Cancer survivor: winning the battle
Relay for Life is the best opportunity Emery County has to make a significant impact on the devastating effects of cancer. Your support can be monetary, physical, or emotional. All of these things are crucial to the success of our Relay. Look around at your family, friends, and neighbors who have faced their mortality, see their strength. Reflect on those in your life who made a difference to a loved one while entrenched in the battle. Cherish the memories of the brave souls who were engulfed by the disease. Won't you join us in the fight for a cure? Come be a part of something wonderful. June 11 at 6 p.m. at the Emery High School track.
Sophomore fears, new haircuts, cute boys, a new driver's license, cute boys, bad hair days, the first job, cute boys, up-do's, junior prom, fast cars and cute boys, senior classes, hair color, smart boys, college, caring guys, weddings, sophisticated hair styles, dependable guys, babies...How far away is the future? Is it in the next town or could it be the next constellation? It is said that if you live long enough - you will get cancer. How long is long enough? Natasha Brinkerhoff discovered 17 years was long enough. In a matter of months the mundane routine of school and dreamy thoughts of the future were redefined for Tasha. Melanoma was no longer just a word she had heard somewhere. Tasha and her family watched a flat, dark mole in her scalp grow to the size of a quarter, lumpy and raised, becoming sensitive, itchy, and bleed. What prompted the change? For Tasha it is suspected that one and a half months of tanning initiated it.
Finally being a senior was exciting, but being a cheerleader, too, made it perfect - until October of 2009 when the simple act of brushing her shiny, thick hair caused the bleeding to start. Tasha and her mother, Joan, knew she had the mole over her left ear near her temple. They kept an eye on it. Mentally minimizing the potential it could imply, they went to the clinic. Their fears grew as they were told it was too large to remove in the office. A Provo dermatologist performed the biopsy that provided the diagnosis of melanoma. Tasha was referred to a surgical oncologist immediately. New words dropped into the family's vocabulary such as, "ulcerated," "biopsy," "and "malignant." Even repeated explanations seemed surreal and brought tears. Tears of fear and tears of anger. "Why me?" "Why now?" "What did I do to deserve this?" These are the most common questions of a newly diagnosed cancer victim. It didn't help that the family were told that Tasha did not meet any of the melanoma risk criteria. While the fog was clouding her mind, Tasha went through the steps as directed, just like learning the steps to a new cheer. Tasha's modesty and privacy was invaded by mole mapping and a biopsy.
Due to the malignant nature of the melanoma, Tasha's surgery was scheduled quickly. Nov. 11 three incisions stretching from the top of Tasha's pretty head lay in a continuous curve sweeping behind her left ear, gliding to a stop just centimeters from her Adam's apple. With the reassurance of an LDS Patriarchal blessing the night before, Tasha's cleanly shaven left side of her head was in the hands of the team at the Huntsman center in Salt Lake City. To everybody's relief, Tasha's lymph nodes were cancer-free. The four hour ordeal went smoothly and the Brinkerhoff's were in and out the same day. Joan recalled the moment when she succumbed to her emotions during the surgical prep saying, "It's hard to see your child getting her head shaved, coming out with staples and bandages. Thank goodness for comic reliefs provided by Tasha during the testing." They have the memory of Tasha "playing"with the images produced by the gamma ray machine through the radioactive dye that had been injected into her head. Her bopping and swaying created neon swirls on the imaging plate. Tasha contends that "it was the only fun" she had in the hospital. When the doctor arrived, he took one look at the screen and simply stated, "You've been having some fun, I see."
Certain she would not be setting any new trends in hair styles at the high school; Tasha was at home for a week after the surgery. The pain was intense much of the time as the melanoma was embedded through the full thickness of her scalp down to the skull bone. The largest of the incisions was about the size and shape of a Doritos chip. The second week Tasha was still very weak, tired, and in pain. She went into classes for one-two hours each day. Tasha and Joan both emphasize how "extremely good" the school staff was with Tasha. For almost three months Tasha wore beanies to school. Then the day came when she decided it was "time to get back to normal." She came home from school, threw down her beanie and declared, "I'm done wearing these beanies!" She still had times when the wound would leak and bleed through the dressings. Tasha had to mature quickly in an environment where comments like; "I hate my hair," and "it's just not working" were repeated dozens of times every day. She gained a new perspective about hair, health, and what you have or don't have and she hopes she helped teach some of her classmates and friends how relative many things are. Another important thing Tasha learned about melanoma is that her own risk for many other types of cancers is increased significantly. She also has an increased risk of passing a melanoma gene on to her children.
Tasha lost a lot of nerve endings. She has no sensation throughout the whole left side of her head and jaw. The surgeon told her some feeling may return, so if you see her tugging at her left ear, or scratching at it like a little puppy, it's a good sign. The itching is the beginning of the return of feeling.
Tasha relied on her cheerleading squad for a lot of support to get through her surgery and classes. She was only home two days when she insisted on being taken to cheer practice. The practicing stopped, and the gentle hugs started. Tasha credits her faith for being able to overcome this trial. She understands now that this was not a punishment and explains that an important lesson she learned was that God will only give her what she can handle and He will always provide a path for her.
Ironically, Tasha was growing her hair to donate to Locks for Love so a child left bald from chemo treatments could have a natural hair wig. Now she reflects on the past six months and marvels at the changes in her life. She "wakes up proud and so happy to be alive still." She is a determined young lady who is "not gonna' get all sad over it." Sometimes the ghost haunts her and she finds herself wondering if "maybe they didn't catch it all and she's going to get really sick" but she focuses on the future. She has plans for school, marriage, and children. There's a lot to think about.
In spite of the chaos left in the wake of cancer, there are some things cancer cannot do. "Cancer cannot cripple love or shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith or conquer the spirit." We see the truth of this in Tasha and wish her a long and joyous future. You go girl.