It happened doing something so mundane as pulling pesky weeds. A year ago September, Janice Wagoner was on her knees diligently pulling the late bloomers when something compelled her to reach under her shirt and bra and gently touch the underside of her breast.
"I don't know what made me stick my hand under my bra," said Wagoner, 58, wife, mother of two children and grandma to four. "Who does that while weeding? Now, I think maybe it was my mother. She's my angel on my shoulder."
All of a sudden the late afternoon, boring task turned into something much more. Wagoner felt a distinct lump in her breast. She froze, felt again and her heart skipped a bit. It wasn't a baby lump, but something too big to have grown since she had her last mammogram the October before.
It was bigger than a marble.
"How can that be?" she silently asked herself.
She always got her mammogram in October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She usually scheduled it near her birthday.
"It is my birthday present to me," she noted. "And, that way I could always remember to do it."
In fact, she was scheduled for her yearly in a couple weeks. The discovery of the lump pre-empted that appointment after her husband, Brad, and her daughter, Amber, 30, also felt the lump and urged her to get to a doctor right away.
"I think I was in shock," Wagoner recalled. "I admit I was scared. I knew it wasn't what I wanted - because of the size."
After a mammogram and ultrasound, Wagoner had a biopsy. While waiting for the phone call from her doctor she went to her teacher aide position at W.A. Wright Elementary School. She's worked in the Wilson County School System 25 years in different capacities. She loves her job and knew that was the only place she could wait for the news without going crazy.
"We didn't get the news we wanted," were the words of the doctor when the news finally came down.
They told Wagoner she had infiltrating carcinoma. Her cancer was Stage 2 HER (Human Epidermal Growth factor receptor) 2+. In layman's terms, her body somehow produced too much HER2, which most likely caused the cancer.
"I just knew it was aggressive," she said. "And, it had spread to my lymph nodes."
Recalling the struggle
Last week, Wagoner sat in the school office before her job duties and subconsciously held one of several inspirational necklaces gifted her during her cancer fight. She held on to one that says "faith" as she remembered the last year. She said it was a painful year, one she won't forget.
"I say I lost a year, but gained so many more," she said softly as she recounted the ordeal.
In mere days from discovering the lump, this petite, outgoing friend to many, had a partial mastectomy and 21 lymph nodes removed. Then came the days of lethargy, body aches and retching from the chemicals pumped in her body to kill the cancer.
"I wasn't as scared for me as I was for my children," she said. "And, well, I'll say I was afraid I would not see my grandchildren grow up. So I remained positive. No negativity. No way!"
On her 57th birthday she took scissors to her long blonde hair as a preemptive strike to the results of the chemo. Today she has a short cut that suits her smiling face.
Not fighting alone
Wagoner's friends go on about how positive she was during her treatment that concluded just a couple weeks ago. The grueling schedule consisted of six chemotherapy treatments every three weeks and 32 radiation treatments, everyday starting at 8 a.m.
"I never missed a treatment," she said with a smile. "I met some wonderful fellow patients and caregivers."
One special friend is Laurie Drummond, WAW guidance counselor and cancer survivor herself.
"She's an awesome lady, and I'm proud to call her my friend," said Drummond.
She loaned Wagoner her headscarves to wear during her "bald time." Brad took his wife to every treatment and the school staff and students rallied for Wagoner. They wore special t-shirts in her honor.
"Cancer is a life threatening disease, I admit," said Wagoner. "I went to work everyday, even after chemo. I didn't think negative. I didn't want my family negative. I was told to keep life as normal as possible. I only missed eight weeks of work."
She said she didn't want anyone to tell her what to expect. She needed to experience first hand.
"If I had known...well, I'm glad I didn't!" she said.
Long-time school attendance secretary Sherrie Hyder said Wagoner is the school's "Miracle Girl."
"She's an inspiration," she said. "The way she handled her illness...with grace and determination. She gave it to her Lord. We are a strong family here. Unfortunately, we've experience this too many times. Laurie Drummond is our other miracle."
Celebrating the last treatment
recently Wagoner celebrated not only her 58th birthday, but also the last treatment for breast cancer. She went to Destin, Fla. with her entire family.
"It was a celebration of life," she noted.
Wagoner said the doctors said she's free of cancer. And while she admits she feels vulnerable now that she is no longer in treatment and only on Tamoxifen, she never wanted, or will ever have, a "pity party."
She went to her first cancer survivor support group at Maple Hills Church of Christ.
"I needed to wait until now to go, and it's the best ever," she said. "I encourage all survivors and family of survivors to go. I'm not the only survivor, my family survived as well."
She said her life is different now.
"I don't sweat the small things," she said. "I say a prayer every night and say thanks for the day I had and for a new one. I tell myself I don't think I could do this again. But I know I could."
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Maple Hill Church of Christ Breast Cancer Support Group is for "Emotional Healing through Sharing and Learning." The group meets every third Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at 102 Maple Hill Rd., Lebanon Call Melanie 444.6106 or Jean 504.1147
Laurie Everett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.