• Frank Haight: Single, but never alone during fight with cancer

  • As Heather Schenewerk drove to St. Mary’s Medical Center for her yearly mammogram that August morning in 2010, she was feeling great, healthwise.

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  • As Heather Schenewerk drove to St. Mary’s Medical Center for her yearly mammogram that August morning in 2010, she was feeling great, healthwise.
    Having detected nothing unusual when she last examined her breasts, Heather felt no apprehension about the results of her mammogram as she returned to work at Cerner Corp.
    It wasn’t until she received a telephone call the next day, asking her to return to St. Mary’s for more X-rays, that the Blue Springs resident felt apprehensive. What was wrong?
    Heather found out the next day: a cancerous tumor in her right breast.
    “I was scared. It really freaked me out,” she says of the radiologist’s pronouncement that he was “pretty confidant” she had cancer. “That knocked the wind out of me.”
    Being single, Heather came to St. Mary’s by herself with no one to console her. Returning home, she thought, “Oh, my God, I have cancer. I hope it won’t be a life sentence.” Tears flowed as her emotions became what Heather called “unglued.”
    After spending a tortured weekend awaiting the biopsy results, Heather finally received the call she was expecting. Late Monday afternoon, her doctor confirmed she had cancer. Later she received another jolt. Doctors found a suspicious spot on her breast that turned out to be cancerous. A mascetomy was performed.
    “(Losing a breast) was something I didn’t really want. It scared me,” she says. “Then I realized breasts didn’t make me the person I am.”
    Heather is alive today, she says, because of the mascetomy. Not only alive. But free of cancer since taking the last of four chemotherapy treatments in January 2011.
    Heather faced many hardships in her recovery, but chemo wasn’t one of them. Losing her hair was. And she wonders why, she says, since hair grows back and doesn’t define a person.
    “I do remember praying: ‘OK, God, only take as much hair as you know I can handle,’” she laughingly says, adding: I was never completely bald. I had a little fuzz on top, and (God) knew how much (hair) I needed to get through (the chemo).”
    A devout Christian, Heather felt God’s peace and presence throughout her ordeal, especially just before her surgery.
    “I knew that whatever happened was OK (with me). God was in control,” she states, “and I wasn’t going to worry. I knew that no matter what He presented me, it would be a challenge ... and I would get through it somehow and come out OK on the other side of it.”
    Heather says she will always be thankful to God for putting the “right people” in her life who enabled her to get through her cancer – like her oncologist, Dr. Greg Monaghan, a cancer survivor himself.
    Page 2 of 2 - “He was a comfort to me,” she says, noting he was always telling others to slow down, enjoy life and make more time for the fun things.
    Then there were those special people who were always there for Heather.
    “There would be days when I would be down,” she says, “but I never let it get me. When I got that way, my friends would say, ‘It’s OK to be sad for a moment, but (don’t forget) there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.’”
    Another friend offered this advice: “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Think about the next minute.”
    How is Heather’s life different since her cancer?
    “I look at life a little bit differently,” she says. “I look at it as trying to enjoy each day (by) taking time out to just enjoy life and not working as many hours as I use to work. (Instead), I’m trying to make more of a healthy life balance.”
    Though she has been cancer-free for nearly two years, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she says, reminds how important breast exams are, as cancer could strike again.
    “But I am not going to live my life in fear that something is going to happen,” she says. “l live my life for today and continue on. God is in control.”
    Retired community news editor Frank Haight writes this column. You can leave him a message at 816-350-6363.

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