North Augusta residents Dena Riley and Janice McElmurray are co-workers at the church they both attend – First Baptist Church of North Augusta – and are such good friends they are “like sisters”, they said.
They are also breast cancer survivors.
Riley was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 1998 after a routine mammogram.
“I had no idea that there would be anything to show up,” she said.
When she was told by her doctor that she needed to see a surgeon she “panicked”, she said.
“I had two young children, a first grader and a sixth grader,” she said.
However, going home and seeing shows and news focused on breast cancer, she felt blessed.
“I was very blessed because mine was caught extremely early,” said Riley. “It was in the very beginning stages of cancer.”
She decided to have a double mastectomy although the cancer was only on one side.
“I always thought that was the right decision no matter what but when lab work came back, the other side was in a pre-cancer mode,” she said. “So it was really the right decision.”
The cancer was caught early and was not in any of her lymph nodes, therefore she only had to have the surgery and not undergo treatment.
McElmurray was diagnosed in February 2004 during a regular mammogram.
“It just comes out of the blue and surprises you,” she said of the diagnosis. “I didn’t have any family history of it or any indication that I had it but the mammogram picked it up.”
It was caught at an early stage and she chose to have a lumpectomy.
Unlike Riley, she did have to have treatment and underwent 33 treatments of radiation.
However, it’s their dream that one day no one else will have to experience what they’ve gone through.
“When you first hear that, the ‘big c’, it’s very scary,” McElmurray said. “Of course your first thought is oh goodness, I’m going to die, but that’s not the case necessarily because there are so many new drugs out there, so many new treatments, so many advanced things. But, hopefully one day we will find a cure for breast cancer. It’s why we walk.”
The women have walked in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk event in Atlanta twice and will participate again this year, Oct. 18-20. Over the course of three days, walkers walk a total of 60 miles—20 miles each day.
“It was inspiring,” said McElmurray of participating for the first time back in 2009.
“Most moving experience,” added Riley.
They recall as they came to the end of the walk that year, which ends at Turner Field, that they felt overwhelmed by the support of people, including fellow walkers, who cheered on the breast cancer survivors.
“We hooked arm and arm and walked the last block or so together,” said Riley.
It was inspiring to see how many survivors there were as well.
“You think you’ll get used to it, but you don’t,” said McElmurray. “It reminds you how many are surviving breast cancer every day.”
The team they walk with, Friends 4 Life, has 10 members. Each team has a goal to raise $23,000 for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
To help raise funds, the team has printed a cookbook with more than 160 pages of recipes called Cooking with Friends 4 Life. The cookbooks are $25 each and can be purchased from Parks Pharmacy, Communigraphics or from any of the team members.
All of the profits go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
“We would love to see where others will never have to deal with it (breast cancer),” said McElmurray. “Again that’s why we walk, to find a cure.”