Christy’s Story, Part 2: A Mother’s Fight Sheds Light On Family Love

The music began. Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains seemed to sway with the rhythm of this special August day. Christy Lewis turned her head, eyes fixed on her oldest daughter. Her soul filled with joy. Makayla was getting married, and Christy was grateful to be there — to be alive.

What a difference a year makesLast August, Christy was recovering from a double mastectomy at Upper Valley Medical Center.

“I just felt very privileged to be part of her special day,” she says. “It made my heart so happy.” She is also thankful her daughter changed her plans to elope and decided on a Tennessee wedding instead. Life crises have a way of changing plans.

Taking it all in on this sweltering August Saturday, Christy felt keenly aware of the fight that allowed her to carry out her mother-of-the-bride role.

It’s been a tough 20 months since her January 2020 diagnosis of triple-negative bilateral invasive ductal carcinoma stage 2 breast cancer. Christy clung tightly to the love of family and her faith as she battled her way through five months of chemotherapy, the surgery, 30 radiation therapy treatments, and two health scares.

“I prayed,” she says. “And I talked a lot to Jesus.”

Christy is thankful to her Premier Health team who cared for her then and now. She specifically recalls the compassion shown by nurse practitioner Heather Zuhl, CNP, when Zuhl revealed her diagnosis.

“My husband and daughter were at the appointment with me,” she recalls. “And Heather had these tears in her eyes.”

Her journey from diagnosis to treatment was quick. Within four days, Christy was sitting in her oncologist’s office going over a treatment plan. “They don’t play around when it comes to cancer,” she says.

Christy cites fatigue as her constant companion. She knows her body is still recovering. However, she admits to being someone who “can’t sit idle.” And family keeps her busy. She has an 11-year-old special needs son, Luke, four adult children, and six grandchildren. 

“I didn’t slow down,” she explains. “I didn’t stop. I refused to allow myself to even process what was going on.” Going through cancer treatment during a pandemic didn’t help.

“I’m doing well, but I’m tired,” she says. “It’s been mentally and physically draining on everybody.” Even at a young age, her son Luke understood the gravity of his mother’s illness. Similarly, he understood her triumph last fall when Christy completed her last radiation treatment.

“I said to Luke, ‘Guess what? Mommy had her last radiation treatment today.’ And he said, ‘Mama, you made it!’ ”

Christy’s survival approach as been to put one foot in front of the other – a strategy she shares in a Facebook support group she helps run. The strategy has served her well through two health scares.

In January — a year after her diagnosis — Christy experienced aching pain in her hips. She feared the cancer had spread. But testing revealed otherwise. The culprit was arthritis – a side effect of chemotherapy that she has learned to manage.

In May, Christy overcame another scare. She found a lump in her left breast. Quick assessment from her oncology team and diagnostic testing calmed her fears. The “lump” was scar tissue caused by radiation therapy.

“I look back and I think, holy cow, my body went through a lot, but it’s OK because I’m alive.” Christy also suffers from fibromyalgia. So, when she gets a new pain, it’s unsettling.

“I think I’m still holding my breath because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she confesses. “It’s this nice combination of worry and fear and getting old.”

Christy’s survival approach of putting one foot in front of the other will take her to her next six-month, follow-up scan in December, followed by semi-annual scans until year five. She’ll go to annual scans from there.

Christy spouts off with ease the dates of her diagnosis, treatments, and her double mastectomy. But there’s a new date that has risen to the top. One that takes her forward. Her cancer free anniversary, which she celebrated August 18 – just 10 days before Makayla’s wedding.

“I’m just looking forward to another year of being cancer free and having more memories with my grandchildren, husband, and children.” Next up? Her 45th birthday in October and the birth of her seventh grandchild in November.

She admits her cancer journey has changed her to some degree, yet it does not define her. Nor does her new body without breasts. “It’s [breast reconstruction] a really big decision, but it’s OK to go flat,” she says. “It’s kind of freeing.”

Christy lives for each new day, taking nothing for granted. “It could change in the blink of an eye,” she says. “And when I make a promise, I keep it. I always did that. Now, it just means a whole lot more.”

She also sets more boundaries with people. “But I love more fiercely also,” she points out.

Reflecting on her journey, Christy displays another survival strategy – a good sense of humor.

“Jesus wasn’t ready for me, and the devil didn’t want me,” she chuckles.

Still, the reality of what she’s been through does creep in from time to time. Christy is clear about where she stands with her cancer foe.

“I just pray it doesn’t come back,” she says. “I mean, I’d fight it, but I want something else to be my fight, like advocating for my son to make sure he has what he needs at school. I just plan on being around for a long time.”

Her 5-year-old granddaughter, Mia, astutely understands this gift of survivorship. During a recent outing, she told Christy, “Mimi, I’m so glad you’re here to spend the day with me.”

Getting your mammogram is your first important step for breast health and to fight breast cancer. Schedule your mammogram online or call (855) 887-7364(855) 887-7364 Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., or Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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