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October 11, 2013

Fighting cancer with a smile: Sara Higdon has been through a lot, but has remained positive

NEW ALBANY —  Life is all about choices.

Sara Higdon had a choice to make in February of this year after being told she had breast cancer. She could choose to give up, wallow in sorrow and let the disease win by default. Or she could stand strong, surround herself with positive people, and fight back with everything she had.

Anyone who knows Sara Higdon knows which choice she made.

“It was hard for me to watch everyone else be affected,” she said. “I could either dwell on it, be down and stay down, or enjoy the journey and focus on the positive things.”

No one could have blamed her for making a different choice. She was just 31 years old, was a single mother with two children ages 7 and 4, and was facing a double mastectomy, which included the removal of 12 cancerous lymph nodes, followed by several rounds of chemotherapy which left her fatigued and nauseous — not to mention the physical changes, including the loss of her hair. And after all the surgery and treatment, there were still no guarantees. 

Following chemotherapy, she received reconstructive plastic surgery in August and her last surgery, a hysterectomy, which was recommended for precautionary reasons, was performed last month.

Her body has been through hell in 10 months, but her spirit and faith would not be broken. There was no way she going to let cancer keep her from living life to its fullest, she said. She approached each day with a positive attitude and a smile on her face. That smile has never gone away.

“There were two roads I could have taken,” she said. “I could have changed for the worse ... been nasty and angry all the time or I could let this make me a better person. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.”

Through a self exam, Sara found a lump in her breast in November, called the doctor in December and after a biopsy, was told it was cancer in February. She said she tried to put it out of her mind after discovering the lump and ignore it, but she knew she had to prepare for the worst. When a nurse called and told her the results of her biopsy, the speculation was over and a life-altering experience was about to begin.

“I had my two kids with me so I couldn’t freak out,” she said of finding out she had breast cancer. “I had to hold it together. I called my mom and told her she needed to come over and told her it wasn’t good. I called my dad and everyone ran to the apartment.”

It was stage II breast cancer, but the doctors told her it was caught early. There were going to be some tough days ahead, days that she wouldn’t wish on anyone, but ones that have made her even more resilient.

Sara admits there were some dark moments in her life in the past three years. Cancer was just the latest obstacle put in front of her. There was a divorce and then the unexpected death of her longtime boyfriend, Nelson Gunterman, the “love of my life” in 2011, which left her overcome with grief.

She said there were days when she didn’t feel like doing anything.

“I think there is always something good that can come out of something bad,” she said. “There is always opportunity to grow as a person spiritually and emotionally. After losing Nellie ... one day I woke up and decided I didn’t want to feel like this anymore. I didn’t want to feel depressed.

“I think it made me more conscious of death and how fragile life is. It allowed me to get my relationship back with God before all of this happened. I didn’t want to feel empty anymore. Attitude is everything.”

Sara said her family also has given her so much support and were always there for her. She said her two children, Donovan and Shelby, needed her and provided her with love each day.

And her new love, boyfriend James, along with his three children, Avery, 8, Aiden, 6, and Makenna, 2, give her a reason to march on even when she may be physically or emotionally exhausted.

“Perspective is everything,” she said with that ever-present smile. “Days when I didn’t feel like getting up I would hear their laughter and that kept me going. They were my heroes. I finally feel like the road has gotten less bumpy for me.”

Sara has worked in the New Albany Police Department records division for 12 years and says her co-workers have been both understanding and supportive. She is a graduate of Providence High School and lives in Sellersburg.

While she is still recovering from the hysterectomy and reconstructive surgery, Sara knows and hopes her battle with cancer is nearing a completion. Her last dose of chemotherapy was in June.

She said while she still suffers from some stomach issues and lack of appetite due to the treatments, she has won the war. She is cancer free, and she handled it all with that smile.

“Now everything is slowed down,” she said. “I am able to absorb everything. Having five kids to take care of and a job to get back to, I think really helped me get through it. I wasn’t able to lay in bed and I was determined it wasn’t going to take my life away. Right now, I feel very blessed.”

 

RACE FOR THE CURE

• WHAT: 18th annual Komen Louisville Race for the Cure

• WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 12; 6:45 a.m. registration and 8:25 survivor celebration/Parade of Pink to the start line.

• WHERE: Louisville Slugger Field

• TO PARTICIPATE: visit komenlouisville.org or call 502-495-7824.

• LAST YEAR: Nearly 10,000 people participated and more than $600,000 was raised to fight breast cancer.

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