Betsy Barefoot is bubbly and sweet and a breast cancer survivor at the ripe old age of 25. A little over a year ago, she noticed a lump the size of a marble in her right breast and mentioned it to her mother. It was time for her mother’s annual exam, so they booked an appointment for Betsy as well. Women with dense breast tissue often have areas of mass that feel that way and it was probably nothing. At least that was the expected outcome. The day did not go as they planned.
In April of 2016, they performed an ultrasound and then a biopsy, and then scheduled a surgery all in a matter of weeks. She was given the option of a lumpectomy (removing a portion of breast tissue) with radiation or a mastectomy (removing all of the breast tissue). Betsy wasn’t playing around, “I just felt like I wanted it all out of me. I decided to do the mastectomy.”
The surgery required a follow up of chemotherapy. Being the planner that she was, Betsy harvested and froze her eggs prior to the four rounds of chemo she underwent. Motherhood is still very much a part of her future. She also used the Penguin Cap in an effort to minimize hair loss. She says it was effective. While she experienced some thinning, it went unnoticed by others and she didn’t have to shave her head.
Most young women in her peer group were prepping for graduate school or a summer abroad. Medical school was calling but Betsy took time off to focus on her health. The demands of medical school are intense for a healthy individual. It would have been brutal for someone fighting the Big C.
When asked if she ever got angry at cancer, Betsy recalls, “I felt some jealousy towards friends who are young and healthy. They couldn’t understand what I was going through. I started seeing a Behavioral Oncologist at Norton’s…something I recommend to everyone dealing with something like this. Everyone knows about the physical impact but so few people talk about the emotional side of dealing with cancer.”
Betsy credits Chemo Angels with getting her through her cancer journey. “They pair patients with volunteers who lend support; sending letters and care packages.” Now Betsy is the one cheering on other patients. “My first buddy was a breast cancer patient and it was so cool to be on the other side of it. It feels really good to be able to comfort people in their journey.” Betsy is now a first-year medical student and is leaning towards pediatrics, but hasn’t made a final decision. Having been the patient, regardless of her chosen specialty in medicine, her bedside manner is sure to be impeccable.
About Cold Cap Therapy
Cold Cap Therapy is a drug free and non-invasive technique of scalp cooling, proven to be successful in minimizing hair loss, reducing minor swelling and may help to relieve the impact of migraine or headache symptoms and other trichological (hair and scalp) conditions. Cold Cap Therapy involves applying specially-designed caps onto the head to cool the scalp, maintaining the optimum temperature for a period of time dependent on each individual and their treatment specifics. (Norton approved the use of DigniCap, in their cancer care facilities, after Betsy’s treatment. So, Betsy used the Penguin Cap, which is the original Cold Cap Therapy System.)
Triumph Over Tragedy |
The year was 1997 and Mary Varga was a new mom running errands. While at a stop sign with her 3-month-old son in the back seat, she was t-boned by another vehicle and suffered a traumatic brain injury that would completely alter the course of her life. Miraculously, her son was facing the back and strapped securely into his car-seat, unharmed. “That was the first miracle,” Mary says. “The second was that there was an ER nurse in a nearby yard who rushed to my aid and revived me.”
Upon waking up from a two-month coma, Mary asked the night nurse taking her vitals, “Who the hell are you?” She’s seen the photos but has no real memory of the accident, as the brain doesn’t retain memory in the face of such trauma. While still holding firmly to her intellect, her short-term memory was affected the most. “My sister, Julie, would re-introduce herself every time she came back into the room,” she recalls with a bit of laughter.
