TUPELO – Vanessa Hendrix’s family had a history of knots under their skin so when she underwent surgery to have a knot removed, she was thinking about her daughter’s upcoming birthday and cooking dinner for her church that Wednesday night, not breast cancer.
She was 41, so finding out in 2005 the knot in her breast was a malignant tumor was a shock.
“I went to my surgeon and didn’t think anything about it because my mom had knots,” Hendrix said. “I thought, ‘OK, I’m just walking in her footsteps. I’m going to get this knot (taken) out and it will be over with.’ It never crossed my mind that it was going to be cancer.”
A month of radiation and nine years later, Hendrix is still cooking at church on Wednesday nights, cancer free, and has even run a half-marathon.
She said, through the battle, she thinks God was teaching her to stay positive and using that positivity to help others.
When she was diagnosed, Hendrix was a single mother with a 7-year-old daughter, Madison. Her former mother-in-law had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer and her own mother was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
“This was (my mother’s) early stages of Alzheimer’s and it’s what let us know something was wrong,” she said. “My mom had always stood by me, but I couldn’t let it bother me. I had a child and I couldn’t let her down. I try to be a positive person and I knew I had to be positive and have a cup half-full at all times.”
When Hendrix was diagnosed in February, she, her surgeon, Dr. Newt Harrison, and her oncologist, Dr. Christopher Croot, decided to act quickly and to go straight into treatment.
“We did it fast,” she said. “Dr. Harrison said it’s there and it’s not supposed to be there, so let’s get it out. I didn’t have a long process to wait through.”
She had the shortest treatment – four chemotherapy sessions and a month of radiation – of anyone she met during treatment, and that helped her stay positive.
She attributed the short treatment to her annual mammogram and early discovery of the tumor.
Her young daughter’s support also helped her stay positive.
“I got in the shower one morning and my hair was just coming out and I called (Madison) in and said, ‘Set the garbage can on the toilet and give me that big black comb,’” Hendrix remembered, “She said, ‘Momma, that’s all right, I’ll take care of it,’ So, I would comb it out and hand it to her and she would throw it in the garbage for me.”
One day, Croot used Hendrix’s positive attitude to calm a scared patient. “He said a lady down the hall was refusing her treatment because she was scared,” Hendrix said.
She hung her treatment up on a rolling IV pole and went down the hall to help calm the woman.
Hendrix began walking before her treatment, and when her mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed, she said her walk became a run. She ran her first 5K in 2010.
A friend from church, Elaine Bunn, began running with her and together, they trained for and ran a half-marathon on March 31, 2012, in Greenwood.
Hendrix sees a lot of women who are scared to get their mammograms and people who are terrified of chemotherapy. She said it is scary, but something that has to be done and a positive attitude can help.
“I did chemo. I did radiation. I’m fine,” she said. “I go back for checkups twice a year, but outside of that I don’t dwell on cancer because I don’t want it to take any more of my life. I want to be positive and enjoy the rest of my life because I’ve seen that it can be taken at any time.”