Because we never get tired of learning from brave women (and men). Here’s the profiles I did for Northwest Florida Daily News.
‘I was more scared about surviving’
Life after surviving breast cancer was a big adjustment for Mackenzie Baughn.
In February 2011, at the age of 28, Baughn discovered a lump in her breast after a routine self exam.
After a biopsy, doctors found that Baugh’s cancer was a triple negative and growing aggressively. Being triple negative also made Baugh susceptible to ovarian cancer and for cancer to spread to her other breast.
And so a week after diagnosis, she decided to have a bilateral mastectomy and a hysterectomy to get rid of the aggressive cancer and to prevent it from coming back. This would mean Baughn would not be able to have the baby she and her husband were hoping to have one day.
“We were actually planning to try to have kids around that time,” she said. “But after the diagnosis, I was more scared about surviving.
“It was my choice. I wanted to make sure it would not come back.”
Baughn had her surgery and most treatments at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which was a long haul from her home in Navarre. Fortunately, she had a place to stay at the American Cancer Society’s Joe Lee Griffin Hope Lodge in Birmingham.
“They had free transport for my treatments, a private room and a common area for cooking,” Baughn explained. “During radiation, I had to stay for two months. I couldn’t afford it without the Hope Lodge.”
By October 2011, Baughn had finished her treatment. But she hasn’t forgotten the battle. She attends the twice-monthly Bosom Buddies support group at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center and is this year’s honorary chair at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.
As for kids, Baughn hasn’t given up on that dream.
“My husband and I are looking into adoption,” she said. “It’s funny, when my sister and I played with Barbie dolls, hers would always be pregnant and mine would adopt children. I guess I always thought that would happen.”
‘This is going to be my mission’
The year Donna Fought turned 40, she had her first mammogram and continued to do so every year.
But after a few yearly appointments, the Shalimar woman wasn’t so diligent. In fact, she even talked herself into keeping those appointments every two years, instead of one, until she lost complete track.
“I was 50 years old and decided to finally get a mammogram when the doctor found a large mass in my right breast,” she said. “Comparing films from previous mammograms was useless since my last one had been six years ago.”
Like so many cancer survivors, Fought remembers the day of her diagnosis — April 12, 2011. In the eight days between her diagnosis and mastectomy, Fought had a lot of emotions. One of them was guilt.
“I felt responsible,” she said. “My friends and family were a huge support system, but I felt guilty how much time I stole from them.”
After surviving breast cancer, Fought sees each new day as a bonus.
“You need to enjoy everyday to the fullest,” she said. “I have always been family-oriented, but now, I hold them closer.”
Paying it forward, Fought has donated her time to the cause by raising money with the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.
“The first one I went to was four months after my mastectomy,” she said. “I thought, what better way to end this horrible event?”
As Fought is currently undergoing reconstructive surgery, she continues to “fight for a cure” for her two daughters and granddaughters.
“This is going to be my mission. There’s no better cause. One in 8 women will be touched by breast cancer in their life. I don’t want them to go through this.”
‘Yes, men can get breast cancer’
When Dave Parisot felt a lump in his left breast back in July 2010, he knew what it was.
After watching his older sister and two nieces fight breast cancer, Parisot knew that men could be diagnosed, too. Although he never suspected it could be him.
“I had weight-loss surgery in February 2010,” he said. “After losing the fatty tissue, I could feel the lump.”
When Parisot went to the doctor, he found out the cancer was stage 2. In August, he had his mastectomy. He did not have to undergo chemo or radiation.
Perhaps the most difficult part of Parisot’s breast cancer battle was continuing his campaign for Okaloosa County Commissioner, but he didn’t let the diagnosis get in the way. He ended up winning the election and is still the District II commissioner.
“I had my surgery six days prior to the primary election,” he said. “When I was released from the hospital, I went straight to a campaigning event.”
Ironically, Oct. 1, the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, was when Parisot was told he was cancer-free. A few days later, he went public with his experience.
“Yes, men can get breast cancer,” he said. “People just aren’t aware. It is fairly rare. But I’m not the only male in the community. I’ve had other men come up to me to share their story after hearing about my experience.”
During the month of October, you’ll likely see him sporting one of his many pink ties and survivor pins. In the past, he was an honorary chairmen of the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk and was the first male to grace the cover of the “Emerald Lady Journal” for a breast cancer themed issue.
“I have more pink shirts than I’m probably supposed to have,” he said with a laugh.
About 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States every year, compared to more than 230,000 diagnosed women. Even though breast cancer is generally seen as a woman’s cause — even the ribbon is a stereotypical pink — Parisot doesn’t shy away from embracing his survival story.
‘I don’t have time for cancer’
Jheri Bailey-Brown never had a mammogram.
“When I would go to the doctors, I would lie and say I was making my appointments, because I didn’t want to get yelled at,” she said. “But there’s not cancer in my family so I though, why bother?”
But two years ago when she felt a mass in her breast, Bailey-Brown knew it was cancer. It was a Thursday night, and she leaving town the next morning for a wedding in Louisiana.
“When we got back home, I made an appointment for that Tuesday,” said the Mary Esther woman. “By then, the lump had doubled in size and I started to feel one in my armpit.”
From that appointment, Bailey-Brown had her mammogram, was then sent for an ultrasound and finally a needle biopsy before the doctors told her what she already knew.
“I could tell by the way they were rushing around that it was serious,” she said. “I told the doctor, ‘I know you can’t tell me what’s going on, but tell me what you’re thinking.’ He said, ‘I think it might be cancer.’”
Within two weeks, Bailey-Brown was in surgery. At that point, her cancer was at Stage 3.
“I told the doctors, ‘I don’t have time for cancer,’” she recalled.
After the diagnosis, Bailey-Brown wasted no time giving her daughter the lecture she avoided.
“The first thing I said to my daughter was ‘You need to take care of this,’” she said. “I learned it doesn’t matter if it’s in your family history or not. But now it is in her history.”
Through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Bailey-Brown used humor to cope. When she learned that 1 in 8 women would be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lives, she got a shirt that read “I took one for the team.”
“I never took it seriously, I couldn’t,” she said. “I would be home asking my kids to get me a drink of water, or asking my husband do get me a chocolate sundae at 11 p.m. If they protested, I would say ‘Come on, I have cancer.’”
After surviving breast cancer, Bailey-Brown said the lesson she learned was how to care for people.
“I had a neighbor, Dino, that I was close to,” she said. “But when he got cancer, I bailed. I didn’t know how to act. But I learned that when you’re sick, you’re still human. That’s why I never wanted anyone to treat me like a cancer patient.”
“Just treat me like Jheri.”