This month, Stacy Clenney can celebrate five cancer-free years of life. The tan and toned 45-year-old mother of two noticed an abnormal lump underneath her arm while giving herself a breast exam in September of 2007, and quickly sought medical attention.
“I didn’t immediately think cancer,” Stacy says. “I’m a pretty positive person. I have a lot of faith, but I truly feel like in hindsight that it was God’s hand that found it.”
Stacy’s maternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her eighties, but other than that, no record of breast cancer runs in the family. Three days later, after what seemed like three years, Stacy received the devastating news. By the end of October, she had already undergone a bilateral mastectomy, and began chemotherapy the following month. Although the tumor was small and stage 1, it was 5 milimeters from her chest wall and considered invasive. That is why she decided to go ahead and have the bilateral mastectomy.
She instantly thought, “What are we going to do? How are we going to handle this? I got into work mode,” says Stacy, as her three dogs, decorated with pink scarves, mosey around Memorial Park. “I told myself it was going to be fine. I’m not going to die. I can’t… There was no option for me except to take every action I could. I had to do everything possible.”
Stacy’s initial emotion was alarm, but that was soon replaced by sadness and self-pity. “You’re overwhelmed, and that’s not even a good word for it,” she says, crinkling her forehead. “You have a lot of doubt.” But once Stacy reached the treatment stage and the dates of her surgeries were scheduled, all she could concentrate on was crossing off those squares on the calendar. She kept her diagnosis to herself and only shared it with her parents and husband at the time. She didn’t want to burden her two sons, then 7 and 4 years old, or family members and friends until she’d had ample time to wrap her head around the fast-approaching days.
One week before her mastectomy, Stacy broke the news to her children, Daniel and Champe. They were heartbroken, she says, and her youngest was concerned about her losing her long, blond, curly mane. Deep down, Stacy knew her hair should be the least of her worries, but she couldn’t completely slam the door on her feelings of grief and insecurity. Ten days after her first of six rounds of chemo, she began to notice hair loss. Two days later, it slid down her back in the shower and wisped around the interior of the car. She didn’t want to believe she would lose her hair; she even flat-out told her doctor that hers wasn’t going to fall out.
But, of course, it did. Instead of continuing to pull out clumps of hair every day, Stacy got her hair cut off and donated it to Locks of Love. She chose not to wear many wigs, and instead topped her head with baseball caps and do-rags because she enjoys working out and walking her dogs. When her eldest on inquired about Stacy attending his Christmas party, Stacy, in her pajamas and beanie, replied weakly, “I will attend your Christmas party.” When he popped right back in, he blatantly asked, “Are you going to wear a wig?” And she did.
“You feel like you’re letting your family down, is how I felt,” says Stacy, who is a four-year member of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure team, The Lady Raiders. “I can’t have cancer. I’m the mom. I can’t be sick. But then you pull up your bootstraps and say, ‘Well, I am a mom and I have to keep going.’”
Although Stacy’s treatment lasted a short period of time, she still had to deal with the pains of chemo and a few complications with her reconstruction. The battle didn’t end after the mastectomy, and it was her children, family, God, friends and coworkers who helped her. Her sister, Brandee Dungan, took a two-month leave from her job in Phoenix to stay with Stacy, changing her dressings and drains. A friend in Fredericksburg built a website for her to keep a running journal for friends and family who didn’t live in town.
“Oh, friends came out of the woodwork, the cards,” Stacy says, her voice cracking as she stops to remove her large sunglasses, wiping the corners of her eyes. “That is crazy. My company [Southwest Airlines] embraced me,” she continues, regaining her composure.
Stacy says she has always been a positive person, but sometimes it’s difficult to be a “Pollyanna.” She stresses less than she used to because she understands that her children breaking a dish or tracking dirt on the floor is trivial, and she admits she appreciates life and her loved ones more. She glances up at the leaves of a tree towering over the picnic table near the gazebo in the park and says she sees beauty, a splendor she probably would not have regarded five years ago.
“I’ve had an awesome life,” Stacy states. “I was always alive, but [cancer] made me live.”
by Drew Belle Zerby
After graduating from LSU in 2009, Drew Belle worked as a page designer in north Louisiana until moving to Amarillo and joining AGN Media in late 2010. In her spare time, she loves to read, travel and spout out useless movie trivia.