Last October, Sarah Hesson was enjoying an ordinary fall when, in no time, her world changed.
Sarah found a lump in her breast but casually ignored its significance. Like many, she thought it was nothing, hoped it was nothing. While it grew and became more painful, a few close friends encouraged her to have it examined by her doctor.
First there was an ultra sound, a mammogram and then a biopsy.
On Oct. 16, 2012, Sarah was diagnosed with lobular cancer.
“I remember I was going to pick my kids up from tutoring that day, and I was driving to there. It was the radiologist from my biopsy on the phone, and he talked really fast. I remember him saying, ‘You have lubular cancer,’” Sarah said.
Treatment started with eight rounds of chemotherapy — four hour-and-a-half long sessions in Newton and four four-hour sessions at John Staddard Cancer Center in Des Moines under the watch of a doctor.
In Newton, Dr. Tom Buroker provided Sarah with care, assistance and reassurance.
“He was the best,” she said. “He always kept your spirits up and never let you believe that anything was going to go bad.”
Although everyone’s journey is different, Sarah said her chemo treatment was easier than her radiation treatment.
On March 22 of this year, after her chemotherapy was through, Sarah had a double mastectomy.
“They always say they have to take both because they say the chance that cancer will come back in the other breast is 70 percent,” she said.
Since Sarah had no family history of breast cancer, she took a mutation test and found out that she was a carrier of the cancer gene. Due to her higher risk, she knew what decision she had to make.
In April, just one month later, Sarah began the strenuous and painful journey of radiation in Des Moines.
The treatment consisted of 33 daily rounds of radiation that lasted every day Monday through Friday until May 23, and it wasn’t easy.
“It was like you’d been out in the sun on the hottest day you could remember, and you were just so tired and overheated with no energy,” Sarah said of the radiation. “It just zaps you. It zaps your energy. It was harder to get motivation and keep a positive mindset.”
While Sarah was going through chemo and radiation, she was able to connect with other people going through the same situation. They had something in common.
One woman started chemo the same day Sarah did in Newton, and then she ran into her down the road at John Stoddard Cancer Center in Des Moines. Sarah always wondered how she ended up doing. Recently, she said she happened to see her at Walmart and was relieved to know she was okay.
One man, an older gentleman she became friends with at John Stoddard, was there every day at the same time as she was. They all wore stocking hats in the waiting room, and he came in one day with a funny, colorful hat with flowers. She said she’ll never forget that day and his spirit.
Throughout Sarah’s treatments, she credits her family, friends and work — people like her long-time boyfriend Don Cole, her children, her parents and her aunts — for their continual support and love.
Her aunt Judy Barr was able to provide Sarah with guidance and expectations about reconstructive surgery because she had gone through it in the past, and her aunt Barb Barr, who helped take her to nearly every radiation treatment in Des Moines, was a consistent support system as well.
Barb prepared for their first road trip to Des Moines by putting a bucket and towel in her car just in case Sarah needed it. She never did, but they both got a laugh due to Barb coming so prepared.
“Through the process, we got closer, and it was a good time. That’s what you do when you love someone,” Barb shared. “She had a really hard year, but I’m glad that it’s over.”
Her parents were also there for Sarah, providing her with love and strength.
The hardest part of Sarah’s journey over the last year, she said, was after she noticed a big chunk of hair come out in the shower one morning after five rounds of chemo. She decided to have it shaved off and she went directly to her mother. Sarah insisted it was time, and the two shared the moment of Pauline shaving Sarah’s head. It was another decision no one wanted to make, and it forced her to adjust to a new, harsher reality at the time.
“It was a hard adjustment for me and for my family here at home to see me like that. I still look back at pictures,” she said.
Sarah grew up in Newton, and it is the town she calls home. She is the daughter of Steve and Pauline Hesson and is a CNA at Newton Health Care Center. She is a mother, spouse and caretaker.
“She is truly a hard worker,” said Roz Drella, director of nursing at Newton Health Care Center.
She and Don have four children: Adriana, 14; Grant, 13; Brandon, 5; and Courtney, 3.
Sarah was working at Newton Health Care Center when she was diagnosed, and she expressed gratefulness for their support during that year. Not only did they happily hold her position until she was through with cancer, but they were there for her with support and encouragement.
“She’s a great employee and we value the tremendous way she adds compassion care to our residents’ lives,” Roz said. “We definitely kept in touch with her because not only do we value her, but most importantly, our residents value her.”
Every six months, Sarah goes back to have her blood work drawn.
“You kinda forget about having cancer, and then you go back and hope to God that you make it out of there.”
Now life is fairly back to normal for Sarah. She went back to work on Sept. 9, which she admits made her slightly nervous.
The staff and residents were thrilled to have Sarah back, and after her shift they had a surprise for her — a cake party, a room of smiles and an applause for her return.
“It was nice to be back with them because we’re like their second family,” Sarah said.
Sarah’s family was her guiding light throughout her fight. Her children kept her positive and distracted from dwelling, and Don remained a strong source to come home to.
“I want to tell Don, ‘Thank you,’ because I don’t think I ever told him he was a huge support. Thank you for being strong for our family and for me.’”
After a remarkable, long a unknowing year, Sarah has been free and cleared of cancer, as her blood work came back negative.
“I felt good through the whole thing,” she said. “I know some people have a hard time, and I was blessed I got through it and feeling good.”
“You always think that ‘it’s not going to happen to me,’ and then one day it does,” she explained. “It has made me a strong person, that I battled through that. Now, I have a mindset that whatever I want to do in life I can do. I know more than ever that life is too short. You never know what each day will bring.”
Staff writer Kate Malott may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 422, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.