Fight like a girl

Story by Carlye Hudspeth

Senior Kate Beltson sat in the National Honor Society meeting, debating whether she should speak up. Linda Teeters, the NHS sponsor, discussed the upcoming events with the members. When she brought up the topic of Race for the Cure, she asked if any of the students wanted to set up a team. Kate raised her hand, hoping that she wasn’t drawing too much attention to herself. “We could run for my mom,” she said.

Adrianne Rathburn waited patiently in the doctor’s office with her husband, Bix Rathburn. The room was white, cold, sterile, and comfortless. It consisted of a basic examining table, a chair, and a few old magazines.

As Adrianne’s OBGYN neared the room, she hoped to hear good news. Her family had a history of breast cysts, and she was almost sure that that was all the lump would be.

Adrianne had already gone through a series of tests prior to entering the hospital room. She first had a mammogram, and when the doctors discovered the knot in her breast, she was scheduled to have an ultrasound. After the ultrasound, she had a biopsy.

“I had to have a needle biopsy,” Adrianne said. “They took out a piece of tissue from the tumor and examined it.”

Dr. Stacy Leonard entered the office where Adrianne and her husband sat. In her hands, she held the results of her biopsy; positive for triple negative ductal carcinoma.

“When I was told that I have cancer, I was dumbfounded,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it. I thought that it was just going to be a cyst.”

After Adrianne overcame her initial state of shock, she tried to stay positive.

“I thought to myself ‘How do I get rid of it? What are the steps I’m going to have to take to make it go away?’” Adrianne said. “[I wanted to know] what I would have to go through, who I needed to talk to, and when I could get started. ”

After Mrs. Rathburn and her husband left the hospital, they waited for her daughter, senior Kate Beltson, to return home after spending the day with friends.

“When Kate got home, we sat down with her on the couch,” Adrianne said. “I pretty much told her what we had found out and that we still had a lot of questions. I told her that I thought I’d be just fine, but things were certainly going to change next year for all of us.”

After talking to Kate, Adrianne called the rest of her children to give them the news.

“I have children in three different states,” she said. “It wasn’t easy talking to them on the phone. It’s hard to call somebody cold and give them bad news.”

While talking to her children, Mrs. Rathburn assured them that she’d be okay.

“I firmly believe in God’s ability to heal and to cure,” she said. “I believe that I’m going to be fine in the long run. I don’t have any concerns about my distant future because I have a positive outlook on it.”

Though Adrianne isn’t concerned about what is to come in the next few years, she does worry about the present.

“I’m trying to keep [this year] as normal as possible,” she said. “I’ve already had to make changes in my schedule. I used to teach the Gifted and Talented program for the elementary schools at TISD, and I was planning on doing so this year. But, because of the chemotherapy [treatments I receive], my immune system can be really compromised. The doctors and I both decided that it would be better for me not to be in the classrooms with little children, [exposing myself] to all of those germs.”

For Adrianne, giving up her job and leadership positions has been the biggest change.

“I’m going to do some work from home, writing curriculums and stuff like that,” she said. “I’m still able to do a lot of things, but I’ve given up any positions where I was kind of the go-to person. I don’t want people to have to depend on me to be the one there because I just don’t know from day-to-day how I’m going to feel or if I’m going to be able to make those commitments.”

Though Adrianne hasn’t been ill from her weekly chemo treatments, she oftentimes feels fatigued.

“I have to know when to rest before I get tired,” she said. “It’s hard to bounce back if [I] get too worn out. I’m just trying to take things easy.”

After a patient is told that they have cancer, they’re given a protocol listing the kinds of treatments that patient must have.

“My protocol is six months of chemotherapy, and then I’ll have a month off,” Adrianne said. “Then, I’ll have some type of surgery, whether it be a lumpectomy or a mastectomy is yet to be determined. As far as chemo goes, I have treatments every week for 12 weeks. Then, I switch to a different kind. I’ll have to go every three weeks after that for another 12 weeks.”

Besides fatigue, Adrianne has had few other side effects caused by the chemotherapy treatments.

“I have not been nauseous which is wonderful, but I have lost all sense of taste,” she said. “Nothing tastes like it’s supposed to; it either tastes like cardboard or like metal. I don’t have a feeling of satisfaction when I bite into my favorite food. Nothing tastes good. I eat two or three bites, and then I don’t want anymore. I’m still hungry so I make myself eat, but I don’t enjoy it, and that’s kind of sucky.”

Sometime between Mrs. Rathburn’s third and fourth chemo treatment, she began to lose her hair.

“My hair started to fall out in huge handfuls,” she said. “I thought I was prepared for it, I really did. I didn’t think that it was going to upset me, but I have to be honest; as a girl, I look at myself in the mirror. I don’t have any hair, and that kind of frightens me. But, I got two really great wigs. Kate says that they look a lot like my real hair. I’ve learned to do a lot of really funky wraps with a scarf, so I’m getting the hang of it. It’s going to be okay. It’ll grow back when the chemotherapy is over. That’ll be nice.”

When feeling down, Adrianne remembers an old friend from Savannah, Ga., who had it much worse than she, but continued to persevere and remain strong.

“When we lived in Savannah, I had a friend named Sue Estes,” she said. “Sue is a good bit older than I am. When she was 68, she had a full knee replacement. Four weeks after that, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The poor lady was almost 70 and she had just had a full knee replacement and found out she had cancer. She did a full mastectomy and chemotherapy and the whole nine yards. She’s doing fabulous today, feeling good. I tell myself on days when I feel crappy, ‘If Sue can do it at 68 after a full knee replacement, then I ought to be able to cowboy up and do it too.’”

Mrs. Rathburn knows that she has a long, tough journey ahead of her. Though her fight with cancer has just begun, she has already learned from her experiences thus far.

“I appreciate everyday that I’ve got and recognize just how easy it is to take it for granted,” she said. “I’ve never had health problems, so this has sort of been a slap in the face saying ‘Wake up! You’ve got it pretty good.’”

Adrianne appreciates the things that are most valuable in her life.

“[Cancer] has helped me recognize the things that are most important to me,” she said. “Those things are time with my family, time with my friends, and time with God. We kind of rush around and put the important things on the back burner. Having cancer has given me time to stop and think about my top priorities.”