By Amy Eddings
Tie all of Greta Callahan’s birthday gifts this month with a pink ribbon, because as far as she’s concerned, she wouldn’t be celebrating it if it wasn’t for breast cancer awareness.
“I never thought I was going to reach 50,” the 49-year-old Lima native said.
She’s been free of breast cancer since April 2013, and credits her recovery to quick, decisive action and regular checkups after finding a lump in one of her breasts.
She also credits her husband, Ron, 65, and her network of relatives, friends and co-workers who loved, encouraged and celebrated her through her diagnosis and treatment.
“Team Callahan,” as she calls them, has also raised money for the American Cancer Society through its annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk/Run. Lima is one of 300 communities across the country participating in it. Callahan said that, for last year’s event, her team raised more than $2,000.
Tina Strunk, a co-worker of Callahan’s at the Allen County Correctional Institution, where Callahan is a supervisor, said she lost a friend 13 years ago to breast cancer, and wants to make a contribution toward a cure.
“What motivates me to do Making Strides is, once you’ve lost somebody or know somebody who has it, it’s just, why can’t they come up with more cures?” she said.
“Someone asked me about support groups and things like that,” said Callahan, reflecting on her team. “I had so much love and so much support from my family, from my friends, there was not one day I got down and got depressed or said, ‘Why me?’”
She gave special credit to her husband.
“My husband was my rock, he was my nurse, he was my chef,” she said. “If I got up at 2 in the morning and said I wanted a McDonald’s Oreo McFlurry, he would do it. He never complained.”
“The first day we went to the doctor’s office, the first thing out of her mouth was, ‘How long do I have?’” said Ron Callahan. “I had to be there for that moment. I told her, just because you got [cancer] doesn’t mean anything. We’ll just handle it as it comes.”
Greta Callahan remembered with exacting details the precise day “it” came.
“It was Dec. 23, 2012 and I was watching a Pittsburgh Steelers game and I felt a pain shooting through my breast,” she said.
She later felt a lump.
“I didn’t think too much about it,” she said. “I had a mammogram scheduled.”
Greta Callahan’s mammogram and ultrasound at the Women’s Wellness Center at St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima were inconclusive. So were the results of a follow-up biopsy. Her family physician told her that meant the lump was probably a benign fibroid tumor.
A second biopsy was more conclusive: Cancer. Stage One.
That meant, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, that it was invasive, but it also meant the tumor was small — less than two centimeters — and that it hadn’t spread beyond her breast tissue.
It was also triple-negative, a less-common type of breast cancer, affecting about 15 to 25 percent of all cases. African-American women appear to be more at risk. Triple-negative breast cancer cells do not contain the three most common type of receptors known to fuel the growth of cancer cells: progesterone, estrogen and the protein HER-2. That meant Greta Callahan’s cancer would be more difficult to treat, because typical chemotherapies wouldn’t work.
“I had four rounds of chemo and 30 rounds of radiation,” she said. “I had all the side effects. My hair fell out. I didn’t have a taste for anything. A lot of times, I’d get up, go take a shower, lay back down, get up, get dressed, lay back down. I had to say, ‘Get up, get up, Greta. Get up and go to the grocery store.’ I had to make myself do things.”
But that struggle appears to be just a footnote for Greta Callahan, an energetic, vibrant woman whose personal motto is “Not Easily Broken.” She insists on celebrating life.
“I am not as concerned about the petty things,” she said. “I cannot tell you the last time I was upset, to the point that I was mad or angry. I don’t get that way anymore.”
After each Making Strides event, she hosts a big thank-you party for Team Callahan, with food, drink, door prizes and, one year, pink cowboy hats. She sets up an “information table” with brochures about breast cancer. Last year, a friend created a big, pink cardboard display, with inspirational quotations, breast cancer statistics, a timeline of Greta Callahan’s cancer journey and pictures, including one of her as her hair was growing back.
She is not shy about sharing through what she’s been.
“I can tell my story, but a lot of people who are survivors don’t want anyone to know,” she said.
She’s also not shy about urging the women in her life to get regular mammograms. One of them, a co-worker at the correctional facility, Staci Prostman, admits she doesn’t like to go to the doctor.
She said Greta Callahan gets on her about that.
“She asks me on a regular basis, and I tell her, ‘Yeah, I’m going to get to that,’” Prostman said. “I know how important it is, and especially when it gets to October, I think, ‘I need to go, I need to go.’”
Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Lima
The American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is in its fourth year in Lima. Money raised through the event goes toward research, programs and educational resources, such as the ACS’ toll-free number, which provides breast cancer patients and their families with information about their disease and treatment options.
“Last year, we raised $50,000,” said Jesse Purcell, community manager for Making Strides Lima.
That’s up from $48,000 in 2013 and $46,000 in 2012, the first year of the event. Not only has the amount of money raised increased every year, but participation has, too.
“We’ve grown by 200 participants every single year,” Purcell said.
Participation is the biggest goal of Making Strides. There’s no registration fee, and those who do sign up are not required to raise money, either. Making Strides is also non-competitive.
“There’s no racing, there’s not even running, although those who want to can,” said Purcell. “We’re walking.” And those who can’t do that are invited to come out, hang out, help out and cheer on others.
The route of the walk is through University of Northwestern Ohio’s campus. Water, snacks and fruit will be provided.
What: A 3.5-mile walk/run fundraiser for the American Cancer Society
Where: University of Northwestern Ohio, 1441 N. Cable Road, Lima
When: Oct. 17
Time: Registration opens 8:30 a.m. Walk/Run begins 9:30 a.m.
More information: Jesse Purcell, 888-227-6446, ext. 5217
Amy writes for The Lima News. She’s a former New Yorker and public radio host. When she’s not writing, she’s canning, cooking, quilting and gardening. Reach her at 567-242-0379 or firstname.lastname@example.org.