Showing Strength: Mid-Missouri breast cancer survivors highlighted in annual show

Featured Sliders / Health & Fitness / HER Health / Lifestyle / Stories / September 11, 2019

Story by Madeleine Leroux
Photos by Julie Smith

They come from all walks of life. Even with nothing else in common, they share at least one bond — they’re all survivors.

Several Mid-Missouri women have opted to share their stories of strength and survival after battling breast cancer, and they will hit the runway this October when the fifth annual Strut Your Style Breast Cancer Survivors Show and Luncheon takes place at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

The annual event raises funds for the Community Breast Care Project, which helps people diagnosed with breast cancer in Cole, Callaway, Osage, Miller, Morgan, Moniteau and Camden counties. Sherrie Brant, the event’s lead organizer, said the organization provides $500 for each patient to help offset the mounting costs associated with treatment and recovery. The project has donated $200,000 to 400 breast cancer patients since 2007. Last year, the Strut Your Style event donated $27,000 to the project, which seeks to provide educational, financial and emotional support to those in Central Missouri on both breast health and breast cancer treatment.

But this year, Brant said, she’d like to expand where the proceeds go. She said she’s hoping to donate at least $20,000 to the Community Breast Care Project from this year’s event and perhaps find another Mid-Missouri breast cancer organization to donate the remaining funds to. The most important thing for Brant is that the money goes to help people here in Mid-Missouri.

“We’re trying to educate the public,” Brant said. “Everyone is so afraid of cancer … there is such a thing as a survivor.”

The event, set for 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel and Convention Center, will start off with a silent auction and opportunities to speak with medical experts from a variety of area health care providers, before serving lunch and starting the fashion show. The models will walk the runway, showing off the latest items from several local shops.

But they will also share their own stories and what they learned from the process, which is what Brant really wants to emphasize during the show.

“Cancer, no matter what type you’ve had, the experiences are very similar. The anxiousness, the strife, the worry,” Brant said. “We try to bring them through that a little bit with the show.”

To attend the event, which costs $35 per person, call Jodi at 573-418-0457 or Dawn at 573-896-5500. Reservations must be in by Oct. 21.

And now, let us introduce you to four local survivors who will walk the runway.

Roxane Sargent

It was just before Christmas 2016 when Roxane Sargent went to get her first mammogram.

She’s not proud of it — she knows she should have had one sooner and not waited until she was 47. She quickly found out that there was a spot and she would need to come in for a biopsy.

She knew she shouldn’t do any internet research, but she did anyway, Sargent said. When she went in for her biopsy, Sargent said, she was laying on a table and could see the screen — and something on it.

“I walked out to the waiting room to my husband and I had tears in my eyes,” she said. “I know I have it. … I could see the spot.”

Unknown to her at the time was that her husband had contacted her doctor and asked for a rush on the results as he didn’t want her to have to go through the holidays with this cloud over her.

On Dec. 23, 2016, Sargent was officially diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma — breast cancer.

“I was just devastated for days,” Sargent said.

No one in her family had ever had breast cancer. Her mother suffered from leukemia and her sister had Hodgkin’s disease, but those are both forms of blood cancer.

Sargent never expected this.

“I’ve been healthy all my life, up to that point,” she said. “It was the joke actually, that I was the only healthy one in our family.”

“I kind of jinxed it,” she added with a laugh.

During next couple of weeks, Sargent met with a couple of different surgeons and began trying to figure out her options. During that same period, her daughter was preparing to leave for a semester abroad and Sargent had already made plans to go visit her at the end of the semester for 10 days. As she began to navigate the needed medical appointments, Sargent said she started to think she should cancel the trip, but her husband was adamant that she stick it out and stay with the plan, at least for the moment. That advice helped her move forward.

“I think it kind of helped me stay focused on getting through this,” Sargent said.

Sargent did stay focused, compiling an almost never ending list of questions and putting together a spreadsheet of everything she needed to know or find out.

“I stressed my doctors out completely,” she said laughing.

But it wasn’t just doctors she was asking questions of. Sargent found others who had had breast cancer and went through treatment to find out more.

“I’m so thankful for the number of people that let me ask them questions,” she said. “I asked so many questions.”

What doctor did you go to? Did you choose a lumpectomy? A double mastectomy (where both breasts are removed)? What stage were you in when radiation or chemotherapy began?

