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Faith in facing breast cancer
Breast cancer survivor Sarah Malone at her favorite spot in the house in the kitchen. - photo by Michelle Kim

When Sarah Malone received her diagnosis of breast cancer in 2006, it was almost a relief.

Malone, the mother of three and grandmother of eight, had been living with a quiet expectation of cancer for most of her adult life. Her mother and two sisters died from cancer and another sister is a breast cancer survivor.

Malone had also grown up in Niagara Falls, N.Y. near the infamous Love Canal neighborhood, now a Superfund site, where toxic waste had been buried.

"It was like something I'd always known at some point in my life I was going to have to face," said Malone. "It was relief to know, ‘OK, here it is. Now what are you going to do?'"

She said her husband and children were more devastated by the news than she was. Her calm, positive outlook comes in large part from her faith, she said.

"When I heard it, I wasn't nearly as upset as I thought I would be. I guess my faith over the years has taught me what is going to be, is going to be and you cannot change that. When you find out that you have a particular condition, I said, ‘OK, Lord, here I am. Show me how to get through this.'"

Malone was also lucky that she discovered the lump at such an early point.

She was diagnosed with a stage zero carcinoma insitu, meaning the cells were still together in one surgically-removable lump and had not spread.

She did not need to have chemotherapy but did have radiation treatments and is now finishing up Tamoxifen treatments.

Her husband of 49 years, James, accompanied her to all her treatments. During that time, Malone kept working in her second career an instructor at Athens Tech and only had to take one day off work.

"I decided this is something I've got to do to make me feel better," she said. "I was lucky and I prayed a lot. I still do."

With her family history and background as a medical professional - she started as a nurse and retired as a director of health information management - Malone was also more vigilant than most about doing self breast exams and going to the doctor whenever she had any concerns. She had found lumps four times before, but they all turned out to be benign.

Now a six-year survivor, Malone strongly advocates that all women know how to do self exams and have regular mammograms. Mothers should teach their daughters how to do self exams, she said. Malone admits she will quiz her girlfriends about whether they've had their mammograms.

"It only takes a few minutes (to do a self exam) when you're in the shower. When you go to a doctor, they can tell you no it's not a lump, yes it is a lump."

The longer women wait, she said, the more risk they have that if there is a cancer, it would have spread.

"If you're a female, it's just a part of life," she said.