For Michele Garbers, a cancer diagnosis was always a matter of when, not if. It seemed inevitable, given a family history of the disease that included her great-grandmother and grandmother, who underwent a mastectomy.
Yet when Garbers received news eight years ago that both of her breasts were cancerous it was still a shock. “You don’t expect it at 45,” she said.
Now 53, the Wauseon resident has been named Honorary Chair for the 2017 Relay for Life event scheduled Friday at the Fulton County Fairgrounds. Following the opening ceremony, Garbers will join other cancer survivors for a victory lap around the fairgrounds track.
An active Relay for Life participant the past six years, she coordinates the “Pictures of Hope,” photographic portraits taken of cancer survivors, and performs other tasks.
During Garbers’ annual mammogram in September of 2009, spots were detected in her breasts that were later identified as calcifications. Because they indicated abnormalities she had magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) performed at The Toledo Hospital.
By December, Garbers was diagnosed with Stage 0 cancer in one breast and Stage 1 in the other. She met with her OB-GYN, and they sought help from Dr. Candilee Butler, a Toledo oncology specialist. After discussing her options, Garbers chose to have a bi-lateral mastectomy.
“With my young age I didn’t want to have a greater chance of recurring with a lumpectomy,” she said.
Both of her breasts were removed in March of 2010, then Garbers had reconstruction surgery to avoid the inconvenience of prosthetics. Because post-surgery examinations showed no sign of cancer in area lymph nodes, chemotherapy treatments weren’t necessary. Instead, she was prescribed Tamoxifen, a drug that helps eliminate residual breast cancer cells and reduces the chance of recurrence.
Garbers said the support from Martin, her husband of 21 years, was a blessing. “He was wonderful. He was there every step of the way,” she said.
She meets with Dr. Butler annually, but over the past seven years no trace of cancer has been found.
“I feel very lucky and fortunate,” she said.
Her survivor status has changed her outlook as well. “I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I’m enjoying things more. You reexamine things and figure out what you really want. And you don’t deal with drama. It’s not worth it.”
Anticipating potential problems for her daughters – Angela, 16, and Laurel, 14 – Garbers underwent BRCA , a medical test to gauge whether she carries genes that can be responsible for breast and ovarian cancers. Her results were negative, but she still speaks openly to her daughters about her experience and preventative measures.
“We try not to be alarming, but knowledgeable,” she said.
Fulton County Relay for Life Chair Amanda Bird said Garbers was nominated by a committee member. “It just seemed fitting to honor one of our own who’s gone through the battle and survived it,” she said.
Garbers’ advice for cancer patients is to “always look for the bright side, keep a positive attitude, and keep humor in your life. I feel confident. It came, we kicked butt, and we’re going forward.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.