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Stories of Hope
Amid so much political, personal, and economic upheaval, with a tumultuous and divisive election around the corner, it has been grounding for us here at Southern First to remember stories of hope and survival.
We have been uniquely blessed to walk through stories of cancer survival with our Southern First family, and it seems especially appropriate during this month to share just two of those with you.
Paige has been in the Southern First family for almost 14 years. She shares the story of her breast cancer in the same way she does everything else: with a quiet steadiness, servant’s heart, and grace.
“The way I found out that I had breast cancer was a gift in and of itself,” she tells the story now. “I was a little overdue for my yearly mammogram and my doctor insisted she would not refill a prescription until I went in and had it done. I was busy and a little annoyed at the time but made the call to schedule the appointment only to find out that the waiting list was four months long. But, they told me I could call back and see if there was a cancellation.”
A couple of weeks passed and the very day she called back to see if she could be put on the waiting list, the scheduler told her they had just had a cancellation and asked if she could come right away. She laughed, “God works in mysterious ways.” Paige went in and had the mammogram, checking it off the “to-do” list and thought nothing more of it until the doctor’s office called and asked her to come back for an ultrasound and then again for a biopsy. Soon after, she found out that she had an early stage of an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Within two months, Paige went from scheduling a mammogram to a double mastectomy. “You think you’re going to go to the doctor and they’ll give you all the answers,” she muses now. “But really, you have to make a lot of decisions on your own without having all of the information and the information you do have is hard to understand. Do you take out just the lump, do you have one mastectomy or two? Will Chemo or Radiation be needed or both? Am I playing God by trying to control it?”
The hardest part was telling her kids, then high-schoolers (ages 15 and 17), that she had cancer. “I told them that I was going to be ok and we were going to get through this together - one day at a time. Being a teenager is a difficult time anyway and usually a time when they are mostly thinking of themselves and not so much about others. But they stepped up and made sacrifices of their own,” she says, tearing up. “I was afraid they would be embarrassed of their Mom who was bald from the chemo, but they never were. My children and my husband were with me every step of the way. I was so proud of them for how they handled it all.”
And, she says, “I was very blessed to work at Southern First throughout all of this. My friends and co-workers were a huge support group. I was told that a group gathered at work at the time of my surgery to pray for me and the doctors performing the surgery. What a blessing!”
Five years later, Paige is in remission after a double mastectomy and chemo. The recurrence rate for her particular type of cancer is high, but the statistics get better each year that it will stay away.
“You never think you’re going to be the one who gets cancer,” she remarks. “You get busy in life, you’re working, being a wife, a mom, taking care of everyone. And you realize you’re not invincible.”
“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” Paige finishes her story, still quiet, still thoughtful. “But it made me a different person. One who slows down and prioritizes things a little differently. When I was first diagnosed,
I prayed that God would give me the grace, strength, courage, and peace to get through this. And, that He did.”
The theme of grace in hard times is woven throughout Julie’s story as well. Julie Fairchild, our Corporate Controller, is passionate, vivacious, and the last person you would suspect to encounter cancer. But in October of 2019, she noticed an enlarged lymph node on her hip.
“There was probably some denial in the early stage,” she comments. “I ignored it longer than I should have. But once things started moving, it was all so fast. I had a CT scan and then a biopsy.”
“What I remember the most was the peace I felt at every single step. The first surgeon I saw prayed with me. And then the oncologist was able to see me within 3 days, which is just unheard of from a timing perspective. There were all these little gifts that gave me peace of mind throughout the process.”
Julie was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma shortly after the biopsy and began chemo December 4th.
“The hardest part was telling the kids,” she said. “Cancer’s such a dirty word. They (twins, ages 12 and daughter, 16) immediately thought the worst.” But it really was okay, and Julie finished up the chemo as COVID was starting. In fact, her last round of chemo was on March 18th, right as the world was shutting down.
But when you talk to Julie you don’t hear any self-pity or fear.
“I look back and I see God orchestrating all the steps,” she says now. “And it really did change me. I was so humbled by the outpouring of people who wanted to help – I had more people volunteer to sit with me through chemo than I had spots available. People brought meals, cleaned my house, and offered to take family pictures.”
It changed her view on COVID as well. “When you go through something like cancer, you realize how crucial friendships really are. You’ve got to be creative in keeping those relationships alive, even when you’re masked or social distancing. So many people would reach out and say, ‘I’m thinking about you, and you don’t need to text back.’ That meant the world.”
Today, Julie is also in remission. Her passion for life hasn’t changed and she’s still entering each day with the same intentionality and optimism.
If there’s one thing we walk away with after hearing these stories, it’s that relationships matter. People matter. We’re all going to walk through hard times in life, and the people we walk through it with – our loved ones, our families, co-workers – along with our faith, is what grounds all of us. Here’s to all of us remembering what matters most throughout these next few weeks.