Ruth Walker’s message to anyone who is battling breast cancer: "Don’t think there is no hope."
Now a nine-year survivor, Walker was 55 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage I breast cancer in September 2004. She lived in Long Beach, Calif., at the time and she said she will never forget that day.
"I was actually at work when I called to get my results, and they said, ‘Oh, you have to call your doctor.’ I called her and then that’s when she told me. And I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It felt like the end of the world," Walker said. "But, I stayed at work. I cried the rest of the day because I thought I was done. … I can even remember when I went home to tell my daughter, that was the hardest part.
"Back then, I had no clue as to what anything was. I had no information about cancer and stuff. So, of course, I thought I was going to die the next week," she said.
Walker said after coming to terms with her diagnosis, she put everything in order. She had a mastectomy at Long Beach Memorial Hospital in California and soon explored more details about her diagnosis.
"I just started with the procedures and started researching and got everything ready because I didn’t have any family. It was just me and (my daughter). So, there was nobody to come in and help after surgery and stuff," Walker said.
"Surgery went well because I had surgery that evening and then I came home that night," she said. "They didn’t even keep me overnight or anything. But you know, it was good, and I slept at home in my bed."
Shortly after her surgery, Walker underwent eight months of chemotherapy. She said she remained positive and kept her mind busy.
"I read a lot. I did a lot of reading and stuff, and I actually went and signed up for an online class because that chemo really messes with your brain function, so I had to keep an active brain. I had to do like puzzles, crossword puzzles," Walker said.
"You just have to be strong and determined. I was determined that it was not going to beat me at that point," she said. "I pretty much kind of stayed home. You know, I went grocery shopping and things like that, but for the most part I stayed home because I did not want to get sick and delay any of my treatments."
After her chemo treatments ended in June 2005, Walker said she decided to move to Georgia, to Covington, where she had family and friends.
"I finished my treatment in June, and my friend was trying to talk me into it before all this had even started. … In June, when I was done, she was like, ‘You know, the cost of living is cheaper and Atlanta is here, too.’"
"It felt like I was starting over, because when I was ready to go back to work in California, I didn’t have my job anymore. My job was gone, my condo sold like right away, the same day," she said. "Everything just fell into place, and this was a new beginning."
Walker said after moving to Covington, she found a job as a receptionist and secretary at the Newton Medical Center, where she continues to work. She said she visited an oncologist in Covington for about a year, but was released once everything seemed to be OK.
However, she said, she’s still vigilant and has a mammogram every year.
Walker said she feels as though she was given "a second lease on life" and she is making the most of it.
"You live each day like the last day because you really don’t know whether you are sick or not or if it’s your last day or not. You do appreciate it more. You tell people you love them more and stuff like that, and you express your feelings more," Walker said. "I’m not a very affectionate person, but you know. … We get together with family now. You try to keep in touch and be more aware of what’s going on."
Walker urged anyone diagnosed with breast cancer to stay positive.
"Just don’t give up right away, because there is hope. You know, you pray and just do what you are supposed to do and, you know, accept it if your family or friends want to help you. You just take the help," Walker said.
"Don’t think there is no hope. It can be rough at times, but for the most part I didn’t think I did too bad."