Beating the Odds

Published 4:33 pm Tuesday, October 25, 2005

By By Janet Little Cooper
Samantha Bennett is busy each day making memories.
The Atmore resident, who works as administrative assistant to Atmore Police Department chief Jason Dean, doesn't take one moment of life for granted.
Bennett is a survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in early July of 2002. Bennett's cancer was detected in a self-examination that led her to follow-up with her doctor. She was sent immediately for an ultrasound and then mammogram. The masses found in one of her breast were so serious that doctors rushed immediate evaluations.
"I was diagnosed with two different types of cancer." Bennett said, "One lump was called Ductal Carcinoma in-situ, which is known to travel rapidly. The other lump was in the same location as the first. They were massed together. It was called Carcinoma in-situ, which would have stayed in one spot and not spread."
The Ductal Carcinoma in-situ generally behaves more aggressively and may show areas of invasion elsewhere in the body, opposed to the second lump detected in Bennett that remained localized and dormant.
Bennett's life was forever changed as she began her fight for survival. She knew that she wanted to live and was willing to do whatever it would take to save her life.
Doctors began chemotherapy on Bennett pumping the much-dreaded 'Red Devil' through her veins that would eventually fail after enduring one treatment every 21 days, totaling to four treatments.
The treatments helped, but really didn't touch Bennett's cancer. Test showed that two out of four of her lymph nodes were still cancerous. Bennett made the decision to have a double mastectomy in November, four months after being diagnosed with the disease.
"I did whatever I had to do to save my life." Bennett said, "I didn't have any concerns about cosmetic issues. It was all about life. Only one breast had the tumors, but I didn't want to risk it, so I had them both taken as a precautionary measure."
Unfortunately, cancer was still detected in Bennett's body following the mastectomy. Two months after the mastectomy, Bennett had a hysterectomy due to the presence of a protein that was prominent in uterine or cervical cancer growth.
It was determined that cancer was still in her body and was no longer localized. Bennett began radiation treatments that totaled to 36 treatments. She also participated in a clinical trial study in her fight to live.
"I was willing to try anything." Bennett said, "Everybody wants to live. When I was diagnosed at 32 years old, my life was just beginning. I was in the prime of my life. I wasn't supposed to be thinking about dying. I had a husband and three children to take care of, a home and a job."
Eleven surgeries in eighteen months and three years later, Bennett was fully healed from her battle with breast cancer.
"I was so nervous before the test." Bennett said, "It was a month before Ivan hit. After everything came back clear we celebrated."
Bennett has regular visits and testing with her doctors as well as doing things to decrease her risk of reoccurrence such as eating more seafood for the fatty omega 3 oils that are prominent in shellfish.
Bennett had never been to the doctor for anything other than sinus problems and childbirth. She was a visibly healthy young wife and mother of three daughters.
Bennett's life was forever changed the day of her diagnosis. She will never look at life the same.
"Everyday since the day I was told that I had breast cancer is a gift." Bennett said, "I know not to take anything in vain. I have a saying now – making memories. At 32 you are looking at ten years down the road and making plans, your not thinking about death. My reality is different and it is real, because death knocked on my door. Now I have to cherish what is left and make memories."
Bennett, who is originally from central Louisiana, moved to Atmore after marring her husband, Ed Bennett. He was in the military and went to work as an Alabama Stare Trooper after his tour of duty. The couple lives in Atmore with their daughters, Brandie, Brianna and Kathy.
Bennett's friends and family don't like her saying of 'making memories.' It is too painful for them. But through Bennett's struggle to live, she found an inner peace and wants to soak everything in around her and make the most of it.
"My daughters are scared." Bennett said, "They have a right to be scared. They are afraid of losing me at a young age and they are afraid of getting the disease themselves."
Bennett has an aunt who has been cancer free for 50 years after having a mastectomy at the age of 29. She has another aunt who is terminally ill with uterine cancer at present and also lost her great-grandmother to the disease.
Bennett fought her way through her battle with cancer. She continued to work at APD as much as she could during her treatments and surgeries.
"I had so much support from my family and the entire city of Atmore." Bennett said, "I never went without a paycheck, because everyone, firemen, policemen, everyone volunteered their time to keep me going. They allowed me to work at home and at my own pace as well."
Bennett currently goes to her oncologist for testing every six months, but has made the decision to do it every two years instead.
"Cancer robs you emotionally of your security." Bennett said, "The testing is a very emotional procedure. I get very nervous and anxious and always wonder what if it is back."
Bennett is resting in the peace of her healing, believing that God doesn't give one more than they can bear. She feels that there is something more for her to do on this earth.
For now Bennett is focusing on young women and breast cancer. She knows personally that the disease is growing at a rapid pace in women of all ages and she wants for young women to be aware of the danger and to push for action from their doctors if they sense a problem.
Bennett is not without scars from her journey that carried her to deaths door, the cosmetic scars aren't an issue and the emotional scars aren't a problem either, just a daily reminder to her of how precious life is, her own and that of her husband and daughters.
"If the cancer does return." Bennett said, "I will show them how to die, just like I've shown them how to live."

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