“It just helped me learn so much more,” Sargent said.

After filling her spreadsheet, consulting with doctors, going over information given to her by oncologists, Sargent made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy and reconstruction. She said she chose not to do the lumpectomy because she didn’t want to have to go through radiation.

Even getting an infection after the surgery, something Sargent described as horrible, didn’t slow her down. By the end of May 2017, Sargent was heading to Brussels to visit her daughter and take that trip she had considered canceling after she was first diagnosed.

After going through everything, Sargent said she felt fortunate. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

“I was very fortunate that I did not have to do any sort of chemo,” Sargent said.

Sargent said her mother passed away 12 years ago, and since then, she’s always felt as if her mother is her guardian angel, there protecting her at every turn. This experience was no different, she said, pointing to the fact that she finally went and got the mammogram when the cancer was small enough and hadn’t spread much.

“For some reason that year, I went and got that mammogram,” she said. “I’d been told for the last six years to get a mammogram.”

And it’s now a message she shouts out anytime she can.

“One of the biggest messages I have for people is get the mammogram,” she said. “If I would’ve waited another year, I don’t know how fast it would have advanced, but I’m going to say the mammogram saved me from a lot. … I want people to learn from me.”

For those who are beginning their own battle with breast cancer, Sargent’s advice is fairly simple: ask a lot of questions. Don’t hesitate to call back and ask again, if needed. Talk to different doctors and nurses. Talk to other women who have gone through it.

“There’s so much information thrown at you that it’s hard to really take in everything,” she said. “Ask a lot of questions.”

Sargent said she has people who reach out to her now and ask questions about her treatment process once they’ve been diagnosed, something she heartily encourages.

“I welcome them,” she said. “I want to help them.”

Now in recovery, Sargent sees her doctor every six months for follow up appointments, something she expected to continue doing for about five years. In addition to those appointments, she said, she has to get a shot each quarter to prevent her from producing estrogen and she takes a chemo pill every day. That treatment could continue for the next 10 years, she said.

“It’s still a part of my life very much,” she said. “You’re always concerned that something could reappear.”

And the treatment itself has its own list of problems. The chemo pill she takes each day could harm her bones and cause osteoporosis to develop, so Sargent takes two calcium vitamins every morning and has a bone scan every two years.

“It’s kind of scary,” Sargent said.

Now, she worries about her daughter. Sargent said both she and her ex-husband have had breast cancer, which could increase the risk of their daughter eventually developing it.

“She is not going to procrastinate like her mother (on getting a mammogram),” Sargent said.

Gerrie Madsen

In August, Gerrie Madsen had her five-year checkup, part of the recovery process after being successfully treated for breast cancer.

It was December 2013 when Madsen first was diagnosed with breast cancer, after going in for a routine mammogram. The day before Christmas, her brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The day after Christmas, Madsen received her own diagnosis.

“I just sort of went blank,” Madsen said of her reaction to the news. “I’ve always been very healthy.”

Things began to move fast. Madsen said she was informed that her cancer was “very aggressive” and she had three days to pick a doctor and get started. Her surgery was scheduled for Jan. 23, 2014.

But on Jan. 22, 2014, Madsen’s brother, who was diagnosed only the month before, died.

“It was just a horrible, horrible time,” Madsen said.

The surgery was postponed until February, as the doctors all agreed that “you can’t go into this with this distress.”

Dealing with the loss of her brother and her own diagnosis was a lot to take on. It also reminded her of a previous loss — another brother who was lost to melanoma cancer in 1996.

Still, she moved forward.

Madsen’s treatment was newer — she said she didn’t want to do the mastectomy or the lumpectomy, so instead did a series of radiation treatments after the initial surgery. For two weeks, she traveled to Columbia twice a day where a balloon was inserted into her and radiation was done.

“The way I dealt with breast cancer at the time was just to do what you’re told to do and move on,” Madsen said, adding that she had a lot of support from her family and co-workers. “I just stayed very busy.”

The experience taught Madsen to enjoy her life now, since you never know what might happen.

“What I did was just sort of decide that I was going to live every day having a good time,” she said. “Staying happy is probably one of the biggest things. Just make yourself stay happy.”

During the times when she felt down, Madsen said she would go for a walk — something she still does — and by the time she hit a half mile, she’d be feeling a lot better.

