BERGHOLZ - Stacy Davis of Bergholz is a breast cancer survivor on a mission.
Yes, she's walking the survivor's lap Friday for the first time when the 16th-annual Steubenville Area Relay for Life gets under way after opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. at the Robert Kettlewell Memorial Stadium at Indian Creek High School in Wintersville.
But beyond her participation in the event sponsored by the Jefferson County Unit of the American Cancer Society, Davis stands ready to raise awareness about the disease that turned her life upside down more than a year ago when she was first diagnosed.
CELEBRATING LIFE – “Imagine A World with More Birthdays” is the theme of the 16th-annual Steubenville Area Relay for Life sponsored by the Jefferson County Unit of the American Cancer Society. Stacy Davis of Bergholz is a breast cancer survivor walking in the relay’s opening lap for the first time with fellow survivors.
-- Janice R. Kiaski
"I make sure to tell my story hoping one person will go home and do a self-breast exam or have that mammogram they've put off," Davis said, explaining the success rate for early detection "is great compared to what it used to be."
"I hope I raise awareness, and I'd love to get into speaking publicly about it," said Davis, who resides with her husband, Tom Costlow, and their two children, Nicholas, 6, and Lorelei, 2, on a more than 100-acre farm. The couple raise beef cattle in addition to her work as a veterinarian at Carrollton Animal Hospital and his work as a registered nurse at Trinity Medical Center West.
It was the end of March 2009 when Davis discovered a lump in her breast and by April 6 had the biopsy-confirmed diagnosis of breast cancer.
"I was devastated," Davis recalled of her initial mindset spiraling through a worst-case scenario.
Davis said she had prepared herself mentally for estrogen positive breast cancer and a course of attack that would include a double mastectomy. "In my mind I was going to do that, probably have radiation and be fine," she said.
Davis said her mother, the late Karen Davis, and aunts had battled breast cancer successfully with radiation treatments.
But her diagnosis of estrogen negative breast cancer was news she said she wasn't prepared for.
"Once I got that phone call, that was my low moment," Davis said, explaining the estrogen negative breast cancer meant chemotherapy treatment was necessary first, something she was especially afraid of.
"The thought of chemotherapy frightened me the most because of the preconceptions of it," said Davis, who worked to regroup and forge ahead.
"I didn't go back to work for two weeks until I could get myself situated," Davis said, crediting the counseling and compassion extended by the Rev. Carol Smith, pastor of Richmond United Methodist Church, in helping her through a dark time. She encouraged Davis to think a positive thought for every negative thought.
"I got to a point where the negative thoughts became less and less," she said.
"Angels are like diamonds. They can't be made. You have to find them," Davis said.
"My angels are my church family, my children, my father (George Davis), my husband, my dad's girlfriend (Carolyn Milhoan) and her family and close friends. The support was just overwhelming," Davis said, explaining one best friend, Aimee Call, sent daily cards of encouragement for a month, then on a weekly basis.
Her eight treatments of chemotherapy every three weeks began at the end of April 2009. After the first of eight treatments, Davis said she shaved her head given her hair was thinning. "I figured I'd beat it to the punch."
Davis said she kept busy and worked to maintain a normal routine during her treatments. On Oct. 21, she underwent a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Then radiation treatments began at the end of November 2009, right after Thanksgiving.
"You look at things totally different," she said. "You view your whole image of yourself differently when illness becomes your new reality," Davis said.
"I wanted to draw close to friends and family, and little things I might not have noticed before, I do now. I know I try to find something special about every day. I look for something new and beautiful every day, and it's not hard to find."
Davis had five days of radiation for six weeks, finishing in January. In December she began a three-year commitment to a clinical trial drug.
"I feel good now," said Davis, who is mindful to follow a low-fat diet and exercise daily.
Davis participated in the ACS Stride for Life held in Canton in October and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Pittsburgh on Mother's Day.
Last year, Davis said she participated casually, walking some at the Relay for Life at the urging of Kathy Woods, a breast cancer survivor who was among the first to call and offer support when Davis was initially diagnosed.
But this year is different.
She has a team of about 45 members. The team's name is Stacy's Pink Posse. "I took nominations for names and let the people vote on them. That one won," she said.
Organizing fundraisers has been in place with one successful event being a Bark in the Park in Carrollton that attracted the participation of 85 dogs. At the relay, where the team will pitch a tent, decorate to a western theme and wear pink cowboy hats, on-site fundraisers will include a drawing for a Longaberger Horizon of Hope basket and plate and a barn quilt. Davis looks forward to walking in the survivors' lap and participating with gusto in the relay itself.
"You find comfort and support from others involved because everyone there is touched by cancer in some way. I was blown away by the event last year, so this year is another way to fight back against the disease and celebrate being a survivor."
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)