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October 2012 Survivor of the Month – Paige Harris
Paige Harris’ Story by Elizabeth H.R. Osterberger
Survivor of the Month for October 2012, Paige Harris and I met one afternoon in Columbia Square to take her portraits. I was having an otherwise horrible day, but seeing Paige was really the highlight of my day. She greeted me with a smile and a calm demeanor which made my frantic nerves feel better. We chatted for a bit during our mini-photo session and once again, I feel so honored to have met another amazing woman though this job that I do.
Her story is another one of those that is written so well that I am not going to change it very much. Paige’s journey with breast cancer starts out almost a decade ago and she looks to be in fabulous health now. This is what she has to tell all of us:
“I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer almost 10 years ago at the age of 30. I noticed a lump and called my doctor the next day (even though I was sure it was nothing…I was way too young). After an initial exam, my gynecologist sent me for a biopsy, and a few days later I got the call that would change my life. My doctor cried with me on the phone; I’ll always remember and appreciate how much she cared. It is hard to describe how shocking that ‘C’ word is. How was this possible? I was otherwise healthy; in fact, I was in the best shape of my life. I was also the single mom of a 2-year-old son. What did this mean for my life? I was terrified I was going to die and not get to see my son grow up.
I was so incredibly lucky to have the support system I did. My aunt was a nurse in the Breast Center at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, where I lived at the time. She is also a breast cancer survivor. She walked me through every step of the medical process. She hand-picked every doctor and nurse that I saw, every person that was in the operating room with me, and even checked with her hospital friends to find out who they thought the best plastic surgeon was (you know, the one that the nurses go to when they need a little work done). My friends took me to doctor’s visits and took notes, kept me company during chemo, picked out scarves for me to wear when I lost my hair, banned me from all internet research when I freaked out over all the scary information I found online, and even landscaped my backyard and planted a gorgeous garden for me so that I would have something pretty to look at while I recuperated from surgery. My retired mother came to stay with me after my mastectomy, and would come cook for us and clean my house while I was working full-time and in the midst of aggressive, bi-weekly chemo treatments. And my long-distance, casual boyfriend at the time, who could have easily decided this was way more than he’d signed up for, took wonderful care of me. I don’t know how he did it, but he made me feel beautiful throughout the whole process, and never once blinked or faltered at the changes that were happening in my life. We learned a lot about each other through my cancer, and I am so proud to call him my husband today.
As my 10-year anniversary approaches, I feel so incredibly grateful for my life. Grateful that I am here to watch my son play baseball and the trumpet. Grateful to come home to my amazing husband every night and share our day over our evening meal. Grateful for the visits with my mom, our all-day shopping excursions and the incredible meals we make together. Grateful for the unbelievably amazing friends that lifted me up and kept me strong when I needed it the most. So when I think about my cancer story, what I think about is love, and gratitude, and how humbled and inspired I am by the incredible people in my life.”
Susan G. Komen affects every person in a different way. Always, positive experiences, Paige’s is no different.
“I was attending the ‘Race for the Cure’ with my aunt long before my own diagnosis, and my best friend has done the 3-Day twice in my honor. When I attend a Komen event and see the sea of pink, and think of all the money being raised to support leading edge research and early detection, it gives me hope that we might one day find a cure. But mostly what I feel is the sense of community, and of shared experience, that reminds me that I am not alone, ” she says of the organization.
Being younger when diagnosed also changes a person’s outlook and the way they want to support others, “As a young survivor, I think it’s important for young women to realize that this disease does not care about your age. I met women in their twenties who were battling this disease. I lost someone to breast cancer who was in her thirties. Do your monthly exams and know your family history. And get your annual mammograms when it’s time. Early detection is key.”
So here’s to another amazing lady for an amazing month!