Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Oct. 9 newspaper on Page A1.
Donna Stage’s breast cancer diagnosis took her by surprise.
She had no noticeable systems leading up to that doctor’s appointment. She had even received positive, healthy results from her mammogram that morning.
Nevertheless, the Athens resident was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer.
Evidently, there were warning signs she missed.
“I left the doctor’s office thinking I was going to drop dead in the parking lot,” she said. “I knew nothing about this, and he didn’t really know how to break the news because it wasn’t something he dealt with all the time. I went into a hysterical fit.”
Just a few days later, Stage connected with a doctor in Columbus who invited her to his office to talk about treatment options. He expressed the importance of resiliency and optimism when fighting cancer, as she would be doing so for the rest of her life.
“He told me I did not have an expiration date on my forehead,” Stage said, “that none of us know when our end is going to come. It could be from this disease; it could be from getting hit by a drunk driver on the way home. You can’t live your life afraid this disease is going to take it.”
Since this doctor’s visit, Stage has learned to appreciate each moment she is given and hopes to instill this mindfulness in her loved ones.
Stage shared her story on Sunday to a crowd of more than 300 listeners at the Southeast Ohio More Than Pink Walk for breast cancer awareness at Ohio University’s Peden Stadium. Stage was one of 30 survivors present who gathered to walk in support of Susan G. Komen Columbus.
This nonprofit has raised over $33 million for breast cancer awareness in the region, which supports the near 400 women in Southeast Ohio who are diagnosed each year.
The Komen organization previously hosted an annual “Race for the Cure” but altered the fundraiser to be a walk this year.
The walk brought in over $45,000 for the cause and had several outstanding contributors. The top fundraising group was Team Cinderella, which raised $1,145; the top “corporate” team was Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, which raised more than $3,200. Jodie Penrod did the heavy lifting on that group, earning top individual honors with $2,839 raised.
Robyn Haines, the host of NBC’s Daytime Columbus show, emceed the walk and explained that proceeds from the event will assist the Komen organization’s goal to reduce breast cancer deaths by 50 percent by 2026. A survivor herself, Haines said this mission is integral to fighting an “unacceptable problem.”
“It was on this very day in 2009 that I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said. “I am here to share with all of you that breast cancer does not discriminate. All of these things happen, they’ve happened to many of us here and they continue to happen to too many people around the world.”
Though the traditional color of Susan G. Komen is pink, participants at this event sported four additional colors to represent the nonprofit’s mission: purple for research, green for care, blue for community and orange for action.
“Of course we do love pink, we all wear it with pride, but fighting breast cancer and saving lives takes more than that,” Haines said. “It takes cutting-edge research, it takes educating about early detection, it takes speaking out to our elected leaders about around-the-clock care and showing our brothers and sisters that whatever they’re going through, they are not alone.”
In addition to supporting victims of the disease, Stage believes there is an essential responsibility to take care of families and friends struggling with a loved one’s diagnosis.
“Sometimes they deal with more emotional trauma that we never see because we’re focused on our own,” she said. “They need support too, and Susan Komen helps with that.”
Stage said her hope is to spread positivity to others who may end up facing a health challenge like breast cancer.
“My granddaughter is here today and I have boys at home,” she said. “If they have to eventually deal with it, I want them to deal with it my way. Cancer doesn’t define my life, it’s just part of my life.”