Breast cancer survivor Ann Coffey Waldrop firmly believes early detection is what saved her from having to suffer chemotherapy or radiation during her brief battle with the affliction in 2000.
The 78-year-old of Moulton said she had begun receiving annual mammograms in 1981 when she turned 40 years old. On her 19th mammogram, which happened in April of 2000, an abnormality was found.
“I was just one of these fortunate ones,” Waldrop said. “I’ve had my mammograms every year, and I still go every year.”
Lucky for her, the cancer was caught in the early stages before it could even be classified as Stage I.
She said Dr. Hugh Nabors, a surgeon with Decatur General Hospital, performed a biopsy on May 3, 2000.
“He has always been so kind and caring,” she said. “I’ve had acid reflux surgery, gall bladder surgery, and others, and he’s always held my hand while they’ve put me to sleep—every time.”
After detection, Waldrop had the pea-sized cancerous cells surgically removed.
She was a bookkeeper for East Lawrence Elementary School at the time, and she said she was thankful the procedure didn’t interfere with her work.
The support she received from her family and co-workers made the scariest news easier to bear, she added.
An ELES teacher had also been diagnosed around the same time as Waldrop. She said the school prepared gift baskets for the two of them with instructions to open its contents a day at a time during their procedures.
Following the surgery, Waldrop’s doctor told her that the cancer had not spread into her lymph nodes; she would not have to take radiation treatments.
“I didn’t even have to take a pill,” she said. “Because I was so fortunate, I made up my mind to help my friends who have cancer. Since I haven’t been so sick, I wanted to help those who have to go through that sickness.”
She said she has tried to be there for her friend Linda Lackey, who has had cancer in every organ except her brain and her heart.
“I’ve told Linda to think positive,” she said. “For anyone who’s been diagnosed, stay positive. When you get it, it works on you. People start telling you all the bad things, but you don’t need to think about the sad things. Just stay positive and keep God first.”
Waldrop also began attending Relay for Life in Lawrence County the first year it was held. She joined a Relay team with members of her church, Liberty United Methodist Church of Moulton.
She recalled how touched she was attending her first Relay for Life walk with other survivors and seeing the luminaries lit for those who have fought the battle.
She said she was sad to see that Relay for Life was not returning in Lawrence County this year, as it was an opportunity for her to meet others who have been diagnosed. Before her surgery, Waldrop said she had known no one with cancer, and she wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I knew no one personally that had had cancer. I was just devastated,” she said. “I was thinking the faster I can get it out of my body, the better. I didn’t even think about reconstruction because I didn’t know a lot about it. They told me you can always go back and do it.”
Though Waldrop never had the reconstruction surgery performed, she said she is happy with the form she wears each day.
She uses her story as a word of caution to others, and she urges anyone turning 40 years old to start getting checked each year.
“That’s how mine was found. I had been doing it all those years, and you know, it showed up,” she said. “Go for your mammograms and keep getting them every year.”
She said her daughter, Debbie Blankenship, began getting mammograms at the age of 39.
“No one had to tell her,” Waldrop smiled. Thankfully, her daughter has seen positive results each year and not had any issues arise, she said.
“My family and my church family were very supportive when I had mine,” she added. “I’m thankful because I know it could have been much worse. I’ve seen others struggle with it.”