Carmen Jenkins' two-year battle with breast cancer began when the Monett wife and mother of three detected a lump during a routine breast self exam (BSE).
"I knew instantly this was not normal," said Carmen.
A biopsy was conducted and came back positive, revealing the cancer had spread to Carmen's lymph nodes and had advanced to stage 3 breast cancer.
"I just fell apart," said Carmen. "Nothing can prepare you for the words, 'you have cancer.'"
Carmen sought treatment at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute in Little Rock, Ark., and opted to begin chemotherapy immediately. By the end of six months of treatment, the cancer was gone.
A lumpectomy followed and then Carmen began seven and half weeks of radiation. In July of 2008, Carmen started a year-long regimen of Herceptin treatment. Herceptin is a drug that actually travels through the blood system, finds existing cancer cells and kills them.
"Now, after two years, I'm done," said Carmen.
Carmen says her battle against cancer was exhausting at times, but it was a fight that Carmen never thought of surrendering.
"I looked at my life and thought dying is not an option. I was determined to beat it," said Carmen. "Fighting cancer is a full-tine job. Some days seem to go on forever, and your life is really never the same again.
"It's not all bad though," explained Carmen. "You get to see God at work. You get to see miracles. You gain a greater appreciation of life."
Carmen's faith in God strengthened her for the battle, and the strong support of her husband, Lane, her three children and other members of her family sustained her.
"My husband has been my biggest cheerleader," said Carmen. "And you really find out who your friends are and you develop new relationships."
One of those new bonds was formed with Shelby Linahan, another young woman battling cancer who Carmen carpooled with to Springfield for radiation treatments.
It was during one of these car rides that Carmen and Shelby began talking about how important support from others is when someone is battling cancer.
"We talked about the need for support from other women who've been through it and how great it would be to have that kind of group in Monett," said Carmen.
Carmen and Shelby began talking to others about their plans for a breast cancer support group and dropped off a flyer about the group at Cox Monett Hospital.
On the same day the women dropped the information off at the hospital, Janell Patton, director of community relations and volunteer services at Cox Monett, was discussing the need for a local breast cancer support group with some of her volunteers who then showed Janell the flyer.
"It was another one of those God things," said Carmen.
After Carmen and Janell talked, the hospital offered the group the use of their admissions lobby for meetings and now the Breast Friends support group meets there on the second Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m.
The group has grown from an initial gathering of eight women to around 14. Those participating in the monthly meetings range in age from their 30s to late 70s. Some of the women have been recently diagnosed while others are 15-year survivors.
"If you're the new kid on the block, everybody embraces you," said Carmen. "You instantly have a bond. We're good friends, and we educate each other. Everyone has their own story, and every story is important."
As a result of conversation shared at the support group meetings, a new American Cancer Society (ACS) resource room will soon be opening in the Old Town Pharmacy in Monett.
The resource room will be a private area where women can pick up mastectomy supplies, wigs, protein drinks and other supplies offered at no cost through the ACS to those battling cancer. Carmen hopes the room will be open within the next six weeks.
"The resource room is going to be a great tool for the community," said Carmen. "It will be another way for us to educate people."
A key part of the educational process, according to Carmen, goes back to the importance of the BSE that led to her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.
"This is so important for women," said Carmen. "Breast self examination helps you become familiar with your body, and women need to know that any type of change is abnormal and needs to be checked out."
According to Patton, changes in the breast that are discovered during a BSE should be reported to a doctor immediately. She also pointed out that BSEs do not replace the need for a yearly mammogram.
In an effort to make women more aware of the importance of breast self exams, The Monett Times, in partnership with Cox Monett Hospital, will be running a pink bow in the newspaper's flag on the first publication day of each month. The bow is intended to remind women to do their monthly BSE. Information on how to perform a BSE can be found on page 2 of today's newspaper.