Faith helped Atchison beat breast cancer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 16, 2004

A 10-year anniversary is certainly a cause for celebration. Come February 2005, Kathy Atchison will have an extra-special reason to put on a party hat and toss some confetti.

She’ll also be sending up a prayer of thanksgiving for reaching this particular milestone.

The local school secretary will be celebrating a solid decade as a breast cancer survivor.

On Friday, she went for her regular checkups with her two oncologists in Montgomery and received a clean bill of health – exhilarating news, to say the least.

&uot;It’ll be 10 years in February. My doctor always says, ‘Kathy, you’re a success story and a half!&uot; Atchison exclaims with pleasure. &uot;I keep getting those good reports …everything’s going great!&uot;

Her outlook wasn’t always so bright.

&uot;I’ll be honest – back in the beginning, I never really thought I would still be here 10 years later to talk about it,&uot; says Atchison, who works in the office of the Butler County Adult and Continuing Education Center in Greenville.

'Let me live'

After feeling a suspicious lump one night during a routine breast self-exam, Atchison made an appointment to see a doctor the next day.

A biopsy was performed and her worst fears proved true – it was malignant.

Atchison, who had no prior history of breast cancer in her family, was &uot;devastated&uot; by her doctor’s diagnosis.

&uot;At first I sat in a rocking chair and cried a lot…I never dreamed this would happen to me.&uot;

For the sake of husband Johnnie and children Jennifer (then an 18-year-old high school senior), and Rebecca, 12, Atchison managed to put a stop to her &uot;pity party&uot;.

She decided instead to actively do battle with the disease.

&uot;I had prayed, ‘Lord, please let me live, so I can see my daughters grown up and able to be on their own’. I was determined to do what it takes to beat this,&uot; Atchison explains.

A radical step

When discussing her treatment options, the physician recommended Atchison (who had a lumpectomy performed) follow the most radical course of treatment, that of aggressive chemotherapy.

&uot;He said it was the approach he’d want for his own wife if she were in my shoes… I respected his view. I started chemotherapy two days later,&uot; she says.

It proved a grueling experience. The nausea and vomiting caused by her weekly chemotherapy treatments left her &uot;sicker than sick&uot;.

Still, Atchison worked at maintaining her trust in the Lord. &uot;I chose to view each unpleasant treatment as life being sent my way…that’s how I got through it,&uot; she explains.

‘Kindness and support’

Support and encouragement from family, co-workers and friends made a tremendous difference, says Atchison.

School secretary for R.L. Austin Elementary in Georgiana at the time of her diagnosis and treatment, Atchison lauds the school for the support she received during her cancer crisis.

&uot;Everyone was so kind and supportive through that whole ordeal…they always understood when I had to call in sick on Mondays because of the chemo. Flowers would arrive on my desk from the staff. The principal, George Cheatham, even offered to give me his sick days if I needed them – not many people would do that,&uot; Atchison gratefully recalls.

Atchison says youngest daughter Rebecca pulled plenty of bedpan duty along the way, becoming her mom’s &uot;primary caregiver.&uot;

&uot;I don’t know what I would have done with my family and friends,&uot; Atchison says, adding, &uot;I don’t know how I would have made it without so many prayers going up for me, either.&uot;

‘No pity’

Atchison candidly admits there were times when the nausea, pain, fear and frustration caused by her breast cancer, and the treatments to arrest it, left her feeling &uot;downright mean and nasty.&uot;

But help in the form of a reality check was always there, she says, even when she felt &uot;the lowest of low&uot;.

&uot;Johnnie always reminded me, ‘Kathy, you can’t take this out on us…you’ve got to fight it – no pity!’&uot;

The tough talk allowed Atchison to put things in proper perspective. &uot;I tell you one thing, I have learned attitude is so important; it is number one. For my sake, for everyone’s sake, I had to maintain an upbeat attitude,&uot; she stresses.

Kudos to the ACS

Atchison credits the American Cancer Society (ACS) for moral and financial support sorely needed when fighting cancer.

&uot;The ACS’s Road to Recovery Program, which offers financial assistance and support to cancer patients, was so much help to me – and I never knew it even existed before,&uot; says Atchison, who logged in some 2,000 miles on the road traveling to and from Montgomery for treatments that summer.

When her hair fell out, the ACS gave the cancer patient a wig. ACS volunteers reached out to offer Atchison a shoulder to cry on, advice from others who had &uot;been there&uot; and encouragement whenever she needed it, she says.

A new challenge

A decade ago, Kathy Atchison fought a long, hard battle with cancer.

Today, having survived that battle and three cancer &uot;scares&uot;, she is proud to say she is cancer-free. But it hasn’t been totally smooth sailing, either.

Another health crisis appeared on the scene a year and a half ago when Atchison learned she had developed adult-onset diabetes.

Dealing with her cancer had taught Atchison she had what it takes to face up to another big challenge.

&uot;The diabetes was another tough thing to handle, but I know it is a manageable condition and it’s one I have under control…and hey, I lost forty pounds in the process, which made me happy,&uot; Atchison says with a smile.

Helping others

In the years since her own frightening diagnosis, grueling cancer treatments, and dark nights of fear, depression and pain, Atchison has become a tireless fighter for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.

&uot;I feel like God left me here for a purpose – to help other survivors.

I received so much help in so many ways from the ACS, I felt I had to turn around and give back to help others. There is always some way you can serve,&uot; she says.

As an ACS volunteer, Atchison has led cancer support groups, visited cancer patients in the hospital and annually assists with the Cancer Survivor Luncheon held as a part of the Relay For Life fundraiser. &uot;Whatever they need me to do, that I am able to do, I do it,&uot; says Atchison.

A bright future

She believes the picture is improving for the breast cancer patient of today.

&uot;I think things have definitely changed for the better since my diagnosis…more and more people are surviving their cancers today, treatments are improving, which gives me great hope for the future and for finding a cure.&uot;

Atchison encourages the public to take a proactive stance against breast cancer. &uot;You need to be doing those self exams; go for your check ups. Get your mammograms. Early detection and intervention can make all the difference between success and failure in dealing with this disease – I know,&uot; she says.

The power of prayer

There’s something else Kathy Atchison strongly believes in when it comes to battling cancer – it’s what she considers the most powerful component of all in her treatment and recovery.

&uot;Prayer, absolutely. I have to say the reason I am here today is answered prayers,&uot; she says simply.

The Atchison family was dealt another blow recently, courtesy of Hurricane Ivan.

&uot;I no longer have a roof on my mobile home,&uot; says Atchison.

Still, she is thankful for what she does have.

&uot;It could be worse – at least we have a roof over our heads. We’re staying in my mom’s old house until other arrangements can be made,&uot; Atchison explains.

Kathy Atchison sees a lot to be thankful for in life. She is grateful she had the chance to watch girls grow up and strike out on their own.

Today her oldest daughter Jennifer is a broadcast journalist in Mobile, while Rebecca is studying journalism at Troy. &uot;They are wonderful girls and I really am proud of them,&uot; Atchison says with a smile.

Rebecca believes the whole family has learned a lesson from her mother’s breast cancer ordeal.

&uot;As a family, we have truly been blessed by God. God brought us to it, and He brought us through it. My mom is one of my best friends and I don’t know what I would do without her. She’s been there for me through everything and I am thankful everyday she has made it this long without a reoccurrence of the cancer.&uot;

There are happy endings in cancer stories.

&uot;God answers prayers – I’m living proof,&uot; Atchison says.