For Lani Clark, discovering she had breast cancer was shocking enough. Finding out that the two lumps she felt in her right breast during her monthly test were actually four cancerous tumors was even more astonishing.
However, the KGNC FM radio personality refused to let the disease get the best of her. She saw her mother lose her battle to ovarian cancer and Lani wasn’t about to succumb to it, too. When the nurse walked into the room to break the news to Lani, the then 37-year-old surprised her nurse with her response:
“How do I kick its ass?” Lani bravely inquired. “I don’t know where that came from,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. “It just did. It was the first thing that came out of my mouth… I’ve always been that kind of person.”
Diagnosed in October 2007, Lani underwent eight surgeries all together, including a double mastectomy, reconstruction and hysterectomy (as an extra precaution), as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which didn’t go as planned. Although Lani suffered second-and-third-degree burns from radiation and had to have a defibrillator installed in her heart as a result of chemotherapy, her optimistic outlook didn’t waver.
“I made it through,” she sighs. “I just happened to be the one all the bad stuff happened to. But I had to stay positive.”
Instead of crying and feeling sorry for herself after learning she would lose her long braids, Lani immediately dropped by her hair stylist’s salon and had her head shaved. Her hair did not completely grow back after chemo so Lani continues to wear wigs, which is fine with her.
“It’s fun because I can change it up and do whatever I want to and when I get hot I can throw it off,” she cheerfully describes. “It’s pretty cool. I like it.”
Lani says she had to stay strong not just for herself, but also for her family. When her mother was in hospice, she promised her she would look after her brother and father once her mother was no longer able. Having witnessed her father’s suffering during her mother’s two-time battle with cancer, and watching her sister pass away from kidney disease, Lani didn’t want her father to have to relive more trauma with her.
The 12 women from Lani’s Bunko group took on the role of caregiver by taking Lani to her appointments, watching over her post surgery and routinely checking on her.
“They all rallied around me,” Lani says. “It’s like having a group of sisters. They were always there. I never realized getting something like cancer, you really find out who your friends are… That’s why I call them my Bunko sisters. We’re just a big family and it’s brought us closer.”
Lani also found a support system within her coworkers at the radio station. After receiving a round of chemo, Lani would return home and wake up for work the next day, despite the amount of pain she felt.
“That’s my job. I have to go back to work,” she declares. “It was tough. There were days when I was in so much pain, but I said, ‘I have to be here.’”
Lani says she put up a front at work, pretending she wasn’t suffering, but her coworkers, including her brother, Patrick, looked after her. They offered to give her their vacation days so Lani could take another day off if she felt poorly. At the annual Christmas party, they gave Lani presents, all filled with money. Lani’s final surgery, which took place the Monday before Thanksgiving, prevented the family cook from making dinner, so her coworkers prepared food and brought it to her.
While Lani had a circle of friends to watch over her during her fight with cancer, she lost touch with some of her friends, making this tough process even more difficult.
“I think it would have been harder because the people who I thought were my closest friends, they stopped speaking to me when I was scared the most and wanted to talk to them. They weren’t there,” she recalls. “It was coworkers or my Bunko girls that kept me going.”
Lani also found encouragement in unexpected places. Her listeners remained loyal throughout her bout with cancer, sending her inspirational and heartening emails and calling the station to check in on her or share their stories of loss and survival. When Lani was out of the office for a surgery or treatment, worried fans inquired about her whereabouts, she says. Every day she was on air, listeners told her they were relieved to hear her voice.
“It made them feel better knowing I was still there,” she says with gratitude. “It made me feel more like I need to be here for them, too. They’re here for me.”
Even today, Lani lets her listeners know when she is taking time off because they still worry about her, she says. People tell Lani that she is a hero, a part of the family, and often seek her advice about cancer. Lani always advises them to get tested, but to take each day as it comes. She offers to accompany listeners to doctor’s appointments and assures she will be there for them, no matter the outcome.
“If I can help another person, especially after going through this, I’m going to help them,” she states.
Thanks to a nomination by coworker Mike Shannon, the Amarillo Annual Breast Cancer Motorcycle Benefit Run benefited Lani. More than 300 motorcyclists showed up with their bikes to raise breast cancer awareness.
“You couldn’t believe how many people were just there to support me, not even knowing me,” Lani exclaims. “That was an amazing thing… It was one of the nicest things ever, for strangers to do that. And it was a lot of fun.”
With such an empowering group of friends to rely upon, Lani says she didn’t need to attend support group sessions. With the lyrics of “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride” resonating in her mind and the strength of her mother beating in her heart, Lani put forth her best efforts not to give in to the disease. Although at times defeat and fear would try to overcome her, Lani’s faith in God kept her going, she says.
“God’s not going to give you more than you can handle,” she kept telling herself. “Fight it. Just fight.”
Through the love and devotion from her family and friends and her relationship with the Lord, Lani won her battle with cancer. She has been in remission since November 2007. For the past five years, she’s changed her perspective on life and has learned to appreciate what she has been given, in spite of the obstacles she’s encountered. She considers herself “one of the fortunate ones.” She no longer hides her feelings and she doesn’t take life for granted.
“Life’s too short,” she says. “I’m going to say what I feel… I try to do more things because I was always one of those who went to work and went home…When I go out, I make sure I have fun and enjoy myself. It just opens your eyes.”
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.