That philosophy of enjoying each day has stayed with her as she went into recovery and retired. Now 65, Madsen continues to focus on the positives and have fun.

“That’s still how I live my life,” she said. “I get up every day, I’ve got tons of plans. I play golf. I play bocce. I ride a bicycle. I ride a motorcycle. I play all the sports with the (grandchildren). … I just do everything I want to do.”

Madsen she doesn’t think about breast cancer much anymore, aside from the times when she talks to others who are going through the same battle. She said it’s important for her to share her story with others, so they can see women who have not only fought, but won the battle against cancer.

“It’s extremely important to know that there’s the other side, that you can live,” Madsen said. “I live a completely full, wonderful life.”

She emphasized the importance of regular mammograms, noting that if you think there’s something strange going on, make that doctor’s appointment. Even if you’re not a person who often goes to the doctor, which Madsen said she’s never really been that person. But when it comes to this, she hasn’t missed an appointment.

“Until it hits you, you just don’t think it’s going happen,” Madsen said.

For those undergoing their own battle, Madsen said to make sure there’s someone with you and follow the instructions and go through the procedures outlined by your doctors. If you do, you are far more likely to come out of this fight as a champion.

“There’s a good ending to this,” she said. “You have to look to that good ending.”

Andria Hendricks

At 2:35 p.m. on Feb. 9, 2018, everything changed for Andria Hendricks.

That’s the moment she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It was so devastating,” Hendricks said. “I cried and I cried and I cried.”

A few weeks earlier, Hendricks had been in a car accident. Afterwards, her right breast began to hurt, which didn’t make a lot of sense to Hendricks, as her seatbelt, like most, goes diagonally from the upper left shoulder to the right hip.

“I couldn’t figure out why it was hurting so bad,” she said, noting that nothing hit that area during the accident.

Still, she figured it was just bruised tissue, nothing more. She couldn’t even feel a lump.

Hendricks had already scheduled a routine mammogram. Two days after that appointment, she found out there were two spots on her right breast.

At first, she figured it was just the bruised tissue. Then, the phone rang on Feb. 9 and the diagnosis was in.

“I could not figure out for the life of me how all this transpired,” Hendricks said.

She was healthy. No one in her family had ever had breast cancer.

But even as she wrapped her head around what this meant for her, her doctors told her some higher power was clearly at work.

“Apparently, where the cancer was located, it was in a place that it would not have been visible to be seen in a mammogram,” Hendricks said. “The impact from the car accident caused the cancer to push forward so that it was able to be identified.”

If there had been no accident, her spots would likely not have been seen on that routine mammogram. If she had not been in pain, Hendricks wouldn’t have had a clue that something was wrong.

And once she was diagnosed, oddly enough, the pain disappeared.

“(Doctors) said there was no reason for me to have pain,” Hendricks said. “Pain does not indicate breast cancer. … I would have never put the two together.”

Her cancer was aggressive, a form of invasive ductile carcinoma, but doctors told her it could be beaten. Don’t stress, they said, everything’s going to be OK.

But things got harder.

In March 2018, just one month after her diagnosis, Hendricks was faced with a sudden loss. Her sister-in-law, someone she was very close with, died unexpectedly while visiting Branson.

“She was supposed to be with me through this process,” Hendricks said.

Now she had a funeral to plan. The two were always there for each other, Hendricks said, and it was her responsibility to get everything ready for her services.

The funeral was held April 5, 2018. The next day, Hendricks went in for a double mastectomy. But by the time she went for the surgery, her cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. That meant chemotherapy would not be enough — she would also need to undergo radiation.

“Doing the chemo and doing the radiation, all of that was just so terrible,” Hendricks said. “The pain from the chemo was horrible.”

During five months of treatment, Hendricks said complications from the chemotherapy took over her life. She almost died twice, she said.

Chemotherapy seeks to stop the spread of cancer cells and kill them, but the treatment itself often affects the body’s healthy cells and can cause damage to vital organs.

But during the entire process, Hendricks said she had an incredible community of support. Her family couldn’t have been have more amazing, she said. Her daughter would sing to her. Her sons would write her love letters. And her husband, Adrian, was a constant source of encouragement, reminding her to lead by her faith and that they would get through this.

“He was absolutely my rock,” Hendricks said. “He never left my side.”

