Tag Archives: courage

Young Survivors: Decca Knight

In our October issue, three local young women courageously shared their breast cancer survival stories. Their experiences show that this can happen to anyone. Not only is it important to get your clinical breast exam each year, but it is also important to talk to your doctor (and maybe get a second opinion) if something is off.
Our second story is from Decca Knight. In her words:

I was diagnosed at the age of 32. At the time, I was a healthy, active, young mother who ate well and loved running. My son was 1 ½ years old and I was working at a part-time job that I loved. My OBGYN found a mass during a routine clinical breast exam. He thought that it was probably a cyst and said I could wait a few months and come back or get an ultrasound. Luckily, I chose the ultrasound.
It looked suspect so they sent me for my first mammogram and then a biopsy. I can remember my next appointment like it was yesterday. It was there that my breast surgeon told my husband and I that the mass was cancer. We heard that it was aggressive and that the tumor was large.
We went into shock. A stream of doctors appointments with the breast surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and reconstructive surgeon followed. We felt like we were at the hospital all the time. Soon I had a bilateral mastectomy and the insertion of expanders. The latter are slowly pumped up to stretch your skin to allow for implants. During this operation they did a biopsy of my lymph nodes on the infected side and found that the cancer had spread there. This meant that I would have to have radiation.
After sometime to heal, I started my chemotherapy regimen— every three weeks for six rounds. Soon after my first round, my hair started falling out so my husband shaved my head. My sweet little son thought that it was silly. I am so thankful that at that time he was too young to understand what was going on.
Following months of grueling chemo, we went head on into radiation— everyday for six weeks. I kept joking with hospital staff that I should have some type of frequent flyer card that accrued points. After healing from radiation, I had another surgery called a Lat Flap surgery. During this procedure, they take a part of your lattisimus dorsi on your back, cut it out along with the skin, nerves, and blood supply, and transplant it to your chest. This would allow my affected side to hold an implant. After healing from this harrowing surgery, I finally had my last surgery where they took out my expanders and put in my implants. The whole process lasted about one year.
I was lucky that I didn’t have to work while in treatment. I needed all my energy to be able to interact with my young son. My husband, sister, parents, and in-laws took such great care of me. My friends were amazing. They raised about $15,000.00 for the first Virginia Blue Ridge Affiliate Race for the Cure here in Roanoke.
Five years out now, I am doing well. I still take medication that will hopefully keep the cancer from returning.


A Weekend at the Taubman Museum of Art

If the rain is chasing you inside this weekend, consider visiting some of the unique and beautiful exhibits at the Taubman Museum of Art!

Rachel_Hayes_maquette web_0Currently on display, a fabric sculpture by Rachel Hayes entitled Not Fade Away has transformed the atrium of the Taubman. The multi-colored nylon, light gels, and thread culminate in a  stained glass-like canopy that manipulates the space with colorful light. It will remain on display until Sunday, November 6.

kuba vmfa Ngaady Mwash MaskWhile you are there, be sure to visit the Fortune, Courage, Love exhibit featuring arts of Africa’s Akan and Kuba Kingdoms from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. On display from Saturday, September 26 until Sunday, January 3, 2016, this will be a grand presentation of the extraordinary design of regalia and related arts of the Kuba Kingdom in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Djenne people of Mali, and the kingdoms of Ghana’s Akan people.

There are many more amazing fall exhibitions planned for the next  couple of months. Visit www.taubmanmuseum.org for more information.

Those That Mourn Must Not Give Up

As we remember and celebrate the life and accomplishments of Robin Williams, it is important to take a few things away from his tragic death.

Suicide. Depression. When did these words become so taboo that those being crushed under the weight of such thoughts felt forced to deny them? To be so ashamed of their illness that they could not reach out for help?

In reality, those who ignore their cries or expect them to “be strong” are the ones who should be ashamed for creating a culture where it is expected of everyone to wear their socially accepted mask in public and face their demons alone—behind closed doors.

We must re-examine our expectations of everyone we interact with on a daily basis. Do you want to make a difference in this world? Stop judging people based on their appearance, sexual preferences, past addictions and life circumstances. Stop making them feel weak when they ask for help.

Sit down and LISTEN to them. Sometimes, all someone needs is for another human being to see their struggle without sitting in judgment.

A lot of celebrities and news outlets are expressing that they are “heartbroken” in the wake of this announcement. Although they have every right to feel this emotion, we must remember that Mr. Williams, and the millions of people suffering from depression around the world, are often so well acquainted with that feeling that it does not even shock them anymore. In fact, it lives behind every smile, every laugh and every mask they wear.

If you take anything away from the death of Robin Williams, perhaps it should be that we are all facing struggles—even those who appear to have everything. Remember that we are all human, and sometimes we all need a helping hand. Be a friend.

Finally, if you are battling depression, the most courageous thing you can do is tell someone. There is nothing shameful about reaching out for help. If you are uncomfortable speaking with someone you know, I encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The Risks We Take

I’ve always admired risk takers. You know, thrill seekers in helmets jumping off bridges or flying through the air with GoPro cameras strapped to their heads. I envy their rosy cheeks and deep smiles and brightly colored outfits.

Everything about them screams “I’m alive!” while everything in me just screams at the thought of zip lining across a 400 foot mountain gorge.  My lack of risk taking has long been a dark spot on my soul. I even have a difficult time hitting on a guy in a bar.

Until I realized risks don’t always mean jumping off a cliff.

I have a good friend, named Kurt. I adore him. And as it happens, he adores me. One night over dinner he asked if I would join him in completing his global To-Do list. As soon as the question left his mouth, my brain became a vortex of possible complications… what about my dog? My apartment? My parents need me and there’s all those planes disappearing in that pesky ocean.

My late thirty-something self couldn’t do it. My girlfriends thought I was insane. Who would turn down a proposition like that?

Me. I would. The girl who doesn’t take risks. I wasn’t saying no to traveling all over the world, I was saying no settling for someone I adored instead of loved. Even if that person did come with two plane tickets to Bali.  I believed something bigger was waiting for me.

Not long after Kurt, I decided to do something really stupid: become an artist. Just me and my craft facing the world and my checking account! I would pursue my artistic dreams. When I told friends, they were in awe. I could see the gleam of envy in their eyes. Or maybe it was shock at my lack of desire to work in an office for the rest of my life with health insurance and a regular paycheck.

heatherAfter I downed a bottle of my favorite wine, I convinced myself I was indeed doing the right thing. But this kind of risk is terrifying. Everything in my life is a variable upon things I can’t control… like the weather or if my dog decides he wants to pee on my running shoes.

However, I’m breathless when I look back on my decisions. The risk taker would understand. The thrill seeker jumping off the side of a mountain to fly around like a bat on a summers’ day would get it. I’m one of them now.


Written by Heather A. Haines