Breast cancer luncheon celebrates local survivors

Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital (RPMH) kicked cancer to the curb to celebrate survival stories and successes at their annual Breast Cancer Survivors' Luncheon on Friday, October 26 at the hospital classroom. This year's theme was "Give Cancer the Boot".Following a welcome from RPMH administrator Donna Boatright and an invocation from Dr. Robert Eaker, guests enjoyed a pink-themed meal prepared by the hospital's dietary staff.At the luncheon, several groups were recognized, such as the hospital's volunteers, who perform tasks like greeting and manning the gift shop. (To inquire about the available volunteer opportunities, call the hospital at 325-235-1701 ext. 222.)Representatives from the American Cancer Society and the Alliance for Women and Children were also introduced, as both vital groups help patients and provide screenings. The RPMH mammography staff was recognized as well.In addition, the dietary service staff and the servers of the event--all hospital personnel--were introduced, along with physicians that were in the audience.Boatright then introduced the guest speaker, Charlotte Brooks--a native of Throckmorton, Texas. She attended Texas Tech University, got married and moved back to Sweetwater to operate a ranch with her husband and raise her two children, who are now adults. She is also expecting her first grandchild.Though Brooks was diagnosed twice with cancer, Boatright noted that she always showed courage and strength, admiring Brooks's diligence in educating herself medically and partnering with her health care team during the process.As Brooks began her presentation, she recalled first being asked to speak and asked her family on whether she should. Each response she got--that it would be a chance to help someone--persuaded her to confirm the speaking opportunity.At the age of 50, Brooks underwent her annual physical and was told to get a colonoscopy done before her next birthday. But each time the doctor's office called, she said she was too busy.One week before her 51st birthday, she took the exam and found her first cancer. For the next three months, Brooks would be in and out of hospitals in Temple and Sweetwater.She praised the local health care provider, noting that residents have the best hospital in RPMH. She found herself weak from the treatments, and during a family cruise--when she struggled to swim with her family, she came to a realization."If I wanted to regain my strength," said Brooks, "I was going to have to work."For the next eight-and-a-half years, Brooks would bike almost 35 miles a week and swim up to 10 miles a week, calling it a guilt-free ticket to spend time on herself.She spent time with an older friend and shared her experience, and learned during her treatments that her cancer almost wasn't checked by the doctor, but something told him that it needed to be done. Brooks noted that no matter what it on our shoulder telling us what to do, it is all fueled by the same higher power. She also was asked to speak with a neighbor's wife who was just diagnosed with cancer and felt that since she had conquered it, she could do it. But, when Brooks left, she said that the conversation helped her probably more than it did her friend.Around this time, she said she felt a lump in her breast, which turned out to be a stage 3 cancer. Two options were given for surgery, and the one she chose ended up saving her life. The follow-up from surgery was to be extensive, which included chemotherapy and radiation. Her friends were there to support her and her family, and she said they also prayed. Brooks recollected that their prayers must have been answered, as it ended up being that all the cancer was taken from the surgery. Therefore, chemotherapy and radiation would not be necessary.As she spoke to the audience, Brooks said that her prayer for them was to have good health, great friends, and to never stop listening to that voice on the shoulder. The voice that she listened to, as a result, helped Brooks share her story to get the ball rolling on awareness.Following the speaking, the survivors at the luncheon shared how long they were cancer-free. Around 25 ladies stood and shared their story, with a wide range of survivors present--from eleven months to 45 years.In addition, two check presentations were made. As a result of the Field of Pink campaign held by RPMH, $215 was given to the American Cancer Society. And a portion of the funds raised by the four-year-old initiative "Friday Night Fight for the Cure"--totaling $2,500, was given to the Alliance for Women and Children, which also included $50 raised by the Sweetwater Middle School student council.Closing out the luncheon were the giving away of door prizes. While an attendee of the event brought gifts to Brooks and Boatright, the hospital gave prizes to the guest speaker, the longest survivor, the shortest survivor and 15 guests via drawing.