Redfield woman says battle with breast cancer changed her outlook on life

Experience pushed her to be better mom, better wife, better friend

Connie Sieh Groop
Special to the Farm Forum

It started with a small bump. Maybe it was a zit or was it something more? A Redfield woman feels very lucky that she had breast cancer. The experience left her stronger than ever, embracing life with incredible vigor.

“After you meet all these other women dealing with other issues, I feel I was extremely fortunate,” Emily Rodgers said. “At age 27, my cancer was an invasive ductal carcinoma at stage 3 and completely riddled my breast. They diagnosed me in November 2017. While surgery removed both breasts, it was a textbook case. It had not spread to the lymph nodes. It was fairly simple. I went through 8 weeks of chemotherapy with a week off in between and so started in January 2018 and completed treatment April 20 at the Edith Sanford Breast Center in Sioux Falls.”

She shared that she had no family history and was surprised that what she thought could have been a zit started growing. “My mom had cysts removed at about my age, so I didn’t worry about it.”

Emily said their family got a new puppy and she noticed that the puppy wanted to lick the bump. “It began to hurt so I told one of my close friends, who is a Physician’s Assistant, and she thought it might be an allergic reaction. That’s the reason I went in. I didn’t really think the puppy could tell anything, but after I got my diagnosis, I told Max I owe him a steak dinner for the rest of his life as he’s the one who made me get checked. They say dogs can sense illnesses and now I believe it.” She said the blue heeler/English shepherd mix isn’t getting steaks, but he is treated well.

From movies, Emily expected to get sick during treatment but she said it wasn’t bad. “I started out with the drug A/C. It felt like a terrible hangover for the first week after chemo with really bad bone aches. They gave me a Neulasta shot that lasted for a few days. I lived mostly on peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches as that was the only thing my stomach could handle.”

With the second round and a different drug called Taxol, “I had some neuropathy, but I felt great with a lot of energy. I’m glad to say the neuropathy wasn’t permanent and I don’t seem to have aftereffects other than chemo brain. That’s like mom brain. My husband gives me a hard time when I can’t remember certain words like pen. It’s getting better.”

Emily had tons of support. With two young children and treatments in Sioux Falls, her husband Kaleb couldn’t go with her each time. Lennox, 3 and Braxton, 4, needed him to be at home. Her mom Diane Moncur and dad Jim Moncur went a couple of times but mostly it was her mom. Her brother and his wife Brian and Amy Moncur, live in Sioux Falls so she would go down Thursday, go out for supper and stay with them. “I had a comfortable bed and got to be a part of their lives and enjoyed going to basketball and volleyball games with them. It brought me much closer to him and his family.”

While her family hadn’t dealt with cancer, her husband’s grandmother and grandfather had died from cancer. Her mother-in-law had watched her parents get terribly sick and die. “It was really hard for her to see me go through treatment.”

After Emily’s last treatment, it was time to celebrate. Her very conservative banker husband rented a suite for them to stay in. They dressed up and he took her out for a big supper at Morrie’s. “That was very special, as we don’t do that kind of thing. To top it off, it was in April so it was calving season.”

Mom knew Emily normally had a lot of anxiety and helped her work through it. After the second treatment, her mom treated them to tickets to see the Wizard of Oz at the Pavilion, which she totally enjoyed. “That’s one of my favorite shows and I love it.”

Emily would drive to her appointments with her mom riding shotgun. On the way home, her mom would drive while Emily slept. The day before the second treatment, “I remember we’d stopped for gas and I ran my fingers through my hair. When mom got back in the car, I showed her this clump of hair in my hands. I just looked at her and, trying to curb my emotions with humor, I said I’m going to shave my head. I don’t have a hat or a wig, and I have to do something. After some joking and laughter, I pulled what was left on top of my head and put it in a ponytail. When I got home, I shaved my head. “I told mom, I will not let some disease take my hair; I’ll do it on my own. And I did.”

Hearing she was going to lose her hair brought emotions to the surface when discussing her treatment plan with the doctors. She worried about that her kids would be afraid of her, but they weren’t. Braxton burst out laughing and told her, “Mom! You look like an alien!”

During treatment, Emily said she was let go at her job. Fortunately, she found work at Heartland State Bank in Redfield. “My bank hired me knowing I’d have to go through treatments and so technically, I was part-time and was paid an hourly wage until I completed treatment. They worked with me and I moved into my full-time position. Being let go was hard, but now that I’m here, I’m much happier.”

Emily appreciates the support she got from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. “When I was going through treatment, I couldn’t find anyone my age that I could talk to about what I was going through. Most were older and didn’t have young kids. The Foundation really helped. Since then, I’ve been super involved with Susan G. Komen as the funds raised stays local for doing research and helping people. It goes to help people like me. We have good jobs and good insurance, but it’s still a big financial hit. Small things make a big difference. I’m among the top fundraisers in South Dakota each year.”

Emily said that really the hardest part is after treatment is over. “The attention stops and people stop asking how you are doing. It was tough to get out of the shower and look at your body that was heavier because of all the steroids. I was a runner, in good shape with a 6-pack. Then I was 30 lbs. heavier, so it was hard to look in the mirror. It’s a survivor struggle and you learn to take it.”

Pushing through all that, she now embraces a new outlook on life. “The process pushed me to talk about my anxiety and take on speaking engagements back in her hometown of Miller. By talking about what I’ve gone through, it helps others. I was privileged to help a childhood friend even shave her heard after her diagnosis. We share common ground that no one else understands.”

As she reflects on her experience, Emily said, “Breast cancer humbled me in an incredible way. It took a lot from me but gave me much more. I feel like I’m a better mom, a better wife, a better friend. It’s pushed me harder in my career and sharpened my focus on my goals. My life is so much better and I’m thankful for every minute in it.”

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