Staff Photo: Erin Evans
The Farmer family join Theresa Farmer in wearing the T-shirts she designed for her Pink Angels Team that recently participated in the 3-Mile Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Atlanta.
COVINGTON — Theresa Farmer and her family have proven true the time-tested cliché, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Less than a year ago, in December 2009, 41-year-old Farmer was diagnosed with breast cancer.
With very little time to process the fact she had cancer, Farmer was put on a fast-moving schedule to aggressively combat her disease.
Over the past 10 months, she has undergone a bilateral mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, six rounds of chemotherapy, weekly doses of chemo medication that will continue through June, and most recently, permanent implant placement.
Farmer said she was dumbfounded when her doctor called to tell her she had breast cancer, a disease that does not run in her family.
"I couldn't believe it. I was thinking, ‘No, not me,'" she said. "My head was definitely swimming. It still is."
Farmer initially went to see her doctor due to what she thought was a skin rash on her breast. A biopsy and invasive MRI, however, showed it was a rare form of cancer called Paget's disease of the nipple. In addition, Farmer had two lumps on her breast, and because of where they were situated, doctors recommended she have both breasts removed.
"We were in a hurry to get it done, but once the ball started rolling, it just came so fast," she said. "I was not prepared for how radical the treatment was going to be."
After her mastectomy, Farmer underwent several rounds of chemotherapy, during which she experienced extreme fatigue, nausea, mouth sores and hair loss. She said she still lives with many effects from the chemo treatment. But earlier this month, Farmer had her first haircut since her diagnosis.
Her road has been difficult and painful, but Farmer said she had a great support system in place to help her through the most trying moments.
"I turned to my family," she said.
She said her mother, mother-in-law and sister-in-law stayed and helped with her two sons, ages 15 and 12, during her surgeries and chemotherapy treatments. She said her church, Macedonia Baptist Church in Oxford, offered tremendous spiritual support and her employers at Precision Machine and Tool Works Inc. in Conyers could not have been more accommodating.
"And of course, I can't leave my husband out," Farmer said. "We've been married for only two years, and he has been tremendous."
Not one to stay down for long, Farmer said she continued to work as much as she could during her treatment and she got involved with a breast cancer support group. She also serves as a team leader for the Pink Angels team that participated in Sunday's 3-Mile Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Atlanta. She had 50 people on her team and the Newton High School ROTC Rifle Team accompanied her as well.
Farmer said she has been so proud of the way her sons have responded throughout her illness.
"My 12-year-old is special needs and doesn't understand my illness very much, but they have both been very supportive," she said. "My 15-year-old has been great. He wears his pink ribbon wristbands, and he and three of his friends walked in the Making Strides walk. He's even wearing his T-shirt today. He has been very supportive and his friends have been very supportive."
Farmer said she encourages all women, young and old, to check out any irregularities with their breasts because it could be a sign of something significant.
"I waited several months because I thought I just had dry skin, but it was cancer," she said.
The experience has helped Farmer become stronger by leaning on others.
"God is in control — he is a great and awesome God," she said. "During the hardest times you may question it, but when you are away from it a bit and I look back, I made new friends, I have been a support for other women and my family has drawn closer together. That's the biggest thing."