From April 1, 2014 to May 19 of this year, Terri Painter underwent five surgeries, 17 chemo treatments and 28 radiation treatments in her fight against breast cancer. Through it all, she remains one of the most positive people you will ever meet.
“I am happy to be 53. I told my kids, I tried to be upbeat and keep a good attitude. That is the main thing, your attitude. You have to keep a good attitude,” said Painter, who has driven a school bus for the past 21 years for Carroll County Public Schools. “To me everything is funny. It’s like the t-shirts, ‘I lost my boobs but not my sense of humor.’ I think you have to be that way. A lot of days when I didn’t feel good, because of my kids and my dad, you have to stay positive and act like everything is good, even when it is not, for your family. I didn’t want them worrying about me.”
Things weren’t always that upbeat for Painter, particularly on April 1 of last year when she found a lump in her breast. She went to the doctor and immediately she was sent for a series of mammograms and a biopsy. Less than three weeks later, on April 18, she had surgery. She has been cancer-free ever since, although she has undergone five surgeries, 17 chemo treatments and 28 radiation treatments, causing her to miss a total of 65 days of work.
“It used to be a death sentence,” Painter said. “If you had cancer, you were going to die. But they told me if you are going to have cancer, breast cancer is the best to have because there is so much research and money for breast cancer.”
Even so, she implores everyone to get a mammogram. Painter’s surgeon told her by the time you do a self-check of your breasts and find something, it is too late.
“Nobody in my family ever had any type of cancer, so I put my mammogram off for a couple of years. I didn’t think I had to worry about it,” she said. “The surgeon said it is 80 percent spontaneous and one in eight women will get breast cancer. They recommend mammograms every two years, but if there is history in your family of cancer they recommend it every year.”
Since her diagnosis last April, Painter has stayed heavily involved with the Galax/Carroll Relay for Life and the local Truckers Parade Against Cancer. A bus driver and courier for the Carroll County Public School System, Painter said she drives buses with two other women diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Her former boss, the late Roger Phillips, supervisor of transportation with Carroll County Public Schools, passed away from cancer last May. For the past two years, Painter has driven a Carroll County School Bus near the front of the pack during the Truckers Parade Against Cancer.”
“When I found out I had cancer, it was right before we lost Roger. We decided to put a school bus in the Truckers Parade Against Cancer and now we are doing it every year,” Painter said. “The biggest thing with Relay for Life and the Truckers Parade is the research. My cancer was HER-2 Estrogen Positive and it has only been 11 years that they have had the chemo for HER-2 Positive cancer. There was no cure for it 11 years ago. Through the research, they have developed Herceptin, a chemo drug for it. We need the research. I have one daughter, two daughters-in-law, and two granddaughters. I don’t want them to ever have to go through this.”
Because her cancer was estrogen positive, Painter decided to go ahead with as many preventative measures as she could during her treatment. While she only required one mastectomy, she went ahead with a double mastectomy. And since ovarian cancer is a sister cancer to breast cancer, she went ahead and had her ovaries removed as well.
“I went ahead and did a lot of things I didn’t have to in order to keep me from getting it again. That was my choice,” Painter said. “My faith in God, and my family, my co-workers, my friends, all their support, it is not as bad as people always think it is. Just because you have cancer, you are not home in the bed. It was not as big an ordeal as you would think. I mean, yeah, it was tough, and there were days when I just didn’t want to get out of the bed, but you just push on and deal with it. It used to be when I was in Wal-Mart, people would come up to me when I didn’t have hair, and now it is my job to go to people I see without hair and give them support.”
Painter’s incredible attitude and positive outlook on fighting cancer has served as inspiration for many of her fellow employees in the Carroll County Transportation division as well as Central Office. But to Painter, she said it was her only option.
“They said, ‘You have set the bar high for any of us that get this at Central Office.’ I said, ‘I just did what anybody else would do,’” Painter said. “You have to go on with your life and deal with it day by day. What else can you do?”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]