She recalled how her husband used to write quotes on her bathroom mirror — encouraging scripture, reminders of how beautiful she is — simple notes that reminded her to push forward and gave her strength.

Hendricks said her parents never missed one of her appointments and neither did her in-laws. And her community still had more surprises in store.
When Hendricks went in for her double mastectomy, she said there were 105 people in the waiting room from the moment she went in for the surgery until it was completely done eight hours later.

“It was just absolutely phenomenal the amount of support that I had,” she said, adding that her husband would organize prayer calls with hundreds of participants, all praying for Hendricks. “I was completely blown away. … I was never alone.”

Before her sister-in-law had died, she had made plans to ensure that Hendricks wouldn’t have to worry about some of the smaller household things, like cooking and cleaning. For a month, dinner was always brought to her, the house was clean without Hendricks having to do anything. After that, it was Hendricks’ sorority sisters who stepped up to fill in, as well as her church community.

“Everybody was taking care of me and my family,” Hendricks said.

When her hair began to fall out from the chemotherapy, her support kicked in once again. Hendricks said she had clung to the hope that she wouldn’t lose her hair, that she would be part of that small percentage who aren’t affected.

But she wasn’t. And it was a tough blow.

“I just didn’t know what to do,” Hendricks said. “I’ve always been one to love appearance and love fashion … I cried myself to sleep.”

Hendricks said her husband then shaved her head and his too. Then, she said, he looked at her and told her she was absolutely beautiful.

“He made me feel like I was the next top model,” Hendricks said with a chuckle. “I don’t know how I would have done it without my family.”

By September 2018, she was in remission. Now, Hendricks said, she and her family are having to deal with the trauma of the experience. Her children worked hard to keep strong in front of her, but now they can talk about the fear they felt and help deal with it. Hendricks said the family is starting counseling — as a counselor told Hendricks, this fight was like going to war and post-traumatic stress can take hold.

“You’re always questioning ‘how did this happen to me,'” Hendricks said. “In the process of going through cancer, you don’t have a choice. You’ve just got to deal with what’s given to you and you have no say. … That was the most frustrating part of it.”

After going through the fight and coming out the other side, Hendricks said she knows there is nothing that can tear her down, and she needs to enjoy every part of life.

“I can push through anything now, I think I can stand up to anything now,” Hendricks said. “I do not take life for granted. … Every minute of your life is a treasure.”

For Hendricks, telling her story is important to remind others currently fighting that they’re not alone.

For those starting their own battle, Hendricks said she would remind them that this isn’t the end of the world, it’s a new beginning and a new normal.

“You have to really reach out and allow people to help,” she said. “It’s OK to be vulnerable.”

Lindsay Hess

It was November 2017 when Lindsay Hess found out she had breast cancer.

The disease runs in her family, though at the time she wasn’t close to those who had fought it. That changed after her own diagnosis. Hess said they all came to her and told her what to expect and how they got through it.

The start of her journey with breast cancer was a whirlwind, Hess said. She hadn’t found a lump on her breast. It was her lymph node that was enlarged, something she noticed when putting deodorant on one day. Doctors knew it was cancer, but they weren’t exactly sure of what kind. Hess said that at first, they thought it was unrelated to the breast, possibly lymphoma. It took a few weeks of testing to determine that it was breast cancer.

Once she started treatment, Hess said she had to simply embrace it and move forward. While getting treatment at Jefferson City Medical Group, JCMG, she was told about a “Look Good Feel Better” program, which, according to the program’s website, is a free, public service support program to help people with cancer deal with the appearance side effects of treatment. Hess said it’s something she would recommend to anyone.

“You’re in there with a bunch of women that are going through it, have gone through it,” Hess said.

Participants also get a bag filled with over $200 worth of makeup and then a skin care representative comes in and shows them how to apply the products, Hess said.

“That really helped build my confidence,” she said.

It’s what helped her continue to embrace everything on her journey. When her hair first started coming out, Hess said she didn’t hesitate. She simply had her three children help her shave her head, an activity that added more of a happy memory for her and her children.

“For me, it was like ‘it’s going to come out anyway, why torture myself,’” Hess said. “It’s something that they’re always going to remember about the journey that doesn’t have a negative twist.”

Having her head shaved made her fight more visible to others. Hess said when she would be out with her children, other people would approach her to wish her luck and offer words of encouragement.

