BRACEVILLE - Debbi Rihel just doesn't fit the criteria.
She works out, doesn't smoke, doesn't drink coffee or most anything with caffeine, eats right and maintains a healthy weight.
She had two children before she was 30, and she has no family history of breast cancer. Every year, she gave herself self-exams and never felt anything. At 40, she started having yearly mammograms.
Breast cancer survivor Debbi Rihel is shown in her screen-printing studio. She works out, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink coffee or most anything with caffeine, eats right and maintains a healthy weight. She had two children before she was 30, and she has no family history of breast cancer. “Cancer doesn’t discriminate,” said Rihel. “It chose me.”
On top of all that, Rihel was a mammography technician for seven years, so she knew about prevention and preached it to many others.
In October, she went to get the results from that 2010 annual mammogram - she brought donuts for her former co-workers, expecting to do some catching up. Instead, she was told there was something that needed attention.
"Cancer doesn't discriminate," said Rihel, who recently turned 45. "It chose me."
Editor's note:?This story is part of a series about local cancer survivors. This series will run throughout the month of May in recognition of local Relay For Life events held throughout the Mahoning Valley. If you or someone you know would like to be profiled in this series, contact Mary Beth Wyko at 330-841-1738 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure
What: 60-mile walk over the course of three days.
When: July 29-31
Who: Team Heart to Sole - Debbi and Rob Rihel
Why: Net proceeds from the 3-Day for the Cure are invested in breast cancer research and community programs.
To donate or get involved, find more information at www.the3day.org.
Relay For Life
Warren: May 6-7, Courthouse Square, Downtown Warren
Liberty:?May 13-14, Churchill Park
Cortland: June 3-4, Lakeview High School Stadium
Lordstown-Newton Falls: June 10-11, Newton Falls High School Stadium
Austintown:?June 10-11, Austintown Fitch High School
She said even after she was diagnosed, she couldn't feel the lump herself.
So after a couple of biopsies followed by breast conservation therapy (lumpectomy), during which another spot was found, Rihel's doctor recommended a double masectomy.
She said this was because she was young, because there was a 42-percent chance of recurrence in the other breast, and because she just doesn't fit any of the criteria.
But Rihel is by no means an island. Her husband, Rob, had also been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 44 - a progressive prostate cancer that he has since beaten.
Long before their own bouts with cancer, the family has been involved in the Relay For Life. This is will be their 11th year, and although they're taking an understandable hiatus, she said they planned to be there to help.
They've had family teams and teams with their respective work places. They've gotten kids from LaBrae involved, including the cheerleaders and soccer team. The couple's son, Evan, 16, is a student at LaBrae. His sister, Emily, is a student at Akron University, and she participated in the school's Relay this year.
Rihel, with the help of her husband, runs a screen-printing business called SW Designs. Last year, they printed more than 10,000 Relay T-shirts for 17 different Relays For Life.
Rihel calls herself a "glass-half-full" kind of person and says she is fortunate. Her cancer, called DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ, was in the early stages and was noninvasive. She said she has supportive family and friends, and she talked through the whole thing so that others could learn from her experience.
On Christmas Eve, Rihel and her family found out that the cancer had been successfully removed. The lymph nodes they removed also were negative. She would not need radiation or chemotherapy - a fine holiday gift.
She also found that the double mastectomy was a good decision, because the pathology on the other breast came back abnormal.
And now, all those healthy things she did - or didn't do - to take care of her body would play a part in making the whole experience easier.
Rihel began the process of reconstruction, first with tissue expanders that would gradually be filled. She said that because of her strong health, she was able to return to Cleveland once a week to have this done. Most people can only handle every two weeks.
For some reason, every trip to Cleveland seemed to be in a blizzard.
There was pain after the treatment and weakness in her arms. With the reconstruction process complete, Rihel just returned to using the big press in her small-business operation in the garage.
Debbi and Rob Rihel are now training for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, a 60-mile walk to be held over the course of three days in Cleveland.
"The kids have done real well; now they have to be real proactive about their health," Debbi Rihel said. "That's why we're walking in this."
All the funds from the walk go toward breast cancer research and programs - Rihel doesn't want her daughter or someday granddaughter to have to worry about breast cancer.
Rihel is particularly aware of potential legislation that would move the baseline mammogram age from 40 to 50. She calls herself a prime candidate, having not fit any of the expected criteria. She's written letters and emails to legislators, even including operative notes and lab reports.
"If I'd have waited six years of it growing in there, what would my prognosis be?" she said. "Not good."