VARDAMAN - Six years ago, Candy Huffman of Vardaman couldn't have imagined herself running a 5K.
"I ran to the refrigerator and ran to the couch and ran from the dog," Huffman joked.
But now, she's not only walked in five 5K events, she's training to run in her next one and even hopes to complete a 3-day, 60-mile hike, all to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation in their quest to help women with breast cancer.
Huffman understands the experience of having breast cancer only too well.
"I was diagnosed at 41," Huffman said. "I had my mammogram at 40 and was coming up for my annual at 41 when I found it."
"It" was a golfball-sized lump in her breast.
"It had probably been there for a while," Huffman said. "I don't know why I didn't find it before. I was always looking and always checking."
After finding the lump, Huffman, a nurse at North Mississippi Medical Center-Oxford, was scheduled for a mammogram that day.
"By 4 p.m., I was in the surgeon's office," Huffman said.
The next week she had a double mastectomy.
"My cancer was kind of different," Huffman said. "It's called triple-negative. It's not fed by hormones but they don't know what feeds it and it's very aggressive. The mastectomy was a no brainer, there weren't really any options."
Huffman went through chemotherapy but due to the mastectomy, did not have radiation treatments.
"There was nothing to radiate," Huffman said. "Only one lymph node was involved and I didn't have to take the Tamoxefin since it's not hormone fed."
Moving into the race for a cure
Her research into triple-negative breast cancer led her to the Komen Foundation and she began participating in the annual Komen for the Cure 5K held in Tupelo each October. She enlisted friends, family members and co-workers to form her team, which has grown every year. Chasity Pearson is an original member and joins in every year.
"The first year, Chasity was on our team and they were giving away an Ipod," Huffman laughed. "That's when the Ipod was really big and she won. I told her that's why she keeps coming back."
Pearson said Huffman is the real reason she returns to the 5K every year.
"Candy motivates me with her faith, courage and strength, her positive attitude and her willingness to help others," Pearson said. "She is always lifting up others, offering words of encouragement and just going above and beyond to be there for people in need. I am very honored to be a part of Strength in Pink with her, but most importantly, I'm proud to call Candy my friend."
Since her initial surgery, Huffman returned for an additional surgery, not for cancer but related to her future. She had a gastric reduction procedure and has now lost 99 pounds.
"The number one cause of cancer returning or metastasizing is obesity," Huffman said.
She has been training and this year she plans to run, not walk,in the 5K.
"I'm a little nervous this year," Huffman said, but she has plenty of friends and team mates joining her.
"Our team is always winning something, for the biggest team or the most spirit," Huffman said.
Suzanne Moore of Houston will join Huffman this year on the route.
"I was approached by a family member about joining Candy's team and decided that I wanted to be a part of such a worthwhile charity," Moore said. "Candy's outlook and determination should be admired by all and that is the reason I chose to be a part of her team."
Spreading the word
Huffman hopes to participate in the Komen 3-day next year and plans to continue spreading the word of prevention and early diagnosis.
"When I was diagnosed, my kids were nine and 18," Huffman said. "I knew the main thing I had to do was whatever I could do to still be around to raise them."
She and her husband now have a teenager at home and have welcomed a grandbaby from their grown daughter and son-in-law.
And she wants other women to know the same happiness.
"I feel like God spared me for a reason," Huffman said. "I'm still looking for his purpose for me. My job that pays the bills is being a nurse, but I would like to be an advocate for women."
Pearson believes she already is.
"She most definitely exemplifies 2 Corinthians, 5:7 which is 'For we walk by faith, not by sight,'" Pearson said. "Candy loves what she does and is adamant about finding a cure so other ladies never have to go through what she did."
Understanding Triple Negative breast cancer
It is now commonly understood that breast cancer is not one form of cancer, but many different "subtypes" of cancer.
These subtypes of breast cancer are generally diagnosed based upon the presence, or lack of, three "receptors" known to fuel most breast cancers: estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). The most successful treatments for breast cancer target these receptors.
Unfortunately, none of these receptors are found in women with triple negative breast cancer. In other words, a triple negative breast cancer diagnosis means that the offending tumor is estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative and HER2-negative, thus giving rise to the name "triple negative breast cancer."
On a positive note, this type of breast cancer is typically responsive to chemotherapy. Depending on the stage of its diagnosis, triple negative breast cancer can be particularly aggressive, and more likely to recur than other subtypes of breast cancer.
Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever.
In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure and launched the global breast cancer movement.
Today, Susan G. Komen is the boldest community fueling the best science and making the biggest impact in the fight against breast cancer. To date, the foundation has invested almost $2 billion to fulfill that promise, working to end breast cancer in the U.S. and throughout the world through ground-breaking research, community health outreach, advocacy and programs in more than 50 countries.