Emmie Lindsey and her daughters Harriet Snooks and Cindy Grovenstein will be walking in the survivor lap at Relay for Life tonight.
All three women are breast cancer survivors.
“I found out in 1989,” Lindsey said. She was diagnosed during a routine mammogram when she was 54 years old and then underwent a mastectomy.
Grovenstein said her mother’s cancer was caught very early, and she underwent chemotherapy as a preventative measure.
“They said I was real lucky,” she said. “
Snooks said as far as they know her mother was the first in the family to have breast cancer.
Grovenstein was diagnosed in 1998 when she was 39, and like her mother, hers also was found on a routine mammogram.
“I couldn’t feel a lump,” she said, “but when they did the mammogram they said, ‘we think you should probably see a surgeon.’”
Grovenstein too had a mastectomy and went back three years later for a reconstruction.
“All of our treatments were different,” she said. “I had chemo, and then I had stem cell transplant, which they don’t do anymore, and then I had radiation after all of that.”
Snooks was diagnosed in 2005 when she was 41.
“Because of the strong family history, I was being checked every year as well as every six months,” she said.
Snooks said her cancer was undiagnosed until there was a biopsy request of another area.
“When I got in surgery, they realized it was in the lymph nodes,” she said. “I had it in three lymph nodes, which put me at stage three. I had bilateral mastectomy. I did my reconstructive surgery at the same time.”
That was followed with six months of chemo and radiation.
“I still go every three months to be monitored,” Snooks said.
Grovenstein is now visiting the oncologist only once a year.
The three women supported each other and the family as they each had their diagnosis and treatment. Grovenstein was living in Jacksonville at the time Lindsey was diagnosed.
“I came home and said to my husband, ‘Momma had her biopsy yesterday, and they haven’t heard anything yet.’ He just kind of went on, and a little bit later he said, ‘Your momma got her results, and she had breast cancer.’ I fell apart,” she said.
Grovenstein is a nurse and said when she was diagnosed, she told the doctor not to call and leave a message, but to page her. She told her doctor she wanted to go to surgery as soon as she could.
Her doctor presented her case to the tumor board the following Monday, and the doctors agreed that the mastectomy was the best treatment route. Grovenstein’s surgery was the next morning.
“March 24 was my 11th anniversary of the mastectomy,” she said.
Snooks said she feels it was harder when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“We were married, we were young, we were all in our 20s, and two young grandchildren,” she said. “It was devastating. Of course, it was devastating for each of us, but that was the first one.
“When we got to Cindy, she had a 6-year-old and he was in first grade. That was hard because her husband had to be with her, and we were taking care of him. But we were like, ‘here’s momma, she’s done fine, Cindy’s going to do fine, too.’”
“Joining the ranks”
Snooks said she didn’t tell anyone but her husband that she had a biopsy.
She called her mother and sister over to tell them about the biopsy and called the following day to let them know the results.
“I said I guess I’m joining the ranks, and (Grovenstein) said, ‘what ranks?’ and I said, ‘of cancer,’” she said.
Snooks had four children at the time — a first grader and middle schoolers and a high schooler.
“It never got me depressed,” she said. “It never got me down, because I’m like, ‘we’ve already done this twice — we can do this,’” she said.
Snooks attributes her being able to continue working and being at her children’s activities to the advancements that have been made in treatment over the years.
“Momma probably wouldn’t have had a mastectomy today,” she said. “She would have had a lumpectomy, but back then, they were still doing mastectomies no matter what.”
Grovenstein works at a clinic, and one of the things that she does is through a program that is federally and state funded for breast and cervical cancer prevention. The clinic screens women ages 40-64 for breast cancer and pays for their mammograms and pap smears, she explained. In 2002, the clinic found breast cancer in five women, the youngest being 27 and the oldest 57.
“Like Harriet said, we never experienced the depression,” Grovenstein said.
Grovenstein said she has seen women in treatment who experienced depression during their treatment. She said it was hard, and there were days when she was tired, but she did what she could to keep her energy up for her son.
