When Barbara Rowan felt a lump in her left breast in October 2011, she thought nothing of it because she remembered a cyst being removed from her mother's breast when Rowan was a child. Her mother's cyst was not a big deal, and Rowan felt sure hers would not be either.
Located more on her chest than in her breast, it was a good-sized decent knot, though.
The Seagrove Beach resident scheduled a mammogram and as she drove to the hospital, she called her best friend and chatted on the way. Rowan reassured her friend that she felt sure it was a cyst just like her mother had.
Following the mammogram, the radiologist wanted to take it farther by having a sonogram done.
Rowan still thought nothing of it. She remembers sitting on the table swinging her legs and thinking about other things when the technician walked back in and asked if she had experienced any kind of blunt force to her chest. When Rowan said "No," she was told there was a 100-percent chance it was cancer.
"I was in shock," she said.
She remembers calling her friend on the drive home and telling her the news, but the hardest part was telling her daughter. She remembers her saying, "We will get through this."
A few days later, more tests gave Rowan's cancer a name. She had invasive lobular carcinoma. The invasive meant the cancer could spread, she was told.
Rowan's specific type accounts for less than 25 percent of all cancers, but hers was the aggressive kind.
Opting for a lumpectomy, surgery took place on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
"As they were wheeling me down the corridor to surgery, a voice came over the loudspeaker and led in the morning's prayer. I remember asking the nurse if the prayer was for me," she says now with a chuckle. "That was the last thing I remembered."
Her daughter Whitney was with her through the procedure and beyond. Whitney had just lost her job in Nashville two weeks prior to her mother's diagnosis and had moved to Seagrove to live with her while looking for a job.
"I don't know what I would have done without her. She was a great caregiver," said Rowan. "Everything happens for a reason."
After surgery Rowan was advised to take radiation and chemo as her oncotype DX score was a 28.
"I don't remember feeling that bad, but it was not a great time in my life," she says now, as she was also going through a divorce at the time. "The worst, though, was losing my hair, my eyelashes, and my eyebrows."
She bought a wig but only wore it once.
"It was cute, but didn't look like me," she said.
Instead, Rowan ordered a bunch of scarves and wore them.
"I got a lot of compliments on my scarves and that made me feel good."
Even though radiation did not make her tired, Rowan stayed in bed and slept a lot.
"My mind wouldn't allow me to believe I looked great, and I couldn't seem to get the happy, perky me back," she said.
Now, with two years behind her and a clean bill of health, Rowan says the best thing she got out of the experience was people showing her that she was loved — especially by her church family and other breast cancer survivors who called and invited her over.
"That helped me get myself back," she said. "Sometimes it is hard to just let people love you and just say 'thank you.'"
As for cancer, Rowan said it makes you appreciate the little things, such as sitting on her porch.
"I never feared for my life," she says now, "but I did fear the treatment."
The one thing cancer taught her is to eliminate stress from your life.
"I was under a great deal of stress when I was diagnosed, and I firmly believe stress makes you ill. I am still removing stress from my life," she said. "You have choices, and attitude helps."
While her ordeal is behind her, Rowan is aware that it could come back. However, she refuses to think about it or worry about that now. If it comes back, she will deal with it.
But one thing she does worry about even beyond Breast Cancer Awareness Month is her daughter facing the same struggle.
"If I have a chance to talk to someone going through what I went through, I do, and I tell them 'you're going to be OK.' Hopefully it will help someone."