Before her cancer diagnosis, Monica Chamber’s life was typical of a wife and mother of three. “I worked and took care of my family. We went to the movies, fishing, shopping and to football games on Friday nights,” Monica remembers. “I participated in choir at church and helped with youth; I led a full life.”
In June 2012, Monica followed her doctor’s recommendation to have a mammogram after her 40th birthday and the results revealed she had breast cancer. The course of treatment would require chemotherapy followed by radiation.
“When I first heard my diagnosis, I was horrified and I refused treatment,” Monica remembers. “I was mad and I fell into depression; breast cancer felt like a certain death sentence.” Family and friends rallied in support of her, and their love and encouragement eventually gave her the courage to begin treatment. Monica, an Opelika native, remembers arriving for her first day of treatment at the Cancer Center of East Alabama and how vulnerable she felt. “The nurses and staff at the Cancer Center were so kind and welcoming that I enjoyed going to treatment,” she says. “They treated me like I was part of their family.”
After Monica began treatment, she decided to join a local cancer support group. The cancer survivor support group was led by EAMC Oncology Social Worker Chelsea Kroll. “It was the best thing that could have happened in my life,” Monica says. “Don’t be afraid of the challenges that lie ahead or to speak about your experiences, because you never know who you may help along the way. The survivors in my support group became like a second family to me. Even now, three years later, I still attend the group every week.”
As Monica reflects on her journey as a cancer survivor, she notes how it positively changed her. “I don’t take life for granted anymore,” she says. “I am humbled because of the experience. Going through cancer teaches you to take every day one step at a time and not to rush through life. Being around positive and uplifting people is so important and I have become even closer to God through this experience. I know He gave me a second chance.”
Kelli Daniel was a 32-year-old wife and mother of two young boys when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. She knew something was wrong when she began feeling extremely tired and felt a burning sensation around her left collarbone one night at home. “I did a self-exam and felt a knot the size of a lemon in my breast,” Kelli remembers.
Kelli soon visited an urgent care clinic in her hometown of Valley, Ala., because she knew there was something very wrong. Within a week, results confirmed aggressive cancer in her left breast. Her diagnosis led to the removal of the affected breast followed by chemotherapy and radiation. “I have to give credit to Linda Parker (clinical nurse navigator at the Cancer Center of East Alabama),” Kelli says. “She was a huge help and was always there for me. She always set aside time to talk to me and see me when I had an appointment with my oncologist.” Kelli was further encouraged by the love of her sons and husband who reminded her of what she was fighting for, even on bad days. “Their love is my anchor,” she reflects.
Kelli worked full time throughout her entire cancer treatment. While she remained strong after her diagnosis, her journey was not without major challenges. “I remember when I learned I was going to lose my hair—I told my sons (who were 8 and 11 at the time of her diagnosis) that we were going to do something fun with my hair. I wanted them to be excited about life and still have fun even in the midst of bad circumstances. I cut my hair short and wore it in a ‘fohawk.’ After my hair began to fall out, my husband shaved it off for me in our back yard. I remember my sons looking at me and saying, ‘Mommy, you’re beautiful!’ They thought it was cool that I was bald!”
When Kelli remembers her experience at the Cancer Center of East Alabama, she is reminded of her time in the chemo room. “That was probably the most fun I had during treatment,” Kelli says. “I remember when I arrived for my first treatment, everyone was so glum and depressed. I said ‘Nope! We are going to have fun today!’ I wanted the group of patients that I was with to be the first group of cancer patients to leave chemo thinking that they had a great time. After that, we were always laughing and joking together.”
Two years following treatment, Kelli received reconstructive surgery. While she is thankful for her survivorship, there are many challenges that occur after cancer. “Finding the new normal is a task,” Kelli explains. “You wonder why you survived…and you feel guilty for struggling because you are so thankful to have survived. My body has changed dramatically—depression reared its ugly head and my energy has decreased tremendously. It’s a slow process, but I’m not going to give up. I still have a lot of fight in me.”