Like many people, Kathy Cothren had known for a while something just wasn't right. Like many people, she did her best to ignore it.
"I knew I had problems, but you're just kind of like, 'If I don't pay attention to it, it'll go away,'" she recalled.
It took attending the funeral of her friend Lisa Vaughn to give Cothren the kick in the pants she needed to go see a doctor. Like Cothren, Vaughn was a wife and mother. She had grandchildren. They both worked for the city of Athens. They were both members of local churches.
And now cancer had kept Vaughn from ever seeing the age of 50.
"It just hit me," Cothren said. "I went home that night, and told my husband, I said, 'Well, I believe I need to go to the doctor,' and he said, 'I believe you do, too.'"
Her husband asked if she wanted to go that night, but Cothren decided against it. Instead, she called a friend who worked at The Cancer Center of Huntsville. By the end of the week, she was being sent for a mammogram and ultrasound.
The next week, she had a biopsy and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She started chemotherapy immediately after the diagnosis, undergoing her final treatment on Aug. 17, exactly five months after her first visit to the clinic in Ardmore.
But her treatment didn't stop there. On Oct. 3, she had surgery to remove her tumor and 12 lymph nodes. Only four of the lymph nodes were affected by the cancer, but the tumor had grown to 14 centimeters.
"(My doctor) said, 'You could get a prize, because you had the biggest tumor I've taken out in a while,'" Cothren said.
A PET scan after the surgery revealed no signs of remaining cancer. However, she will have radiation treatments five days a week for seven weeks just to make sure.
She has since learned her cancer was 100 percent hormone-fed, meaning it used the estrogen in her body to grow. Once she finishes treatments, she will have to take a pill for the rest of her life to block hormones. She doesn't know if it will help prevent the cancer from returning.
"All you can do is pray for the best," she said. "That's all I've been doing, and I've had a lot of good people praying for me."
And it seems to have worked. Cothren admitted she never got sick or nauseated during chemo. She was able to rely on insurance to help with medical expenses.
"I can't ask for anything to be any better than what it is," she said.
Not that this has stopped any of her friends and supporters from trying. Wherever she goes, people stop to ask how she's doing, offer her a hug or give her a gift. Many of the gifts are on display in her home, from a pink pumpkin painting on her back door to a "cancer coin" and rooster on a table in the living room.
Some — like the T-shirt a local store owner left on her porch — are proudly displayed when she goes out.
Yet she remains humble, despite the attention.
"I feel like I'm just going through something that a lot of other people are going through," Cothren said. "I just hope that someone can see how blessed I've been, and it'll help them get through theirs."
However, humble hasn't stopped her from reminding everyone to get their mammograms. Like many people, she has realized the hard way just how vital those checkups can be.
She has also, like many people, gained a newfound appreciation for cancer organizations and fundraisers. Cothren loved Relay for Life before. Fighting cancer has only strengthened her support.
"I've always been 100 percent Relay," she said. "I'm 200 percent now."