Amy Wallace 

My parents moved away from the North Carolina town they called home for a job opportunity for my dad. They made their new life in Greenville SC but found themselves having to pack up their three girls for weekend trips to visit family.

Our family of five travelled to visit family each holiday until our lives changed February 1, 1985.  The first time that I ever heard the word cancer was the early 1980’s.

The person given this diagnosis was my grandfather. He was diagnosed with colon cancer and moved in with us after the progression was considered terminal. We finally had family living in our town, but this wasn’t the family memories this third grader desired. Our dining room housed his hospital bed and all the sterile supplies needed to make him comfortable.

Not only was this the first time that I was acquainted with cancer, but it was also my first encounter of how community can play a crucial part in healing.  Boxes of food arrived on our front porch.  Southern meals prepared by ladies of our church were provided weekly. Frequent after school play dates with friends became the norm when difficult phases of the disease took a toll on my parents. I would get oh so excited when other friends parents would pick me up from school because I knew I was headed for a play date.

After cancer won my grandfather’s earthly battle, our family had to learn how to spend holidays in our hometown. Without the comfort of our family. Although the merriment didn’t feel the same at first, new traditions evolved with my parent’s friends that became our definition of family. We eventually found comfort and embraced this new normal. We were saved by love.

Twenty-two years later, our family found ourselves in a familiar position. We dealt with hearing of another loved one getting a cancer diagnosis.

I painfully recall hearing the words while driving my car. It was after Halloween, and I answered a call from my mother.  Being the fully spirited, nostalgic person that I am, I answered the phone with the first sounds of Christmas music playing on the radio. I turned the music up loudly so my mother could hear what was bringing me so much joy.  She immediately told me she couldn’t join in my excitement because our friend had just received a breast cancer diagnosis.  I didn’t know how to process the news right away because there were a lot of unanswered questions and unknowns.

Yet again, holiday traditions were altered.  This time it wasn’t because of the patriarch of our family. It was someone a year older than me.  The one that I used to sing in Christmas programs with at our church.  The one that I would get excited about her mom picking me up from school because it was a playdate while my grandfather was fighting for his life.

After her seven-year battle with breast cancer, I was familiarized with love from community for the second time. This time it was from the lens of a 39-year-old, and it was for my own immediate family of four. We were exposed with many offers to bring our boys home from school and meals so I could be in Spartanburg to visit with my friend, my adopted family, in her final days. I was free from my typical mom and wife duties so I could have space for grieving.

As all of the sadness consumed my heart, I hung on to her words “You can choose to have fear or chose to have faith and I have chosen to have faith.” In the days, weeks, months and years to come, my heart was bent to finding all the ways to honor her life.  One of the easiest ways was to make sure I signed up for my first mammogram.

Three years later, I received the notification on Halloween that I needed more test based on suspicious findings from my second annual mammogram.  How could this be happening to me when the raw emotions from her battle were still present?

For the third time, our community calmed our hearts with unsolicited prayers and support. It was a relief to hear the findings were benign and our busy life with raising two boys resumed.

You could find us out in our community cheering on our boys at a gym, baseball field or football field. Find me working as a Speech, Language Pathologist with Word Play, LLC. Find me at the Caine Halter YMCA early mornings or afternoons. Find my husband working for Stryker.  Find us worshipping at Grace Church.

Five years later, I was exercising at the YMCA and a lady caught my eye.  She had the most beautiful bald head.  I giggled thinking what my warped head would look like without hair.  An overwhelming idea pierced my heart and I thought to myself “I would be okay if I ever had cancer.  We have such amazing friends in our community.”   I even came home and shared my thoughts with my husband.

Once again, we found ourselves holiday mode and it was time for my annual mammogram on November 14, 2022.  Per usual, all the pink ribbons reminded me of why I was there. After a call back and five more follow up diagnostic exams I found myself eagerly waiting for results one early morning on December 3. The house was quiet, and the glow of our tree offered a unique sense of calmness.  As I hoped, I found a new result notification on My Chart.  I scrolled to the Impression section and read the words “Proven Malignancy.”

For the third time, cancer was affecting my life but this time it was 47-year-old me.  After the initial shock turned to numbness, I was determined my diagnosis wouldn’t disrupt any type of normalcy around our home, especially during this time of year. There were two December birthdays to be celebrated and holiday magic that only a mom can create.

 A cancer survivor was the first to come to my house with snacks encouraging me to remain nourished. I received many messages and phone calls from survivors armed and ready to do anything and everything to comfort me. My numb, yet desperate heart was overwhelmed with the kindness from the members of this new club that I was just initiated into.  As reality set in, I felt an overwhelming peace as I reminded myself of the words “You can choose to have fear or chose to have faith and I have chosen to have faith.”

I had faith in the Lord’s plan for me. I had faith in my doctors, and I had faith that our community would carry us. Seeing the words “cancer center parking” and “radiation treatment parking” forced me to think about how many have occupied these spaces before me, alongside of me and after.  I wasn’t alone in this journey. I found myself praying for others during my treatments to take the focus off myself.  A way to pay it forward if you will because I knew all of our needs were provided for.

A year later, I walked through the Breast Center doors at Patewood.  I saw the pink ribbons but this time conflicting emotions occupied space in my heart.  An overwhelming sense of guilt. Survivors guilt. A mix of heartbreak and happiness.  Happy that we found my cancer early due to advances in detection, treatment, and technology. Guilt of others not surviving because their battle was prior to these advances. Their death allowed me to live.  I remind myself that a similar story has been written before. Way before my time here on earth.

I was sitting in the waiting room after my scans were complete. I was alone like most women find themselves behind these doors. I received a text from someone in the community saying she saw my car and would come sit with me but I knew I would be called back for my results soon so I declined her offer. My name was called, and I returned to the area where I would either get dressed to go home or be sent for more testing.  I heard the words “all clear.” My husband was on the phone listening to the results and hearing his voice assured me that what I heard was real.

I walked out into the parking lot and inhaled reminding myself that once again we were saved by love.

Story by Laura Brasington

Photo by Sliced Tomato Productions