Survivor Stories: Colleen Christensen

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Tess Malijenovsky

“Cancer was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” said Colleen Christensen, a surprising statement from a compassionate woman on her story of surviving breast cancer. She’s a woman who despite her healthy, athletic lifestyle was diagnosed with breast cancer April 2006 at the age of 52.

Colleen Christensen in her memorial garden.

“I always thought I was the healthy one,” said Colleen, whose two sisters were also diagnosed with breast cancer. Until one afternoon when she visited Dr. Thompson for a routine checkup, the doctor inquired about her inverted nipple. “Oh, Colleen, you have cancer,” said Dr. Thompson, uttering the frightening three words that would jolt her life.
Even after an MRI and a mammogram test, the tumor in Colleen’s breast went undetected until her visit with Dr. Thompson. Upon hearing the news, Colleen was in shock, unable to understand what this would mean. For Colleen’s husband, Rhett, “the love of her life,” who lost a father, a mother and a stepfather to cancer, the news was equally devastating. Fortunately, Colleen’s cancer was diagnosed within the first stage.

Colleen continued in her daily life going to work even with the beginning of her chemotherapy, until the day came that the weight of it all hit her. She called into work crying and her boss assured her saying, “Well it’s about time.”
The repressed hardships of her childhood began to surface for the first time. She became angry. But, this same day Colleen’s attitude towards cancer transformed into an unwavering strength and inspirational positive attitude, thanks to Paula Deen.
“I remember I turned on the TV to get my mind off of it all and Paula Deen was on. She was in her pajamas making breakfast in bed with her husband. I got up and I think I made an apple coffee cake, I can’t quite remember, but it reminded me of my childhood. That’s when I realized that my roots were in cooking and giving, and I wasn’t going to feel bad for myself anymore.”
Colleen’s positivity blossomed like the hodgepodge array of beautiful flowers and herbs that she planted all around her house. She made a game out of her collection of wigs that won her grandchildren over so that they wouldn’t be afraid for grandma. And she’s made a new goal each year: first to learn how to swim, then to study nutrition and get back in shape, and now to walk.
Why was cancer one of the best things that ever happened to Colleen? “I understood what it meant to be alive,” she said.
Colleen’s rallying supporters were her husband, Rhett, her daughter, Tara, and her brother, Caroll. And she deems her three angels to be Dr. Thompson, Dr. Burris and Dr. Newberry. Little did she know at the time, every church in Beaufort was also praying for Colleen.
For those who have someone close to our hearts battling cancer, Colleen encourages to show our love and support, but to also give that person some space when they need it. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are trying treatments that drain every last bit of a person’s energy. Colleen said it took her up to a year to retrieve her strength to walk a mile; but now a five-year survivor, she walked 10 miles in the LoCo Motion Walk and hopes to walk another 20 miles for a marathon in Savannah.
October is the month of breast cancer awareness and there are many ways to donate to cancer research institutes as well as to the individuals who are battling outrageous medical bills on top of cancer.
Tara, Colleen’s daughter, organized the Pink Night Out at Charles & Company Gala this Friday, October 7, from 5:30-8 p.m. Charles & Company is located on 1613 North Street, one block away from the old courthouse (843-521-1919). There will be door prizes, a wine tasting, catered food (by Colleen Christensen) and a gift auction. You can sport the cause with a strand of pink hair that stylists will be on location to put in, and this isn’t just for the ladies! The men at the Police Department are putting on a pink hair bet to raise money for the American Cancer Association. All proceeds go the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and also for a woman fighting breast cancer without insurance. For those who can’t make it to the gala, you can purchase a pink hair strand for $10 from Charles & Company all month long.