When she was diagnosed with breast cancer 4 years ago, Debbie Simpson, 51, says it seemed like “the worst thing, the big ‘C’.” But since then, she says, she’s had many amazing experiences and received many blessings. One of those has been the opportunity to help other women with breast cancer.
Simpson is a team captain for the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Jackson, Mississippi. The 40 members of her team are associated with the Cancer Care Breast Services at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). She recruits and motivates volunteers, organizes the team and develops creative fundraising ideas like raffles and bake sales.
Team member Roy Duhé, a cancer researcher at UMMC, calls Simpson a hero because of her enthusiasm and commitment. He says, “It’s an honor to work with Debbie on a cause that’s so important to both of us.”
‘In Control’ During TreatmentSimpson has always been good about getting her annual mammogram. In 2006, she noticed changes in her breast and became concerned, but her checkup detected no cancer. Then, a year later, she learned she had been misdiagnosed. She had a stage 3 triple negative carcinoma, a kind of breast cancer that spreads and grows quickly.
Her treatment included chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Toward the end of her first round of chemo, she felt very tired. Another chemo drug made her feel like she had a bad case of flu. But Simpson says the most traumatic side effect was losing her hair. So, when it began to fall out, she decided to become proactive. She thought, “I’m going to be in control of this.” She and her husband went into the bathroom and shaved it completely. They had a good cry afterward, and then she says, “I discovered I have a real pretty head!”
Simpson also discovered the TLC catalog, which offers wigs, other hair-loss products, and mastectomy products to women dealing with cancer. Simpson says her favorite wig came from TLC and cost only $42, a lot less than another wig she bought.
Realizing What’s ImportantBut the biggest support she received, says Simpson, was from her sister, who is a 19-year breast cancer survivor, her entire family, community and church. Friends cooked meals for her family, a husband and teenage son and daughter who were still living at home. They asked her out to lunch and celebrated milestones, like the end of her treatment, with parties. Women from her church prayed for her and sent encouraging letters.
She says the experience has helped her realize what’s important, like slowing down and taking stock of things. “I didn’t get as bent out of shape when I came home and the laundry wasn’t done. I realized it was more important to sit outside on the swing and talk to my little girl than to clean the house.”
Simpson wanted to help other women with breast cancer and approached the UMMC about meeting with newly diagnosed patients. This eventually led to her current job as administrative assistant for University Cancer Care Breast Services at UMMC. And she plans to train for the American Cancer Society Reach To Recovery mentoring program, which pairs breast cancer survivors with patients who are newly diagnosed or in treatment.
August 2012 will be Simpson’s 5-year anniversary. She’s had no recurrence of the cancer. She says her experience has taught her to live for today. “I trust the lord and his plan for me is perfect,” she says. “So whatever that will be, will be.”