“For them to be able to see that was pretty awesome,” Hess said.

For Hess, being honest with her children from the start about the cancer was so important. Her children, who are 14, 12 and 8, needed to know and understand what was going on. Then, Hess worked to try to make sure things weren’t constantly negative or depressing.

“They never cried to me about it,” Hess said of her children. “They took it like champs. And I really feel like me trying to remain as positive as possible, not breaking down in front of them or having those moments in front of them, helped boost them. They were pretty amazing through it all.”

Every three weeks for 18 weeks Hess would undergo “yucky chemo,” followed by a year of maintenance chemotherapy. What she referred to as the “yucky chemo” is the initial treatment that causes extreme side effects, such as hair loss. The maintenance chemo isn’t as tough — things start coming back.
While undergoing that initial round of chemotherapy, Hess said things happened that she didn’t expect. She knew her hair would fall out, but she didn’t think about all of her hair falling out.

“You lose your nostril hairs, you don’t think about that stuff,” she said. “Eyebrows, eyelashes, everything.”

Hess, like all who take on this fight, had moments where it was hard to think about moving forward. And even in remission, it’s still something that hangs on.

“You think about it every day,” Hess said. “I’m still dealing with this and I think it’s going to take a long time to go away.”

Hess was waiting for reconstructive surgery this summer. Like all survivors, she still has a litany of appointments and treatments to make sure her cancer stays in remission.

Another relative was diagnosed with breast cancer this summer. Hess said having another woman in her family battling cancer has brought up a lot of “crazy feelings.”

“You kind of try to forget along the way as you’re going, but you never really know and it just takes one other person,” Hess said.

When it comes to advice for others, Hess emphasized taking someone with you to all of your appointments, at least until you’re comfortable going alone.

“It is a lot of information to retain at once,” Hess said. “They could call me and I would go with them in a heartbeat.”

She also advised getting on a vitamin regimen to help with the chemo. But most importantly, try not to withdraw and not let it define you. Find a support system, no matter how small or how large, as long as you have somebody you can talk to. It’s OK to feel depressed, she said, just try to keep moving forward.

“That’s normal, but you have to push through it,” Hess said.

Hess isn’t really done yet. She has to go in every six weeks for appointments and do blood work every 12 weeks. But the journey she’s been on has been important — it’s why she’s determined to share her story.

“You can have a million people around you, at that point in time it’s still really lonely. It’s a lonely disease,” Hess said. “For me, being so open about it means I’m able to help other people.”

She’s had friends reach out when someone they know is struggling with their own battle with cancer. Hess said she tells them what worked for her and how she got through it; hopefully, it helps them.

And ultimately, Hess is grateful for everything.

“I lost a lot, but I learned and I grew from it all,” Hess said. “In hindsight, I actually ended up gaining a lot more.”

Facts About Breast Cancer

Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (X-rays of the breast).

Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.

Women ages 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and expected to live at least 10 more years.

All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening. 

Women should also know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to a health care provider right away.

Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is very small.) Talk with a health care provider about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.

Each year in the United States, more than 240,000 women get breast cancer and more than 40,000 women die from the disease.

Men also get breast cancer, but it is not very common. Less than 1% of breast cancers occur in men.

Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older, but breast cancer also affects younger women. About 10% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.

Some young women are at a higher risk for getting breast cancer at an early age compared with other women their age. If you are a woman under age 45, you may have a higher risk if you have:

  • Close relatives who were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer when they were younger than 45, especially if more than one relative was diagnosed or if a male relative had breast cancer.
  • Changes in your BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, or close relatives with these changes.
  • An Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
  • Been treated with radiation therapy to the breast or chest during childhood or early adulthood.
  • Had breast cancer or certain other breast health problems.
  • Been told that you have dense breasts on a mammogram.

Take control of your health, and help reduce your cancer risk.

Stay away from all forms of tobacco.

Get to, and stay at, a healthy weight.

Get moving with regular physical activity.

Eat healthy with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Limit how much alcohol you drink (if you drink at all).

Protect your skin.

Know yourself, your family history and your risks.

Get regular check-ups and cancer screening tests.

For more on what you can do to help reduce your cancer risk and other questions about cancer, visit the American Cancer Society or call 1-800-227-2345.

Information from the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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