Cancer survivor tells story ahead of Heart and Sole eventLETCHER — It had been a while since Mary Ackman had a checkup. At least 15 years, as she now remembers.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of three stories on the co-chairs for Friday’s Heart and Sole Cancer Walk in Mitchell.
LETCHER — It had been a while since Mary Ackman had a checkup. At least 15 years, as she now remembers.
In January 2010, Ackman went in for a mammogram and learned she had a lump on her breast. She was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer and would begin treatment within the next few days.
In a four month span, Ackman had beaten breast cancer or, as she acknowledges, at least for the time being.
Ackman, 57, will be one of three honored as a co-chair Friday during the Heart and Sole Cancer Walk at the Mitchell Middle School. The multi-faceted event begins at 6:30 p.m.
When Ackman was diagnosed, she heard the news from a physician’s assistant who had attended the Sanborn Central School District, where Ackman has worked for 32 years.
“When she led with ‘I hate to have to tell you this, but the results show …’ I knew what was coming. I was lucky that it was caught early,” she said.
The burden of notifying other loved ones fell to Ackman. She knew that telling her husband, Bob, her four children and her 12 grandchildren about her illness would be difficult.
“I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell everyone, but I have such a great support staff. They were behind me all the way,” Ackman said.
She considers herself fortunate to have had the type of support she has received. Besides working at Sanborn Central, she also has worked as the city of Letcher’s finance officer. She credited both organizations for staying by her side during her bout with cancer.
Ackman said she knew the small Letcher community of fewer than 200 residents was behind her when the town organized a benefit soon after her diagnosis. Within the first hour of a three-hour potato bake, the organizers ran out of potatoes, forcing some to run home or borrow from neighbors. She said the benefit ended with nachos and chili meat, an experience she summed up as “an awesome outpouring of support.”
Once Ackman jumped into her treatments, she found it took a lot out of her.
“We’d go in Monday mornings for the chemo, and we’d come back around 12:30 or 1 [p.m.] and I would just sleep. The next day I would go in for a follow-up shot. At the end, I felt better, but most days I would have to go back to bed,” Ackman said. “It drained everything. I had no energy and just plain didn’t feel good.”
As if breast cancer wasn’t enough, she already had rheumatoid arthritis and had to have all of her teeth removed as a result of the chemotherapy. She tried to stay positive and said she had “rotten” teeth anyway.
“After my first round of chemo, the side of my face swelled up and later it went away,” Ackman said. “I went back for my second treatment and my face swelled up again. I went to talk to the doctor and he said I think I need them to come out. It was a long-term goal to have them taken out, but not right then.”
All in all, she considers herself lucky.
“I had an easy go-round with my diagnosis and with my treatment. There’s so many people out there that have struggled so much,” she said.
While the cancer is in remission, she knows it might not stay that way.
“I would not be at all surprised if someday it comes back. It seems like it usually does. You learn to live just one day at a time,” she said.
She has returned to both of her jobs while juggling checkups and lab work every three months.
She said even after a couple of years, she still has a lot of support coming from the community, with locals coming up to ask about how she is doing.
“The warmth of the community was astounding,” she said. “It was just the little things that made a difference. The kids made me cards and the teachers were so supporting. It gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside because they would give up something to make you feel better.”
Ackman said it’s important for cancer patients to understand that Heart and Sole is there to help when times are tough and to fill out an application for assistance — something she did during her treatment.
“Insurance is good and Medicare is good, but there are so many hidden costs that Heart and Sole monies can help with,” Ackman said.
At the event, fundraising teams set up camps on the lawn of the Middle School and a memorial walk for cancer victims is conducted, along with a fun run and other family activities. Money raised is used to assist local cancer victims.
Though dealing with cancer was tough, Ackman said she learned from it.
“I’ve learned to take more time for my family and my friends who need something instead of letting work consume everything,” she said. “I’ve learned that family and friends come before anything else.”