In August 2015, Colleen Parker of Duluth gave her mother, Virginia Collins, the best birthday present ever. She was able to tell her that she was cancer free. That was about a year after Colleen was diagnosed with Stage 4 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in her left breast, three lymph nodes and her liver. The road getting there was rough, but she kept a very positive attitude throughout.
“People say that hearing the word ‘cancer’ is the scariest thing. But, I wasn’t scared. And I’m not scared now that it might come back. I am strong and I know that whatever is given to me, I can get through it and help others who are scared. To me, the scariest thing would be not believing and not having a positive attitude,” she says.
Her treatment involved chemotherapy, which took her hair and her sense of taste, and also landed her in the hospital as it exacerbated her ulcerative colitis. Her family, friends and colleagues brought her hats to wear and filled her with French fries when her taste buds returned. “They were all amazing,” she says.
She continued to work throughout her treatment. Sometimes, she worked from home and sometimes from the hospital. Her husband got her an iPad so she could work while being treated. People in her office would let her know when she looked or sounded bad and told her to go home. Her customers would send her flowers and comforting emails; one even sang her a voice message: You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. “If that doesn’t give you HOPE, nothing will,” she says.
Her sister-in-law went with her to every doctor’s appointment and to most chemotherapy treatments. Her husband cooked, sometimes four times a night, just to find something that she could eat. He helped her when she couldn’t walk and made her laugh when she wanted to cry. But, cry she did.
“My sister called me one day when I couldn’t go to work and I was crying at home. She came right over and we just sat and cried. She was surprised I hadn’t done this before. That day I realized that I was in pretty bad shape and it was okay to feel sorry for myself every now and then,” she says.
Today, she still goes through smaller treatments every 3 weeks to help prevent recurrence, and it is working: the cancer is still gone. She and her husband have started taking trips every month – to Destin, Mississippi, New Orleans, Helen – appreciating the time they have together.
Colleen takes every opportunity to celebrate life. On the day of her last treatment, her brother was celebrating his 50th birthday. She was very weak, but determined to go to his party. It was a Halloween costume party, so she put on a witch’s hat and went. She didn’t have the strength to dance, but the DJ played a slow song just so she could get on the dance floor. “It was wonderful,” she says. “I couldn’t stay long, but I didn’t want to miss something just because I was weak,” she adds.
“Now I live for each day and hope to be an inspiration to others. Cancer can be beaten, but it takes all of us together!” she says.
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