“What was really cute was in his first grade class he told everyone on the playground. ‘my momma has something in her chest and she has to have an operation,’” she said.
The students began asking the teacher questions, and she had the class make get well cards that were sent to Grovenstein.
“Because I was the nurse, and all I had ever seen was the end stages of someone with cancer, I had never started at the beginning with somebody,” she said. “That’s why it was harder for me.”
Grovenstein said the treatments given to her mother did not make Lindsey sick, or make her lose her hair. She said by the time she and Snooks were treated the medications were different.
“I guess probably one of the things that I realized how serious chemotherapy was in the bathroom when it says flush twice,” she said, “and it has the big radioactive sign. I’m like, ‘I’m really dangerous — I’m really dangerous to somebody else,’ but I never thought about that until I went into the bathroom.”
A mother’s concern
Lindsey said it was difficult when her daughters were diagnosed.
“I went to pieces,” she said. “I said, ‘why couldn’t it have been me Lord, why couldn’t it have been me again.’ I had already had it one time, and I had already lived most of my life. I just didn’t want anything to happen to my children.”
Snooks said her mother hit the ground running when she and Grovenstein were diagnosed. She was there for biopsies and when Grovenstein was in isolation.
“Yes, she fell apart, and as a mother that’s a natural instinct,” Snooks said, “but she took care of the grandchildren, too. Not only did she take care of us, she helped with us. She took care of the grandchildren when we had to be at doctor visits. You do what you have to do.”
Lindsey’s husband survived a heart attack in 1996.
“He said he was left here for a reason,” Lindsey said. “Well, it was to haul his grandchildren around.”
Life going on
All three of the women continued to work during treatments. Snooks said the three have been involved in Relay for Life since it began in Effingham County. Lindsey said this year her husband is a team captain for the church’s team. Snooks said he is a team captain for the church during relay, but when the women were diagnosed, he was their team captain during treatment.
“He’s a positive person,” she said. “He fell apart when (Lindsey) had it. He drove me to many of my treatments and (Grovenstein) as well.”
Grovenstein said her dad had her go for a ride with him one day while she was having treatments.
“We were just riding along, and nobody was saying anything about how I was feeling or anything. And he said. ‘let me just tell you one thing right now. This is how I felt when I had my heart attack — I could either beat it, or I could let it beat me. Now you’ve got to make up your mind.’”
She said she thinks he knew she was sulking because she was thinking about her 7-year-old, and how he was her only child, and she would now probably never have another child because of the chemotherapy.
“I was worried about watching him grow up,” she said. “Now he’s graduating from high school,” she said.
Passing on the lessons
Grovenstein and Snooks said they believe their children are able to relate to and help their friends who have had parents or grandparents diagnosed with cancer.
Lindsey said when she was diagnosed having a mammogram was not common, but those she worked with began having the screenings.
Grovenstein said they’ve had so many friends who have been diagnosed with cancer, and many people who have died.
“I figure God gave this to me for a reason, and that was to help other people through it,” she said. “If I help one person through it, then it was worth it. Not necessarily worth it, but you can just be proud that you can be there for somebody because you’ve walked in those shoes.”
All of the women have been available for others who have been diagnosed and able to answer questions regarding treatment.
Snooks said Relay for Life is a huge support to be with people who have been through the same experiences.
“To do the walk, number one you’re doing it to honor folks, number two in memory of many people,” she said. “Each year we go out there, and each year it’s the same emotional feeling, no matter how many times you do it. It’s very special that someone has taken the time to recognize folks who have been through such a disease like cancer.”
Grovenstein said the experience can is “bittersweet.” “The worst thing is to get there and see all the people who could be there,” she said.
Grovenstein said as a survivor you have to be emotionally ready to participate in the event. Snooks said her first year walking the survivor lap was very hard.
“We’re so proud about raising money for research because every dime means they’re closer to finding a cure,” she said.
Lindsey is a member of the Rosebuds Breast Cancer Support Group, which is the largest team at the event this year.