“People who have brain trauma like I had tend to recover as much as they can in the first eighteen months. Since that time, it’s just been pure grit and strength on my part,” says Mary. “I had no broken bones or cuts, but my body couldn’t balance. So, I would scoot around on my bottom until they taught me how to use a walker. Think of a baby learning to walk.” Once a long-distance runner, she credits her love of physical fitness with much of her recovery success and her desire to stay motivated. She is now a certified personal trainer, a motivational speaker and owns SilverStrength, a fitness business that caters to seniors. (She is also on the BIAK Board of Directors and is a member of Governor Bevin’s task force for the KY Brain Injury Traumatic Trust Fund.) “I would love for everyone to have the same feeling about exercise that I do,” says Mary. “There is nothing more powerful than feeling your muscles move and your blood pumping.”
Mary’s family started The Brain Ball in 2004, a fundraiser for the Brian Injury Alliance of Kentucky. At this year’s event, Mary will speak about her experience and be available for book signings of story her about her 20-year recovery titled The Light Through My Tunnel. She gives all credit to God. “Being a woman of faith, I think that God stepped in and sent that ER nurse to save me,” she says. “I’m still here to be an encouragement to other people. I would have been just a plain old Mary and now I’m a miracle…and I can help other people!”
The Fifteenth Annual Brain Ball
This year’s ball, “Hats Off to BIAK, Derby in November,” will take place on November 17, 2017, at the Marriott Louisville East.
Wear a Derby hat, dress or suit and support outreach, prevention, education and advocacy efforts across the State of Kentucky.
For more information or tickets, go to biak.us/derby-in-november/.
A Step In The Right Direction |
Sarah Mudd was an incredibly active working mom of two. She fed her family organic food, shopped at farmer’s markets, and ran or biked almost daily. So, when a sudden pain in her hip took her by surprise last July, she merely thought she’d pulled a muscle. However, after rest and ice, it only got worse. She went to her primary doctor for an x-ray and instead of a comforting explanation, she got this disturbing news: He discovered some sort of dark mass on the bone that couldn’t quite be identified.
Sarah was then referred to an orthopedic surgeon who did an MRI and a needle biopsy, which came back inconclusive. Surgical biopsy was next, which yielded no conclusive result. They could not identify the type of cancer she had. Yes, cancer.
”I knew right away that I wanted a second opinion,” says Sarah. “You can go down a very dark rabbit hole on the internet,” says Sarah who was finally diagnosed with angiosarcoma of the bone. It was far more aggressive than originally thought and the tumor was growing. Usually affecting soft tissue, like breasts or skin, angiosarcoma of bone represents less than 1% of primary malignant bone tumors. It’s incredibly rare.
“When I heard the C- word…it was very surreal. I was healthy and I never went in the hospital, except to have my children,” she recalls, “I was like, wait. What?”
Sarah began chemo last December and completed her course of treatment in March of this year. She had surgery in April to remove any remnant of the eroded bone tissue. Now she’s walking with a cane and doing ongoing rehab at KORT. She loves that her doctors and therapists remind her that she’s had major surgery and that her progress is good. She credits them with being great cheerleaders.
As a family, they were very active; what was once a level 7 (on a scale 1-10) is now a level 2. “It was important to find my inner strength, to push through, to keep things as normal as possible for my kids,” says Sarah. Although running is off the table, bike riding is in her very near future and something the whole family can do together.
And they’ve found creative ways to cope as a family and make the side effects less frightening. There was the hair-shaving party, for instance. “Losing my hair was not as difficult as I thought it would be,” says Sarah. Her chic short hair now is fun and a little edgy…much like her personality. It suits her.
She is able to maintain her employment by working remotely, which has been a huge blessing. It enables her to continue to earn a living while spending more time with her husband and children. Her physical goal is to work through rehab and be rid of her cane in the next 3 to 6 months. Her biggest concern is staying connected to her children, ages 9 and 4: “Do I want them to see me tired and emotional? No, but I wanted them to know they can talk to me about it.” The treatment and recovery process has been very limiting and rather painful. However, Sarah refuses to give in and chooses to focus on the present as much as possible. “Cancer is not going to define me or my life. Period.”
When faced with unthinkable diagnoses, these four determined individuals pushed through fear and pain to triumph over personal tragedies. Their stories will inspire you.