Breast cancer survivor encourages others

Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Heather Nancy and children, Aiden and Wriley. (photo provided/Lori Cornish

Heather Tarkington Nance of Monette is a breast cancer survivor. She has been battling cancer since May of 2013. She admits there were times when she was just "tired." Tired of treatments, tired of scans, tired of surgeries, tired of feeling so bad, tired of trying to smile through it all -- just tired.

When she thinks of her family, her husband, Shawn, her two children, Aiden, 10, and Wriley, 7, and her large support group, her mood changes and she once again becomes the fighter that took on the "beating this cancer" attitude three years ago.

"I have not gone through this alone and it would not be fair to my family and friends for me to give up or give in," Heather said.

Heather praises her husband, family members and friends who have been with her through the journey that no person, young or old, wants to experience.

She said most of all, God has been there with her through it all. She adopted as her theme scripture, Philippians 4:13 -- "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

The scripture was put on tee shirts for her support team as they participated in the Buffalo Island Relay for Life activities.

Heather has also become the mammogram monitor for her friends, family, and even acquaintances. The message she wants to share with everyone is to not put off mammograms.

"I am sure early detection of my cancer through a mammogram has played a major part in me still being here today," Heather said.

Going back to Heather's life, before cancer she feels like she was blindsided. Like other young working mothers, she was busy making plans for her family's future with no clue life would change because of the dreaded diagnosis of cancer.

She was a military kid born in England. Her family moved to Monette in 1990 to make their home. Her dad was originally from Arkansas and retired from the Blytheville Air Force Base.

Heather graduated from Buffalo Island Central High School in 1996. Her husband, Shawn, is a native of Monette. He is a captain with the fire department in Jonesboro.

Heather worked at Keich Shauver Gin for eight years.

Part of the shock of her diagnosis came because when she shared with her doctor her family history of breast cancer on her father's side, she was told not to worry because breast cancer is not passed down through the father's side, but the mother's side. She found a knot under her arm in May of 2012. She had her first mammogram and it showed nothing. It was a relief.

A year later she received a recall for an annual mammogram.

"I thought well, since it has been scheduled, I might as well go," Heather said. "I never thought it would be any different than last year."

It was a shock to her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor had it pegged at Stage 1, right breast only and assured her they had got it in time.

The BRACA test (gene testing) came back negative.

She went into surgery thinking, Stage 1, chemo option, no radiation, and it will be over soon.

It was not to be so simple. She said the doctor told them six out of 17 lymph nodes tested positive. They found out later, the cancer was Stage 3 and also in her left breast.

"I believe my plastic surgeon saved my life," Heather said. "When we were discussing reconstruction and how he could make the breasts look alike, cancer was found in my left breast, also."

Following many problems with reconstruction surgery, allergic reactions to treatments, more surgeries in Memphis, she was referred to a doctor at NEA in Jonesboro.

"Dr. Dorrah has been great," Heather said.

She is now taking milder chemotherapy and will need to take it every three weeks for the rest of her life. It also has some bad side effects but not like the harsh treatments.

"My cancer can never be cured, but it is treatable," Heather said. "They keep a close eye on me with regular scans. Cancer from the breast can also be in the brain, blood or bones."

She also was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in one of her vertebrae which required surgery.

She had 33 rounds of radiation in her breast and back. Radiation left her with third degree burns and created other problems she had to face.

It has not been an easy road for Heather or her family but they have weathered seven surgeries in two years, treatments, and continue holding each other up through more treatments and scans.

Heather was diagnosed in 2013 with breast cancer just days after they had closed on a building loan for a new home. She and Shawn had decided to build their home on three acres on Alena Street.

"I was taking chemo and too sick through most of the building to be any help, but Shawn kept on working his job and working on the house during his off time. He did most of the work himself," Heather said.

She said he did a great job on the house. If he didn't know how to do something, he studied and learned how using U-tube as a guide.

"On one of my good days I helped pick out windows and doors," she said. "The only thing I asked was to not paint everything white, and have the kitchen and dining open."

She wrote her scripture, "I Can Do All Things....," on several of the beams of their new home.

It took Shawn about a year to build their home and they moved in two years ago.

In spite of nausea, treatments, allergies to some of the must have medicines, etc., Heather keeps going.

Good advice she received and she wants to pass on is, "Live each day not like the cancer will come back, but like it will not come back."

"My husband does everything for me," she said. "My dad is one of my support team members. He has taken me to all but two of my treatments. Time with my kids is never taken for granted. God has been with me through it all."

Heather likes to work but with her treatment schedules she really cannot hold down a full time job. She enjoys substituting at BIC school a couple days a week when she is needed.

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