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Tue, Oct 20, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Laughing, encouraging despite breast cancer battle

Cynthia Davis just finished treatment for a rare type of aggressive breast cancer. Odds are it will return. She also is dealing with a divorce, has no job and is broke.

But you would never guess that she has a care in the world. She greets everybody with a big smile and a hug. While going through treatments at the Marshall Cancer Care Center in Guntersville, she made it her mission to try to brighten the day of everyone else. She became known as "the great encourager."

“She would just make them forget whatever they were dealing with,” said Cindy Sparkman, director of the Cancer Care Center. “That’s just kind of who she is.”

Davis agrees.

“I’ve always been an encourager,” she said. “It comes from the heart. I’ve tried to encourage patients here.”

Easy?

She makes even more effort to reach out to others now that she has been through cancer because she knows how bad a diagnosis feels.

“I remember how I felt,” she said. “I didn’t want anybody feeling sorry for me. I want to help others get through it because I feel like I had it easy. I just tell them to stay positive.”

That’s because 16 rounds of chemotherapy – four of them the strongest type – followed by 30 radiation treatments didn’t make her sick. Her doctor called it “amazing,” she said.

“My sister said she had to keep reminding herself that I had cancer because I didn’t act like it,” Davis said. “I’m just glad I made it through like I did.”

The reason Davis’ sister thought she didn’t act like someone suffering from cancer was because she was always joking, laughing and dressing up in funny costumes. In other words, Davis was being herself.


Flat and Fabulous

While working at Jack’s in Boaz for the past few years, Davis became known as the lady who dressed up for every holiday. And not just on Halloween – when she wore a costume that looked like a giant slice of bacon. She was Uncle Sam on Fourth of July. She wore green glasses and hat with a light-up necklace on St. Patrick’s Day. Davis kept doing all those things at the Cancer Center after she was unable to work. She came in recently wearing a wig she had dyed pink. Davis refers to her new physique as “flat and fabulous!”

The only times the cancer made her cry was, first, when she began to lose her hair after the second treatment. It came out in clumps and she decided to get it shaved. Her daughter Hannah shaved hers too.

“It broke my heart,” Davis said. “She shaved her head for me. I didn’t want her to. She had beautiful long hair.”

The second time she cried was following her mastectomy and she saw what she looked like without breasts. Now she jokes about it.

“I tell people that I can mow my yard topless and they can’t do anything to me,” she laughs. “That’s the way to deal with it – just joke about it.”

Davis, who lives in Boaz, found a lump late last December while in the bathtub. When she went to the doctor, he found a second cluster. A biopsy confirmed it was cancer.

“I didn’t get upset,” she recalls. “I didn’t cry.”

She decided to have both breasts removed. After surgery in January, it was determined that Davis had triple-negative breast cancer. It was also in her main lymph node, which was removed. The surgeon told her that it was such a fast-growing cancer if she had found it one week later, it would have spread to all her lymph nodes and into her organs.

Davis, now 49, had never had a mammogram. She can think of no reason why she didn’t. But now she urges women to get regular screenings, and is happy to share her story for motivation.

Studies have shown that triple-negative breast cancer is more likely to spread beyond the breast and more likely to come back after treatment, according to the website, breastcancer.org. The risks appear to be greatest in the first few years after treatment. As years go by, the risks of it recurring become similar to the risk levels for other types of breast cancer. Five-year survival rates also tend to be lower for triple-negative breast cancer.

Doctors told Davis her cancer is likely to return within two years, and will probably show up in the brain or bones. She refuses to dwell on that, choosing instead to live every day with as much joy as possible.

“I’m just thankful to be alive,” she said. “If it comes back, I’ll fight it again. I’m just thankful that I’m here today. I’m thankful for the strength I have and for the personality I have to help others.”

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