Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories about citizens of Obion County who have been or are being helped by the Obion County Cancer Agency with funds raised through Obion County Hometown Walk of Hope.
By DONNA RYDER
Debra Alexander of Bumpus Road near Union City did self breast exams routinely, but it was one such exam in October 2011 that turned out to be not so routine.
Debra, wife of Donnie Alexander, said she found a lump, a big one that had come up quickly, and it hurt.
A trip to the doctor led to an ultrasound, a biopsy and a diagnosis of breast cancer.
With no family history of breast cancer, the diagnosis came as a shock, “but I kind of knew that’s what it would be,” she said.
Debra has been strong, though, said her daughter, Amber Barr, and her daughter-in-law, J.J. Alexander.
In fact, Amber said, “She handled it so much better than we did.” She said her mother is a strong person and recalled many days where she would cry in the car all the way to pick up her husband, Kenny Barr, and all the way back to the house, but then would “suck it up” before going back into her mother’s house.
“I was not going to do that around her,” Amber said, recalling when Dr. Wright Jernigan gave them the news that her mother “never wavered.” She said she simply asked the doctor, “What do we do now and how are we going to do it.”
“I have such a deep belief in God, I know everything is going to be OK. I was not worried. I knew everything was going to be OK,” Debra said.
And everything will be OK if Debra’s family and friends have anything to do with it.
J.J. and her husband, Jason, moved back into the house to help out after the first round of chemotherapy treatments made Debra sick enough to send her to the hospital for four days. J.J. said Debra is “stubborn” and keeps doing the housework even though she knows she is supposed to be resting.
Besides supporting Debra by doing the cooking, grocery shopping and housework, J.J., Jason and Kenneth went the extra mile by shaving their heads.
Debra said when her hair started coming out by the handfuls and when it started thinning in the back, she knew it was time to shave it.
J.J. was the first of the trio to shave her head, but she admitted it wasn’t the first time, nor even the second, that her “melon-shaped noggin” would be bald. The first time was on a bet and the second was when she was in the National Guard. Jason followed shortly behind, with J.J. giving him more of a mohawk than a clean shave. Kenneth then shaved his own head.
Amber said her mom was more upset about losing her eyebrows and eyelashes than losing the hair on her head, “but one of the perks is she doesn’t have to shave her legs.”
Another perk is they get to go hat shopping. Debra loves her hats almost as much as she loves Alabama football. She has more than a dozen hats — most of them Alabama hats — just in her living room. She’s originally from Alabama, but moved here 38 years ago after she and Donnie got married.
Debra also loves to read and fish.
Another perk of the bald heads is Debra and J.J. get to change the color of their hair simply by changing their wigs. In fact, J.J. was wearing a dark black wig over her short brown hair during the interview.
Debra’s nieces also are planning a way to show their support. They’re going to cut their hair and make donations to Locks of Love. They’re waiting for the youngest, age 6, to grow her hair long enough for the required 12 inches for the donation so they can all have their hair cut at the same time.
In addition to family, Debra said her second family at Save-A-Lot has been very supportive during her illness.
“I have my family and friends. They are so great. I don’t know what I would have done. They give me strength to do what I have to do,” Debra said.
Debra is on TennCare but to help cover other expenses, she turned to the Obion County Cancer Agency. She was referred by one of her co-workers.
She said when she was first diagnosed, it was winter and her husband wasn’t working. He is a heavy equipment operator for Billy Craddock Farms. So, the cancer agency was a true blessing.
She said they’ve helped with wigs, books and other products. “Anything I’ve pretty much needed,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful organization. It’s fantastic and anyone with a legitimate reason can come and get help,” she said.
Debra praised Lorraine Beachum, who oversees the Hope Chest at Health Quest and is on the board for the cancer agency.
“She is so great at it. … There could be nobody better or more qualified,” Debra said, adding Mrs. Beachum also gives her moral support by periodically calling her to see if she’s OK and if she needs anything.
Debra said she wants to thank all the people associated with the Obion County Cancer Agency and to all those who spent their time raising money for the organization through Hometown Walk of Hope.
“This is the best organization they could possibly be helping,” she said.
“I’ve had lots of support. Lots of prayer and concern from people who don’t even know me. They are caring. I’ve just been so lucky to have friends and family. You can’t put a price tag on that.”
Debra and Donnie have two other children, Shauna Kirch of Florida and Michael Alexander of Union City; and 10 grandchildren and stepgrandchildren.
Hometown Walk of Hope is scheduled for June 2 from 4 p.m. until midnight at War Memorial Stadium on the Union City High School campus. For more information, calll Mrs. Beachum at 884-0110.
Associate Editor Donna Ryder can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 4.28.12