TIPP CITY — Three years ago this month, Heather Bledsoe got some news that would change her life. She was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was shocking, when you’re 41 years old,” she said. “I guess I really never thought it would happen to me, but don’t say never because you never know.”
Things moved quickly for the mother of three after her diagnosis. After scans showed cancerous spots, she underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, as well as chemotherapy treatments for a year.
“It’s been three years, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been three years,” she said. “It was just very ironic that I was diagnosed during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”
According to Bledsoe, it was her great support system that got her through a difficult time. That system even included her coworkers and her students at Broadway Elementary.
“I work with a great staff at school,” she said. “They gave me chemo bags every week when I went to chemo. It had everything from magazines to mints to socks and a blanket.”
They also put together meals and gift cards for her family.
“I was very fortunate to have a support system,” she said of her coworkers, friends and family. “Because not everybody does.”
About a month after her diagnosis, around Thanksgiving that year, Bledsoe had a double mastectomy. Bledsoe wasn’t originally supposed to have to do chemo, but around New Years, her oncologist said she had a higher risk of the cancer returning without it. Reconstructive surgery followed chemotherapy.
“Basically it took a year for the whole process from start to finish,” she said. “We were pretty aggressive.”
The only days of school she missed were chemo treatment days and her students were very understanding, she said.
“My kids at school were fabulous. I was very open with them,” Bledsoe said. “They knew I was going to lose my hair from chemo. They knew when I cut my hair super short, ‘Oh, must be getting ready for your wig.’”
Bledsoe stressed the importance of keeping up with your health, performing self exams and going to regular mammograms, not just during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“It’s important to do your self checks and go to the doctor if you suspect something, but in my case I didn’t feel anything,” she said. “I didn’t know I even had it, they found it through my normal mammogram.”
While she was lucky enough not to need the services of the Pink Ribbon Girls, she now supports their fundraising efforts and urges others to think local when giving to breast cancer organizations.
Schools in Miami County partnered with Pink Ribbon Girls this year to raise funds for the organization. At recent Tippecanoe High School and Middle School volleyball games, they raised about $5,000 through the sale of shirts and raffles, Bledsoe said.
“I know there are people who do need them, so I wanted to make sure I contribute, donate and support so they can help those who were in worse need than I was,” she said.