“She’s never in a bad mood.”
That is Sarah Reyelts’ description of Michelle Weins, one of her employees at Arnies at First & Foster in Mitchell. The co-owner of the store with 12 employees said even in a tight-knit family of workers like the one she oversees everyday, Weins stands out for her consistently positive attitude, her friendly nature with customers and her rock-steady work ethic.
Those are characteristics she has maintained even as she has gone through one of life’s most difficult challenges. In March, Weins was diagnosed with breast cancer, and ever since has been waging a battle faced by people around the world every day.
“(I had a mammogram just) so I didn’t have to hear the doctor ask me if I had one,” Weins told the Mitchell Republic. “So, I did it. And that led to an ultrasound.”
That ultrasound led to a biopsy a couple of weeks later, and shortly afterward, she got the news that she did, indeed, have breast cancer.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation estimates that 276,480 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. Weins is one of them. As it is for many, the revelation was a shock that brought with it uncertainty, fear and questions about the disease and its treatment.
“You just feel like, what am I going to do now? It’s just such a shocker. You don’t realize how shocking it is,” Weins said. “You don’t know what stage it is. Is it going to take your life? There are so many things to think about. You go to work thinking about it.”
Weins, 53, said she was lucky having received a diagnosis of Stage 1 cancer. She soon began consulting with a surgeon in Sioux Falls, and by April she had undergone a left partial mastectomy. Doctors also removed some lymph nodes to make sure the cancer had not spread.
She learned about undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments and the mechanics of how cancer affects the body. She talked with an oncologist and he recommended a path for treatment. It was an overwhelming flow of information to take in for someone who just a couple months earlier had not even really considered having herself screened.
It was an eye-opening experience, she said.
“Oh, you learn a lot. I definitely learned a lot,” Weins said.
She endured 12 rounds of chemotherapy a week, and experienced the common side effect of losing her hair. While she had heard that that may be one of the things she would have to deal with, having it actually happen was still something for which she was not fully prepared.
But she knew it was a tradeoff she needed to make if she wanted to beat cancer.
“I started losing it in chunks. Every day in the shower more kept falling out,” Weins said. “Well, it’s the way it is. This is what you gotta do. This is what you gotta go through. That’s just what a person goes through.”
She completed her chemotherapy sessions and will continue to undergo radiation through October, which is recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And for all intent and purposes, everything seems to be going well, though she said she won’t know more about her prognosis until her treatments are complete, probably a year down the road.
Like many cancer patients, she has a close support group that helps her along the way. Her mother accompanied her on hospital visits, her son ran errands when she needed help, her pastor counseled her and her fellow employees at Arnie’s had special hoodies made indicating they were all on “Team Michelle.”
It’s support that means a lot to her, she said.
“They’re very good people,” Weins said. “They’re behind me 100%.”
In fact, she was anxious to get through treatments so she could get back on her feet and retake her post at Arnie’s greeting customers.
“I was ready to go to work. I grew up on a farm, and you don’t just stop work,” Weins said. “The people I work with are just fabulous. I love the sweatshirt. Everybody got one at work and took a picture with thumbs up.”
Reyelts said Weins is the type of person who inspires others to want to help her through difficult times. Her personality and work ethic make her an admired member of the staff, and it is inspiring to see her continue to fight through her challenges with that positive mental attitude everyone at the store has experienced.
“She is easy to back up. She’s gone through this whole process and has not called in sick one time. Not one time. That work ethic is unbelievable,” Reyelts said. “She knows that she has to keep going and she does that, and the little things like supporting her with hoodies for everybody to wear? That’s a drop in the bucket for what she’s done for Arnie’s.”
Customers know her for her engaging banter. She remembers names and personal stories. And she’s quick with a laugh. She makes a difference in the day of both her fellow employees and the customers walking through the door, Reyelts said.
“She is all Michelle, all day and everyday. She’s been here for six years, and I truly have never seen her in a bad mood. Not one day, and she works five days a week. That’s a lot of days to be in a good mood,” Reyelts said. “She’s just a good soul.”
Weins said she is ready to continue her cancer fight for the long haul, thanks to the treatments she has received and the support she receives from family and her friends at Arnie’s. But she noted that the most important part in her journey was finally making the choice to have a mammogram. Early screening can mean the difference when fighting a disease that will kill an estimated 42,000 women this year in the United States alone.
She put it off. She implores others not to.
“They can catch things with that mammogram. You don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unbelievable how much cancer is out there. Just don’t be scared to go get a mammogram, because that will detect it,” Weins said. “You don’t want to miss a mammogram.”
Detection is the first step to recovery, she said. Once you take that leap, you give yourself a fighting chance to drive the cancer back and get back to your life. For Weins that means getting back to work at Arnie’s and seeing her friends and customers on a daily basis. With their backing, she is confident she can stay the course and do what needs to be done to get back to full health.
And a good attitude doesn’t hurt, either, she said.
“Some people bah humbug and feel sorry for themselves, but you can’t do that. You can’t make yourself feel miserable. You have to be the fighter. It ain’t gonna help if you don’t take care of it. You’re the one who has it,” Weins said.