Oct. 28, 2010
Three separate stories about breast cancer survival, but the same message comes from each of them.
"Start getting your checkups early, especially if you have a history of breast cancer in your family," Corinna Sharick said.
"Just make sure you get your yearly mammogram and stay on top of it," Heidi Kim added.
"The doctors said it was actually probably growing for the entire time since her last mammogram, nearly nine years," Ann Hoag said. "It was a bummer she didn't go in earlier."
Sharick, Kim and Hoag have several things in common; they are all members of the Washington State women's rowing team and they all have a breast cancer survivor in their respective families.
Corinna, Heidi and Ann's stories are being shared as part of Washington State University Athletics' role in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Cougar rowing team will wear pink during its Oct. 29 regatta against Gonzaga at Wawawai Landing. In addition, the Cougar soccer, volleyball and swim teams did their part in WSU's `Wear Pink Weekend' Oct. 22 and 23.
Sharick, a senior, was six when her mother Adrienne was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer was detected through her yearly mammogram.
"My mom was good with getting mammograms and they found a lump and had it checked out," Corinna said. "The doctor originally said `oh it probably won't be anything', but they sent it to the lab anyway. It came back as early stages breast cancer and they scheduled her for chemotherapy and radiation."
Corinna's mom raised her three kids alone in Burlington, Wash. Corinna's sister, Vanessa, is nine years older than she is and her brother, Will, is six years older. At the time Vanessa took on more responsibility around the house. It wasn't until Corinna got older that she realized what her mom had been through.
"My family tried to shelter me from knowing too much," Corinna said. "At the time I didn't realize I was at risk of losing my mom. It was more about my mom being home more from work. I would come home from school and she'd be on the couch sleeping sometimes and we could hang out. People would bring casseroles and food and I thought that was great too. I didn't realize it was such a big deal until I got older."
Although Adrienne was a single mom, the family was able to enlist the help of people around them.
"It was really difficult on her, but we had a lot of support from the community and from our extended family," Corinna said. "I didn't realize it was such a big deal at the time, but we had visitors all the time; my grandparents were always over. My sister had to take on a lot more responsibilities; she and my brother helped take care of me."
As Corinna got older she was able to learn more about her mom's battle and in turn, learn more about her as a person.
"She became more of my hero every day and every year we thought about it," Corinna said. "The thought that she was a younger single mom raising three children, battling breast cancer...she's a really special lady. I love her to death and I'm proud - I'm sorry for her struggle and what she had to go through - but I'm so proud to say I have my mom, someone with my same DNA, a little bit of her in me and she's got such a strong fight and a will to survive and be there for us."
Heidi, a sophomore coxswain from Cottage Grove, Ore., was also six years old when her aunt, Kim Hemenway, was diagnosed with breast cancer. With a history of breast cancer in the family, Heidi's aunt had regular checkups and the doctors were able to find the cancer early.
"They caught it early on, but it was really fast acting," Heidi said. "I think it was because I had another aunt who had passed away from breast cancer, so she started getting checkups. She went in for her first mammogram and the doctor didn't see anything, but the doctor felt something. They had to do a bunch of biopsies and they found it."
Like Corinna, Heidi didn't fully understand what her aunt was going through at her age.
"I was really young, so I didn't really know what was going on and she didn't really tell anyone," Heidi said. "I remember she started going to the doctor a lot. She was really stressed out. She started getting pictures taken in case she did pass away. When she had her surgery I remember going to the hospital and crying a lot because I didn't really know what was going on."
Heidi has always and still does have a great relationship with her aunt, coming from a close family.
"My aunt is really close to me, like my second mom," Heidi said. "I guess, we've just been close my whole life. I appreciate her because she's done a lot for me. I know I'm lucky to still have her because she's done a lot. We're still really close."
With a family history of breast cancer, Heidi's family members take extra caution when it comes to their health.
"I realized how much more serious it was and how she actually could have passed away and how lucky she was and I was that she made it through it," Heidi said. "All the females in my family go every year for a mammogram just to make sure. Now that two people in our family have had it, they want to make sure."
Ann is a junior from Bellingham, Wash. Like Heidi, she has a history of breast cancer in her family and her aunt, Karen Mallory, is a breast cancer survivor. Unlike Corinna's mom and Heidi's aunt, nearly nine years went by between mammograms for Karen.
"She apparently hadn't been in for a mammogram for nine years," Ann said. "She finally went in and they found it."
Ann was 15 at the time of her aunt's diagnosis, as was her cousin, Karen's daughter, with whom she is very close.
"I never actually talked with my cousin about it," Ann said. "But her dad died when she was one or two in an avalanche so she's been raised in a single-mom family for most of her life. My mom said it was really hard because the thought of her losing her only remaining parent was so hard for her. Especially when you're 15, it is such an awful age. It was probably really difficult for her."
Ann and her family had already had their fair share of battles with cancer and tragedy.
"It was really scary for me because the grandma that I am named after, Grandma Ann, died of skin cancer, so cancer's always been a big thing in our family," Ann said. "Right after my aunt got diagnosed with breast cancer, both my mom and her other sister kind of had scares. They went in for mammograms and the doctors said `there's a lump of dense tissue here, but we don't' know what it is.' They still haven't been able to tell them if it's bad or not. They had to go in for extra ultrasounds and MRIs. It's been scary since their sister had breast cancer.
"It's been hard for my grandpa too, because his wife died of skin cancer so to see his daughter battle breast cancer...he aged so much in such a short period of time because it was really, really hard for him."
Ann is able to look at the scares in the family as something that has brought them closer together.
"I think it's kind of been a bonding experience, especially since there were so many scary things going on at the same time," Ann said. "My family's pretty close anyway."
Karen had surgery to remove one breast and several lymph nodes and is now cancer-free.
"She just celebrated five years of being cancer-free, it's a big deal," Ann said.
Although the stories are different, Corinna, Heidi and Ann feel their experiences are similar when it comes to supporting a loved one battle breast cancer.
"Stay positive and love every moment you have with who's going through having breast cancer," Corinna said. "Don't dwell on the negative. My mom said she feels like a lot of the reasons why she ended up getting sick were because of all the stress she held on to from when my parents divorced and the anger. When she was diagnosed, her attitude changed. It was a `now or never' kind of life-changing attitude switch."
"Stay strong and just appreciate every day because you never know when it's your last," Heidi said. "Appreciate everything and all the little things."
"Be there for them if they want to talk about it," Ann said. "Let them know you love them because no matter what happens you'll be there for them. It's important to know that your family is always there no matter what happens."