Claiming victory in the journey
Hartselle woman celebrates life after breast cancer
A day that began with devastating news 11 years ago now serves as a time of celebration and joy for the Parker family. Each year on Aug. 16, Tonya Parker celebrates her victory over breast cancer, spending the anniversary of the day she was diagnosed with cake, flowers and family.
At 35 years old, Parker was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. The nurse and mother of two underwent chemotherapy and radiation while continuing to work and raise her children – a decision she said she actively made to not let cancer defeat her spirit.
“I was determined I was not going to let it take over my life. I wanted to be honest with my kids and explain everything that was going on, and I wanted to keep day-to-day as normal as possible so that, for them, their lives wouldn’t change,” Parker said. “I didn’t want it to take over, and I wanted to win; I wanted to win that battle. I didn’t want it to change our lives.”
After a day at the lake with friends, Parker discovered a lump in her right breast as she was drying off from her shower. Being a nurse, she knew this was something abnormal and called her doctor the next day.
“I went on that day, and he scheduled me for a mammogram and ultrasound. He got the results and told me that I needed to see a surgeon,” Parker said.
“I went to see Dr. Buckner in Decatur, and he wanted to do a biopsy, so the first part of August 2008, I went in and had a biopsy. Aug. 16 he called me and said it was cancer and that he would need to do further surgery to make sure he had gotten all of it out.”
Following her surgery, Parker continued her treatment with chemotherapy and radiation. After being encouraged to take genetic testing, she discovered she had BRCA2 gene for cancer, and her treatment team recommended the chemo and radiation to be thorough.
“I did go through chemo for about four treatments every three weeks, and then after that I did a month of radiation where I went in every day,” Parker said. “After that then, of course, it was being monitored every three months.”
The presence of the BRCA2 gene also signaled a higher risk for ovarian cancer. “I decided to have my ovaries removed because the chance for ovarian cancer was so high,” Parker said. “I have had that done, and it’s been 11 years this past year that I was diagnosed. I have done well ever since.”
During treatment, Parker said that she relied on a wealth of support from family and friends. Her two children were 3 and 8 during her treatment.
“My daughter played softball and basketball during those times. Some of those people were the people that helped me through; they were my friends or her friend’s parents,” she said. “They helped me juggle her from practice to practice and ballgames, and that helped. They were very helpful, and they were some of the best friends I could have had … It was just wonderful to have people in your life that you can count on and that will be there for you anytime that you need it.
“It takes everybody, and you rely on everyone when you go through that.”
Parker said her mother and sister also helped her get through the tough times, and her faith helped her stay encouraged. “My mom and sister – they were probably my biggest support group, and of course family and friends were too,” she said. “I have a strong faith that God puts these things in our lives for a reason. It is a bad thing, but you have to think of it in other ways; maybe one day I can help somebody. I have known a lot of people since then that have had breast cancer, and I hope that maybe I can help people just by being open and honest and talking about it.”
Even 11 years after her initial diagnosis and treatment, Parker still takes medication to prevent the cancer from coming back and is in the process of considering further preventive surgery. As part of celebrating her diagnosis day anniversary, she also celebrates life.
“I am very thankful that I have been able to see my children grow up and see one graduate and go off to college and the next one is in high school,” she said. “You know the first thing you want to think about is that you won’t get to see your kids grow up. That’s the first evil thought you think. The next thing is that you want to see them flourish and get married and have their own kids.
“That’s kind of where I am; I got to this point. It is a journey, and it never ends, but I am thankful that I have been able to help a lot of people, especially being a nurse. I have been able to help people through our journey.”