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One tough cookie

Hubbard woman keeps her spirits high after breast cancer diagnosis

Breast cancer survivor and multiple sclerosis patient Debbie Fay of Hubbard sits in the Serenity Garden at the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center in Youngstown. (Staff photo / R. Michael Semple)

HUBBARD — Hubbard resident Debbie Fay already had been dealing with multiple sclerosis for years when she was diagnosed three years ago with breast cancer.

“‘You’re a tough cookie!’ That’s what people said when they found out that I had cancer,” Fay said. “You see, they’ve known me for years and know the struggles I’ve had with having MS, and so they knew that I was a fighter and wouldn’t give in to this diagnosis either.”

Fay said she decided that instead of feeling sorry for herself, she would ask for support from everyone she knew. She created the Facebook blog “One Tough Cookie, Debbie’s Journey Through Breast Cancer.”

“I have shared my entire journey — the good, the bad and the ugly,” Fay said. “When I’m down, people are there to lift me up, and when I am feeling good, they are there to cheer me on.

“It started out as a support system for me but has become a resource and inspiration for others as well,” Fay said.

Fay, who is a three-year cancer survivor who is known for bright pink clothes and shoes, said her story began in late 2016. She said she was due for her annual breast exam and mammogram.

“I almost put it off because it was close to the holiday and it was just easier to think about doing it ‘next year.’ Thank God I did not. My doctor found a lump in my left breast while he was doing the exam,” she said.

Fay said her doctor added an order for a sonogram to be done immediately following the mammogram. When the radiologist looked at the sonogram he ordered an immediate biopsy of the breast, she said.

“Because I’ve always gone to the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center in Youngstown, everything was able to be done right there, the same day,” Fay said.

Because the tests were done right before Christmas, there was a delay in getting the biopsy results, but two days before the New Year Fay received the call that it was cancer.

“I don’t think anyone is ever really ready to hear those words, but it was especially painful because ironically they came just as I was paying for a four-hourlong hair appointment. At the time, all I could think of was, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to lose my hair!,’ not realizing that would be the last thing that would concern me as the months wore on,” she said.

Fay said she had finally gotten her hair to be long and blonde and straight.

“It seemed like a flurry of activity as appointments were made with all of these different doctors and all of the different tests that I needed. Through it all, I think I was still in denial as I listened to what they told me, sometimes letting out a tear or two, but mostly just listening quietly,” Fay said.

She said it wasn’t an easy journey, nor a very pleasant one. She said she suffered terribly with the side effects of chemotherapy and ended up being hospitalized for five days halfway through her treatment.

“It was determined that I needed to be given IV hydration every other day, so I became quite a frequent visitor at the infusion lab.

“It was very easy to want to give up hope, but tests results showed that the cancer was shrinking significantly and that news gave me the push I needed to get through the rest of the rounds of chemo.

“When I rang that bell, surrounded by my family and the nurses that were there helping me every other day, it was one of the greatest feelings in the world,” Fay said.

Fay said she realizes how lucky she was in that the cancer she had was the most common kind, with 80 percent of the women who get breast cancer having this type.

Because of this, there was a targeted treatment plan of six rounds of very potent chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove the lump and then followed by six weeks of daily radiation, she said.

“As I’ve listen to stories from the women I’ve met in the treatment room, I realize that it could go either way with this deadly disease and I am very, very lucky to say that I am now cancer free.”

Fay said she thanks the staff at Saint Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital and the Joanie Abdu Center.

“Every single thing that has happened to me all my treatments were here at Joanie Abdu in Youngstown. You don’t have to go to Cleveland or Pittsburgh, which is what I say all the time. This facility has state-of-the-art equipment for chemo, treatment, surgery and radiation which is all here. I love being at the Serenity Garden there where people can come and pray and meditate. There are markers here to remember the departed” Fay said.

She said she has become good friends with staff at the cancer center.

”We have a group here called Joanie’s Sisters, which before COVID, we would meet once a month. We would laugh and cry and dress up in pink and support one another,” she said.

Fay has been honored with a Relay For Life team in her honor. Team Tough Cookie won first place for fundraising efforts for the American Cancer Society.

Fay said she also has been honored by having the team donate money to Tri County Making Strides Against Breast Cancer at their annual Breast Cancer Walk in October.

“So many of my family and friends and even strangers have rallied around me, supported me, comforted me and been there for me every step of the way. My cousin made me a bright pink cape, dubbing me ‘Super Tough Cookie.’ I wear it to events like the Panerathon and the breast cancer walks,” Fay said.

She said she learned a lot during her journey, “suffering with loss and rejoicing with highs, as I call it the roller coaster of life.”

“A new reality sets in as you adjust to your ‘new’ life,” she said. “The thing I would say to anyone is that you can overcome whatever obstacle you have in your life. If I can beat breast cancer with a smile on my face then you have the strength to overcome your obstacles too. One day, one hour, one minute at a time … until you get through it.”

bcoupland@tribtoday.com

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