March 15, 2010 Peter

Christel Bethea: The Everyday Superhero

As you know the 2010 “To Have & To Hold” breast cancer photo shoot is set into motion. Throughout the year I will be posting stories from breast cancer survivors. If you are a breast cancer survivor and would like to share your story in a published book in which 100% of the net proceeds will be donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation click here.

Let me introduce you to Christel.

The title hit from Smash Mouth, Everyday Superhero is what my story is all about.  My name is Christel Bethea and I’m proud to say I’m a one year breast cancer survivor.  My story is unique because I went against my doctor’s advice to have a benign tumor removed.  The extraction of this foreign object provided me piece of mind and ease that I acted on my early detection instincts.  During my post operation visit, I received the most shocking news of my entire life; the results revealed malignant cancer cells.  How was I going to tell my husband and 2 young active boys that Mommy now has cancer?   As we informed all of my family and friends, I received the same feedback:  “How is this possible?  You are so healthy, work out everyday, and eat wholesome foods.”  I guess this goes to show that cancer has no biases or health specific preferences.

On April 24th 2008, I had a mastectomy on my left breast and the removal of 23 lymph nodes.   I choose to have the Tram Flap procedure which entailed a complete breast reconstruction from the fat cells of my stomach.  My mobility returned within the first two weeks. As a matter of fact, I completed the Susan G Komen 5k Breast Cancer Walk on May 10; 18 days after the initial surgery.  Slowly I began adding all the work-out routines I was accustomed to prior to my cancer diagnosis.  I went to my favorite room in the house (work out room) and began running on my trend mill, climbing my stair master, and working out on my elliptical.  Mentally and physically I was a different person.  I had survived cancer with a reminder of a newly reconstructed breast that was now part of my overall femininity.

My road to recovery began with my Oncologist ordering a sequence of tests to include CT/Bone Scan and MRI’s to verify that all the cancer had been identified.  On May 26th, my husband and I were called in to review the results.  The doctor informed us that the tests results were inconclusive; however, there was a trace of cancer on my Adrenal gland that if positive, would be terminal.  I could not believe what was being said.  I thought I was in the wrong room and this diagnosis was for someone else.  He then informed me that a PET scan would be needed to determine this new found cancer cell.  It would take one week to get the results.  All I could think was that I was going to die and that I needed to go home to get my family affairs in order.

Monday, June 2nd, was one of the best days of my life.  My Oncologist called informing us that the results of the PET scan were conclusive and the adrenal gland did not contain cancer cells.  All I could remember was that I was going to LIVE and from that day forward my new journey began.

Prior to the very first chemo treatment, I sat with my Oncologist to learn about the different changes that would take place in my body as the result of this “poison” used to destroy the cancer cells.  The main side effect would be overall body fatigue and muscle and joint achiness.  My doctor asked me if I worked out on a regular basis as exercise would aid in sustaining some of the body discomfort.  I told him that I was an avid exercise junky in which he responded “that is music to my ears.”

My doctor was correct about the body aches and joint pain.  Three days after my first chemo treatment (June 5th), I felt muscle fatigue and joint tenderness.  Despite my body’s reaction, I decided to go for a run on my treadmill.  Amazingly enough, the pain went away within minutes.  Exercising made me feel rejuvenated, despite all the poisons and toxins that were in my body destroying any possible trace of cancer.

It became apparent to me that walking for the cure had become contagious.  On July 15th, I registered for the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer 3 day walk (60 mile) in Atlanta, GA being held on October 24-26. During the walk, I was standing in line to use the restroom, when a lady named Rachel turned toward me and asked how long I was a survivor.  I told her that I was a 6 month cancer survivor walking the walk while undergoing chemo.  She proceeded to remove a necklace from her neck and place it around mine.  I stood there speechless as she told me her story about her grandmother who had died of breast cancer.  Someone had given her this Avon necklace with the inscription “We Walk as One” right after her grandmother passed.  She told me to hold on to the necklace, and that when the time came, to pass it on.  During that moment, time stood still as we cried and hugged each other.

The above story was the catalyst for my selection in the 2009 Susan G Komen Breast Cancer campaign and commercial opportunity filmed in Hollywood, CA.   This featured commercial, currently being aired, displays me and 17 other survivors and friends with the hit song Everyday Superhero by Smash Mouth playing in the background.  During the commercial, I stated “I’m going to be a 30 year Survivor” as the camera zoomed in on my smiling face.

Surviving breast cancer has awakened the Superhero in me.   I’m more aware of everything I can do and focus on improving my quality of life. My new personal ambition is to walk in the 15 cities featured in the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer walk in which I have 900 miles to go.  Although I’m not a professional athlete, I have led a very active physical life pre and post cancer.  I’m a working professional, wife, mother, and friend.  The lyrics from Smash Mouth describe me the best: “I’m just your average, ordinary, everyday, Superhero”.

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