Cheers for the girls

The Southern Tennessee Regional Health System’s second annual "Cheers for the Girls" breakfast for breast cancer awareness was hailed as an overwhelming success as hundreds attended the event and heard the inspiring and spiritual true story of cancer survivor Jackie Axt, who was accompanied during her speech by lifelong friend, Richard Stewart. Sharing in the event’s success are, from left, STRHS-Winchester and Sewanee Campuses CEO Cliff Wilson, former Franklin County Mayor Richard Stewart, Jackie Bobo Axt, STRHS-Winchester and Sewanee Campuses Assistant Administrator Carolyn Cardwell Sparks, and STRHS-Winchester Campus Director of Radiology Ashley Brock.

The Southern Tennessee Regional Health System hosted the second annual “Cheers for the Girls” breakfast for breast cancer awareness at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church on Oct. 4.

The room was filled with many guests wearing mint green T-shirts with this year’s theme, “Llamazingly Fearless.”

The mammography department at STRHS provided informative literature about breast cancer awareness and advances in treatment options.

The items on display included a life-like replica of a breast. The model was made of a pliable material and had three examples of abnormalities within the breast tissue — a lump, a blocked duct and some other type of fibrous abnormality.

Women were encouraged to do a monthly self-breast exam for early detection.

The hospital staff also announced new digital equipment available at the Women’s Health Center that offers advanced technology for 2D and 3D imaging for better and earlier detection of abnormalities within the breast tissue.

During the month of October, the center is providing digital screenings on Saturdays in addition to refreshments and free gifts. Contact the department at 931-962-3420 for an appointment.

A doctor’s referral is not required, and results will be sent to the participant’s physician.

Guest speaker and cancer survivor Jackie Axt of Estill Springs offered inspirational advice to cancer survivors, current patients, caregivers, family, friends and medical personnel.

Axt has been through several cancer diagnoses. The first cancer, diagnosed in 2017, was stage 4 follicular lymphoma.

 “I got the news of this cancer the morning my son was to be married to the love of his life,” Axt said. “I only shared the news with my husband, Rick, pasted on my ‘happy face’ and attended my son’s wedding in a bit of a daze and tried to enjoy all the love and happiness that flowed amongst my family and gathering of friends on this joyous occasion.”

The good news was the cancer was treatable, but Axt would have to undergo chemotherapy for 2.5 years.

If she decided to forgo any medical treatments, she was given a life expectancy of three years. So, in June 2017, she received the first dose of chemotherapy treatment but suffered a severe allergic reaction to the medications.

Her throat swelled shut, and she experienced temporary blindness. She was finally able to catch the attention of the medical staff before passing out, and they stabilized her condition.

“It was a terrible seven-hour ordeal,” Axt said.  

She was later sent home and told to return the next day for a modified cocktail of the treatment.

At this early point of treatment, Axt said she was seriously considering the “no-treatment” option which she felt might be better than dealing with the negative side effects of chemotherapy.

Axt said she was more concerned about the stress the treatments would put on her family and all the sacrifices they would have to make with years of traveling to Murfreesboro or Nashville for repeated doctor and clinic visits and the ongoing care she would need from them.

She decided she was done before treatments really got started.

She said there was a van full of people just leaving a mission trip in the Tennessee foothills when a woman in the van asked the driver to take the next exit.

The driver was befuddled with the request as they had only been on the road for a short while and had a long drive to get back to Franklin County, Indiana. He complied and waited at the end of the exit ramp.

The woman explained that someone needed her help, and she directed the driver to turn to the right and turn at a little restaurant in the curve of the road.

Meanwhile, that same day, Axt said she had asked her long-time friend, former Mayor Richard Stewart, for some time to discuss her decision to stop chemotherapy.

She was looking for a sympathetic ear as her immediate family disagreed with her refusal to be treated further.

Stewart was a former football coach and told Axt that he thought she was throwing in the towel a little too early in the game.

They were deep in conversation driving around the countryside until they too were brought to this little restaurant in the curve of the road in Monteagle.

At first they sat at a table in the back by the fireplace but Axt said she got an odd feeling and they relocated to the table by the entrance. They looked up from the menus to see a woman standing over their table.

She wasn’t the waitress or a restaurant employee. Pleasantries were exchanged.

Axt then announced that she had cancer, in her plain spoken fashion. The stranger then asked if she could pray for her.

“She prayed as if she knew every little detail about me, my decisions and the length of the treatment,” Axt said.

At that time, Axt said, a hush came over the restaurant and they felt an intense heat and light as the prayer continued.

By then, Axt said she was sobbing at the table, touched by the stranger’s words and the power of prayer and the Spirit.

Axt said she had been touched by an angel.

And, ironically enough, that was that stranger’s actual name, Angel, a missionary, who received a special message that day to stop by and to give a lost soul direction.

“Whether you believe in God, the power of prayer, mind over matter or the miracles of medical science, they all play a role in our health and overall well-being,” Axt said. “Who knows if they have ever been touched by an angel when there were critical things happening to them?”

Axt said her life was changed that day, and she continued with various chemotherapy treatments. She has been diagnosed and treated for several other cancers over the past two and half years and is triumphing over them.

Axt has now embraced this thing called cancer and announces loud and proud that she has cancer.

Axt said the disease has provided her with countless opportunities to talk about her journey, her faith in God and the path to salvation.

She has celebrated many happy times since all this happened, including the marriages of both her son and daughter and the birth of two little granddaughters.

Axt says she still puts on her “happy Jackie face” when she needs to let others know that all is well and continues to pray that she will be back to normal soon.

Most days, those who know her say you would never know that her body has been struggling to survive.

“As a friend or family member, often times you feel totally helpless watching your loved one battle through their disease,” Axt said. “Simple gestures of friendship, a home-cooked meal, an offer to provide some cleaning services or just an ear to listen to their thoughts is priceless. You can offer to pick up kids from school or sporting events or be their driver to doctor appointments. Your relationship hasn’t changed just because they are being treated for an illness.

“Most importantly, allow them private moments to digest any news and treatment options. The medical team will provide the physical fix — your job is to provide the emotional support to get them through the journey. Caregivers are the best medicine ever.”

The breakfast concluded by presenting breast cancer survivors in attendance with pink-ribboned medals of honor as they walked proudly to the podium.

Attendees were reminded that nobody ever said cancer and cancer treatment is not scary, nauseating, painful, draining, tiresome or tedious.

But one day, it is hoped that cancer will be history, and Axt has shown that those who have the stamina and support from family and friends can endure the treatments and are provided with a second chance to not only survive, but live and thrive.

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