We are told to brush our teeth, clean our room, look both ways before crossing the street, get annual exams, eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, and stay hydrated. But even when we do “everything right,” things beyond our control can come from nowhere, turning our managed world into a spiraling catastrophe.
It was 2001, and Sharon Hawkins was doing everything she was supposed to do, including routine physicals and screenings. She was enjoying a beautiful moment on a college site visit with her daughter when she received the call. “I need you to call me. We see something strange on your mammogram.” Sharon’s normal, fast-paced life with two teenage children, a stable job, and a loving husband came to a sudden and screeching halt.
When they found her tumor on a routine mammogram, it was less than one centimeter. She quickly underwent an initial biopsy and a lumpectomy one week later. Within a few weeks of her diagnosis, she was declared cancer-free. But that was only the beginning.
Around the same time, Sharon’s cousin shared that she had stage 3 ovarian cancer and informed her it was due to a highly inheritable mutation in the BRCA genes they shared. Sharon’s attention immediately turned to her daughter, Amanda.
Amanda Sanders, a nurse, was 27 years old when it was confirmed that she, too, had the mutation, leaving her with a 97% percent chance of acquiring breast cancer in her lifetime.
Faced with a brutal truth, Amanda accepted that she would need extremely conservative monitoring, not for IF she would develop cancer, but WHEN. The bi-annual MRIs and screenings were mentally and emotionally grueling. “I was always thinking, ok, is this the time I am going to have cancer?” Amanda’s anxiety grew increasingly more unbearable. In 2015, at 31, Amanda and her husband made an impossible decision. Not wanting her children to see her go through cancer and to end the anguish of constant monitoring, she underwent a double mastectomy with reconstruction, turning her chances upside down with a 97% chance of NOT getting breast cancer.
But her journey was not over. Between 2015 and 2021, Amanda endured a total of nine surgeries as a result of complications following her initial procedure. “Many people would say I am brave, but I wouldn’t categorize myself as that. I would say I’m stubborn.” Amanda was not going to let cancer, surgeries, or doctor appointments direct her life. Alongside all of this upheaval, she was working and going to school while raising two children. She has been a nurse since 2007 and, in 2019, earned her master’s degree as a nurse practitioner.
In describing her daughter, Sharon stated, “I think what’s notable here is her perseverance.”
As a healthcare provider, Amanda recognizes that the emotional impact of disease on patients and their families is often under-emphasized in traditional medicine. She understood the physical components of her situation but was unprepared for the impact the journey would have on her emotionally. She now uses the perspective she gained from her experience to prioritize her patient’s emotional and mental needs.
In May 2023, Amanda opened her private practice, BodywoRX Health and Wellness, in Arlington, TN, where she specializes in holistic medicine. Her services include testosterone replacement, vitamin injections, dietary counseling, and overall health and wellness. In addition to running her practice, she works part-time at a local aesthetics clinic.
Sharon and Amanda continue to receive their annual exams and live healthy lifestyles. Sharon loves to workout with low-impact exercises 3-4 times per week and considers walking a staple in her life. At a recent appointment, Sharon celebrated 22 years cancer-free. Amanda stays active and enjoys running, HIIT, and weight lifting.
Even in a world trying to do “all the right things,” no one is immune to the blunders of the body. However, through routine scanning and preventative measures like the ones Sharon and Amanda embraced, early detection and proactive measures can be exploited, saving lives and allowing survivors to truly live.
By Amanda Tompkins
Photo by Tindall Stephens