By Karen Middleton
The Athens-Limestone Hospital Foundation celebrated Wednesday all women who are winning the fight against breast cancer — and remembered those who lost.
The foundation’s annual Pink Elephant Luncheon at the Event Center hosted as guest speaker retired East Limestone High School teacher Connie Barksdale, who one year ago was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“A lot has happened since 1965,” said Barksdale in remembering when her mother had a radical mastectomy in a futile attempt to try to stop the advance of breast cancer. The disease spread and she died of a brain tumor in 1969.
Fast-forward 20 years and Barksdale’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer; another 10 years passed and her 80-year-old aunt was diagnosed. Then a cousin was diagnosed three years ago. They remain alive and cancer free.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Barksdale when she was diagnosed a year ago — but it did. She credits attending last year’s Pink Elephant Luncheon to giving her the final push to get a recommended mammogram she had been putting off.
“I came to the 2012 luncheon and got inspired — I said I need to get that done,” she said. “I had had mammograms before and nothing showed up. I went out to Medical East and immediately something suspicious.”
She was sent to Athens-Limestone Hospital Radiology for a further test and was told, “Your doctor will call you.”
The call came and her doctor recommended an immediate biopsy, which proved positive. She had a lumpectomy and chemotherapy and radiation at Clearview Cancer Institute.
Barksdale’s advice for anyone going through this experience: “Let people help you.”
She said a large circle of friends were there to help her every step of the way, beginning with a friend, a medical transcriptionist, who accompanied her to appointments with her surgeon and kept good notes because she knew it was such an emotional time that Barksdale would likely forget most of what was said.
Barksdale said her prognosis is “very good.”
“In closing, I want to issue the challenge to everyone who knows a cancer victim to do anything they can for that person,” she said. “It really helps on the journey through treatment.”
Barksdale had a table of her friends who helped her along the way stand in the front of the room and each hold up a sign with a single word to say: “The-Best-Protection-Is-Early-Detection.”
Another speaker, Donnette Smith, has been a past speaker for the Wear Red For Heart campaign because she has had three open-heart surgeries, but Wednesday Smith spoke about also having breast cancer.
Smith is cancer free but she said her younger sister, Sherri Adams, was not so fortunate. Adams, 20 years younger than Smith, died at 44 after having a bilateral mastectomy, ovaries removed and “grueling” chemotherapy in an attempt to stop her cancer. However, the chemotherapy damaged Adams’ heart and she contracted a heart infection.
While waiting to have a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted, she died.
The Hospital Foundation sponsors the annual Sherri Adams Pink Ribbon Run/Walk in Adams’ memory. This year’s event will be Nov. 2. Register online for the run/walk at www.sherriadamsrun.com
Luncheon highlights also included the contribution of $20,000 from Athens Fire and Rescue from the sale of Fighting for a Cure T-shirts. Battalion Chief David Andrews said that figure is not a final number because some receipts are outstanding.
On the fun side, attendees were treated to a High Heel Hike with 10 men from the community “dolled up” for the occasion in various pink froufrou and wearing spike heels. Alabama State Trooper Jacob Smith, in a fetching hot-pink tutu, won first prize and a trip to the Gulf.
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