news but coming to the doctor early on, especially if a person has any symptoms — may include nipple tenderness, change or discharge, pain, lumps or others — and being proactive in breast health can be one of the things that saves them.
Nolen said one out of every eight women get breast cancer; Conway’s Elizabeth Schaefer was one them.
She said when her daughter was little, she’d often come up and lay her head on her parent’s shoulder.
“That’s interestingly enough how I was diagnosed,” Schaefer said.
One day her daughter came up and laid her head down on her chest and instantly Schaefer said she felt pain; something didn’t feel right.
She made an appointment in June and within six weeks the eraser-sized lump had grown to the size of a grape.
Schaefer was diagnosed on July 3, 2013 and found out that the cancer she had was incredibly aggressive. Her doctor said that it was a good thing she came when she did because had she waited, she probably would not be alive.
She began her chemotherapy — eight treatments every other week — in August and ultimately decided to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction.
During this time, Schaefer said, she thought about trials and tribulations and what the two reasons the Bible says we go through them: to strengthen ones faith and to be able to support others who are also suffering.
“Boy, did that ever strengthen my faith,” she said. “I’m fearless now.”
Schaefer said this season in her life taught her several lessons: attitude is everything; to be one’s own advocate; to communicate with loved ones, doctors and help everyone prepare for what’s coming; not to let cancer define her; that early detection is key; and to learn to fight like “H-E-double hockey sticks.”
“You have to make a decision whenever you’re faced with this,” she said. “Am I going to lay down and die, that’s really you’re only other option, or am I going to fight like heck to make sure I survive and I’m here for my family.”
Schaefer said often times people talk about the issue — breast cancer — and the why — to save lives — but not the how and what fighting means.
She said first a person needs to know what they’re fighting for — family, faith, life — and what they’re fighting against — fear, depression, negative attitude.
One of the things she first focused on was past blessings and what God had already brought her through. Then she prayed for peace and that everything was going to be okay.
“Frankly, if it wasn’t, I was ready to go,” Schaefer said. “Whatever God’s will was in my life, I was ready for it.”
She said she looked at promises in the Bible and what God had freed his people from, prayed without ceasing and sought pastoral support and other professional groups.
In addition to the awareness the event brought, the council also celebrated around a dozen women in the room who had fought breast cancer and are now survivors.
“We must continue to raise awareness of the importance of self-exams and regular mammograms,” Aimee Prince, women’s council president, said. “Awareness is the key to winning the battle against breast cancer.”