A sea of 200 women wearing pink greeted guest speaker Theresa Long, RN BSN, at the 10th annual Ladies Night Out Breast Cancer Awareness program and dinner, held last Thursday at the Mahoning Valley Country Club.
Chairing the event were the Ladies Night Out committee, Lois Richards, RN BSN; Mary Lou McGeehan, community education coordinator at Blue Mountain Health System; Denise Kennedy, public relations assistant; Alicia Silliman, administrator at The Summit; and Lisa Johnson, vice president of public relations and marketing. The event was sponsored by an education grant from the Lehigh Valley Women's 5-K Classic.
Long shared her life story, inspiring and invigorating the women attending the event.
She wove a moving journey of finding out that she had breast cancer when she was single and 33, and how blessed she has been in her life.
"I was healthy and I wasn't thinking that I had cancer," she said, adding that she was holding her niece and nephew on her lap and their heads bumped against her chest and it was painful.
Since she had heard that breast cancer was not painful, she thought she had no worries, but decided to have a mammogram. Initially, she was cleared but a second opinion found breast cancer.
While undergoing breast cancer treatment, she said her reaction was, "Am I going to die?" Her second reaction was, "Am I going to lose my breast?"
While she was terrified, she asked for the best treatment. She chose a lumpectomy and radiation because she feared chemotherapy since she wanted to have children.
"This was part of God's plan," she said.
During her recovery, she met her husband and later had a son. When she was 40, with 5-year-old and 11-month-old sons, she was diagnosed with cancer in her second breast.
There she was, a mother with two young children and she was facing cancer treatment a second time.
Long said that if she would have had any idea that she would get breast cancer a second time, she would have had a double mastectomy.
She has since gone for genetic testing and found out that she has the "breast cancer gene," BRCA1 that predisposes her to breast cancer.
She advised women to be proactive about their health and have regular mammograms, but to also be their own best advocate and seek second opinions when they have questions or feel that something doesn't add up in their health.
"Your weapon is knowledge," she said. "Ask a lot of questions."
She also noted that if women do not have health insurance, they can still get free mammograms which are also paid for by grants from the Lehigh Women's 5-K Classic.
The Lehigh Valley 5-K Classic education grant covered the cost of the meal and educational program for the women attending the event.