Breast cancer only takes a single second

By Savannah Vankirk | Contributing Writer

Breast cancer only takes a single second

Savannah Vankirk’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after participating in a breast cancer walk. Photo courtesy of Savannah Vankirk

On Feb. 7, 2014, my mother, a healthy 43-year-old middle school teacher and mother of three, with no previous health problems up until this point, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“To put things into perspective, my daughter had asked me to do a breast cancer walk in Pittsburgh in October (breast cancer awareness month) of 2013. I honestly really didn’t want to do it at the time because we, as a society, are always busy doing other things. I ended up doing the walk, and had a great time; only to find out that four months later, I had breast cancer unknowingly while I was doing the walk. It as one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments that was just meant to be,” my mother, Julie Vankirk, said.

Breast cancer is the deadliest of all cancers and is expected to kill more than 40,000 this year alone. About 85 percent of all breast cancer diagnosis occurs in women that have absolutely no family history of it, according to My mother is one of those statistics.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month didn’t really hold much of a significance to me or to my family up until that point. I never personally knew anyone with breast cancer. I only heard stories.

My mother found the lump herself, not even two months after she had a mammogram. As it turned out, the lump was a cyst, and the cancer was behind the lump. If she wouldn’t have found the cyst, she doesn’t know that she ever would have found the cancer.

“I was shaking when I got the call because I had been anticipating it for an incredibly long ten days after my biopsy,” she said. ”I was at work, and a few of my friends were in the room with me and knew that this was what I had been waiting for, whether it was good news or bad news. I immediately broke down and cried.”

I was a junior in high school at the time she was diagnosed. I always knew that I wanted to attend a university out of state and had been looking at schools hours away from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Being that she was so ill, I questioned whether or not I should still follow through, or if I should just stay close to home. Being the selfless person that she is, my mother assured me that she would be fine, and I didn’t need to worry.

According to, there are several ways that the risk of breast cancer can be lowered such as regular physical activity, body weight and a healthy diet; however, even with taking these precautions, there is always a risk of developing the deadly disease.

“It was bad news at first, obviously. Number one, it was cancer. Number two, I got a call saying that it was a lot larger than what they had initially thought and that I would have to have a double mastectomy,” she said. “Number three, they had to do what is called ‘an axillary lymph node dissection’ at the time of my initial surgery to see if my cancer had spread further into my lymph nodes. They weren’t able to tell just by looking at them, so they closed me up. I then got a call a week later 
saying that it had spread and they would have to go back in and take my lymph nodes out.”

When being ask how she felt, she said, “I just had this incredible peace about the whole situation. God took me through it all step by step.”

Through the entire process my mother never complained, not once. She is without a doubt the strongest woman I know. She has taught me to seem invincible, and most importantly, to stay positive, even though, as humans, we are usually not especially optimistic in situations like this.

“It’s hard to remain positive throughout all of that bad news, but somehow, (God) I did,” she said. “I guess the best advice I can give to anyone that is currently experiencing it is to try to remain positive. I now look at life in a different way. I try not to take advantage of anything and appreciate the little things. I will need another surgery to have a partial hysterectomy next summer, being that my cancer was estrogen positive, therefore they have to remove the source of estrogen, but I feel healthier now than before.”

Thankfully, as of now, my mother feels healthier than she ever has and by the grace of God, she is cancer free. This past summer, she and I went on a mission trip to Maui, Hawaii, with our church as a way to give back as well as celebrate. She is now back to doing what she loves: teaching sixth grade.
It only takes a single second.

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