Portraits in Pink
09/03/2013 01:00PM ● Published by Ashlee Cleveland
Gallery: Donna Sanderson, Hafeena Martinez, Jan Rogers [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
Jan Rogers is a bright-haired fireball with a quick smile and energy streaming from every pore. It is hard to believe she’s had breast cancer. Today, post-reconstructive surgery, her energy is back and she is once again enjoying activities she loved, like biking. She credits her husband as the one who got her through. “He was my rock….No matter what, he was just strong. He told me, ‘I knew you would never die.”
Rogers recalls feeling desperate to understand what God wanted her to learn through her experience. So, on a cold March morning, she’d finished her round of chemotherapy and was driving to work, with a tasty McDonald’s sausage biscuit in tow. She was on Grove Street and passed a woman walking barefoot. She heard God say, Give her your shoes. Rogers felt as if she didn’t have the time to lose. She had a bone scan scheduled for the afternoon and work to complete before then. Give her your shoes, God repeated.
And so, Rogers swung around and found the woman in a parking lot. Her shoes had been stolen the night before. Rogers offered her the size 6 1/2 sneakers she had recently purchased. Like the infamous glass slipper scene from “Cinderella,” the shoes fit. Rogers gave her the breakfast too and drove off to deal with arriving at work shoeless and harried.
Three years later, cleaning her garage, she unearthed a well-known poster of footprints in the sand and someone asking God why there was only one set. She heard His voice as clearly as the day she gave away her shoes. See? You didn’t need those shoes back then, because I was carrying you.
To meet Hafeena Martinez in University Dollar Store is to meet her where she lives. It is the family business she owns and runs, along with her husband and sons. It is where she returned promptly the day after surgery to look in on things and make sure they were running properly.
Martinez didn’t have time for cancer. She had suffered through other health problems. Cancer was unexpected. At first, she didn’t understand what the doctor meant when he said they’d found a mass. When that finally sunk in, she responded, “Let’s kick some cancer butt!”
Her husband served as her biggest supporter and confidant. He also made her have the difficult conversations. She said, “I’m not going anywhere…I’m not going to die.” It sounded like denial, but
it was a refusal to let cancer win. Some of Martinez’s strength stemmed from her determination that
their sons not see her pain. She didn’t want to be consumed by cancer. “My business needs me. My family needs me. Cancer doesn’t need me.”
She wondered if something she’d done had caused it. “I don’t do bad things; no drink, no smoke. I never do all this wild crazy life, why me?”
At 18, Martinez left her home and fourteen brothers and sisters in Trinidad for the United States. She spent 17 years in our military and traveled around the world, never returning to her home country.
Today she finds herself phoning family unexpectedly, sometimes talking with relatives she never knew. She has sent her younger son to visit and the extended family has made him a part of their own. Fighting cancer made her reconnect with her Caribbean counterparts.
She looks forward to seeing her sons’ graduate college, get married and have children. There are a lot of things left to do. She gave a playful shake of her head and declared, “I’m not going yet!”
Donna Sanderson’s granddaughter climbs onto her lap in the toy-filled living room, making her smile. A dachshund scurries outside, the television runs NASCAR and a conversation continues in the kitchen of this busy household.
Working as an LPN, Donna Sanderson injured her leg and shoulder in a fall. Then a mammogram detected a fast-growing cancer. It was “too much, too fast.”
So, she is grateful for the help from family and health care providers, particularly the Oncology Navigators. "They’re with you at treatment, and they hook you up with a cancer buddy who’s been through it. You can ask the cancer buddies the hard questions. All the questions that go through your head when you’re alone,” she declared.
Questions such as: Prosthesis? Surgery? Will I make it? Sanderson shakes her fuzz-topped
head. “You just don’t know what it’s like. It’s the roughest thing you can ever go through. You just have to go through it and keep going.” She finished chemo in May and she’ll be on the prescription breast cancer drug, Armidex© for five years. There will be reconstructive surgery to follow. Plagued by fatigue, Sanderson struggles to do things with her family. She frequently asks herself, “What
things might I miss if I don’t do them now? What have I already missed?”
She’ll return to being an LPN, although she’s not ready to work a floor yet. Maybe she will go into oncology, or become a cancer buddy herself. She advises patients to follow doctor’s instructions, look to the medical team for support. An upbeat team can make all the difference. She recommends
Cleaning for a Reason, an organization that provides once-a-month housecleaning for cancer patients. Melody Samuel’s company, Maid2shine, helped out Sanderson as well. She held the blue knit cap she finds so comfortable and said, “I’m going to pass on the hats and scarves. Any little