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Abilene Offers Unique Resources For Breast Cancer Patients

(Photo by Joy Bonala) Sherry Habel survived breast cancer and now she encourages other women to complete daily self-exams.
(Photo by Joy Bonala) Sherry Habel survived breast cancer and now she encourages other women to complete daily self-exams.

Seven months ago Sherry Habel’s life changed forever. The petite 57-year-old discovered a lump in her breast, and then learned she had breast cancer and she was almost to stage 3. Habel said the shock of hearing her diagnosis was the hardest thing she’s ever faced.

She wasn’t one to keep up to date on self-exams or mammograms, looking back she sees how lucky she was to have caught the cancer when she did. Now she encourages other women to be more aware than she was.

“Check daily, check every day of your life, every time you get in that shower, do your breast check like brushing your teeth,” Habel said. “It is very important, I don’t care how thin you are, how small you are, how big you are, cancer grows everywhere.”

Habel had no idea what to expect from treatment and then she met someone who would help her navigate through the coming trials.

McKenzie Turner is a nurse navigator for Hendrick Breast Institute. She’s one of a handful of nurse navigators serving patients in Abilene. She met with Habel at the very beginning of diagnosis.

“I meet with them one and one and we discuss their diagnosis, what they’re going to be going through because breast cancer is not just breast cancer,” Turner said. “Everyone is so different with their diagnosis.”

Turner offers patients emotional support along with careful explanation of all surgeries and procedures and helps out with the day-to-day adjustments of a changing body.

“I’ll go with them to get wigs, bras, prosthesis, pretty much anything they need I’m there for,” Turner said.

Turner stayed with Habel as she underwent 4 sessions of chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy.

“Navigation is up and coming, I think a lot of the bigger cities have that sort of thing but for smaller towns like this it’s unusual,” Turner said.

Navigation doesn’t end after treatment is complete, Turner often says she stays in touch with patients “for life.” She is still answering questions from Habel, who is now preparing for reconstructive surgery.

Aside from navigation, Habel says another important resource helped her through her journey. She was eligible for financial assistance from the Hope Fund. Annual fundraisers like Bunco For Breast Cancer and the Think Pink luncheon in Abilene support the Hope Fund, which provides mammography services free of charge for women.

“Do not feel like you’re out there alone, don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help, go in, there are all kinds of funding available to you,” Habel said. “This is your body, this is your health, this is your life.”

Habel is now cancer-free. She says facing cancer was horrible but it was the most eye-opening experience she’s ever had.

“Life is what it’s all about, I have a two year old grandson, he’s the joy of my life,” Habel said. “I want to be around for my second one and my third one. Life is good. Life is absolutely wonderful.”