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March 2011 Survivor of the Month – Colleen Martin
Strength in Numbers
Colleen Martin’s Story
The Survivor of the Month for March is Colleen Martin of Hinesville, GA. When you first meet her, you are greeted by a beaming smile and great kindness. She lives in a gem of a neighborhood in Liberty County and was eager to show off her four-legged support system: two cats, two ferrets, a dog and a bearded dragon. All of them, including Colleen’s three children and husband, recently transplanted to the area after living in Washington State. “My husband was a constant and strong support to me and the family. It was a journey we made together and I could always count on him to be there and to be my best friend. I feel very blessed to have such a supportive family,” she says of her family.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she hadn’t built up a network of friends and had no close family nearby, due to the recent move. Her children, husband and the animal friends were there for her during the journey. She also found comfort from a new support system through Susan G. Komen. She says that the group, ” positively impacted my life. Less than a year before being diagnosed with breast cancer, I relocated to GA after 11 years living on the west coast. I did not have a strong network of friends and no family close by. My first experience with Susan G. Komen was the Savannah Race for the Cure. I was recuperating from surgery and completed the walk with The Suzie Q’s of Hinesville. It was incredibly empowering to see the strength in numbers and the support that is here for those with breast cancer. I will always look to that first connection as a high light in my life.”
Colleen recalls, ” I was blessed with finding my breast cancer in the early stages. I was 39 years old; breast cancer was not in the family, and I live a healthy life style. So, when I was in the shower and felt a lump in my breast while washing, I assured myself that it was nothing. Historically, I have been told by doctors that I have “lumpy” breasts and I could walk away feeling fine. This time, however, it just felt off. I told my husband at lunchtime ‘I have a lump and will just make an appointment so the doctor can tell me it is nothing.’ A year later, I have had a partial lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. I am cancer free now and feel great.”
She was determined to remain positive and calm during this scary time and recounted how wonderful her kids were with it all. Her youngest son, who is now 8, would take some of her hair that fell out from the chemotherapy treatments and put it on the bird feeder and was very excited when it would be gone later. He would say that the birds were building nests from his mom’s hair, very pleased with his work. Colleen also showed me the chair she often sat in during her treatments and the view she had of the front yard and how the animals would come and sit with her.
She says, “Breast cancer is a disease that everyone needs to be vigilant against. The best course of action is to be cognizant of the fact that breast cancer does not discriminate. Living a healthy and active life style is definitely a plus, but breast exams and being aware of changes are essential. And, like any disease, if you’re concerned- have it checked. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, just take the steps to tackle it as you would any other disease. Early detection is the key and the scare is not in finding that you have breast cancer, but in not taking the steps to fight it.”
Colleen feels very open talking about having breast cancer. Today, colleen is an avid activist, never missing an opportunity to share her story with others in an effort to promote breast health in all women. “I feel the more people hear of it, the more comfortable they will be with the topic. There is an immediate feeling of complete despair common with many people hearing the diagnosis of breast cancer. It is a scary topic but it does not have to be terminal. The earlier you detect it, the higher the success rates. While it is not a life experience I would have chosen, it is an experience that has left me feeling blessed. Sharing this experience is empowering.”