BY CHRISTINA VANDERWERF
For the Hood River News
Debbie Clark is allergic to bees. And yet she credits a bee with saving her life.
At 53, Debbie is a busy woman; a mother of five, caring for her husband and working full-time at the Hood River Safeway. Like many of us, she doesn’t take time to go to the doctor. But then, a bee sting set off warning signs that prompted her to get a mammogram.
Go back to September 2011. Debbie’s outside enjoying the vibrant yellows, reds and oranges of fall foliage in the Gorge. Then she gets stung. Allergic to bees, she doesn’t think much about the significant swelling and irritation in her arm. But then the pain moves into her breast.
“The bee saved my life,” Debbie said. “Once I felt that pain, I gave myself a complete breast exam, and that’s when I found the lump. Even then, I didn’t think anything of it.”
Like many people who find a lump, she told herself she would watch it, and she did — for three more months. “At that point, I knew it was something bad and then I told myself ‘I’m not ruining anyone’s Christmas.’”
Fast forward to the holidays: Debbie makes a New Year’s resolution to get a physical, including a mammogram. “I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’d had one, because I was busy taking care of everybody else,” she says. “After the tests, my fears were confirmed. I had cancer. I’ll never forget that day — it was Friday the 13th.”
Within a month, she is having a mastectomy at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital to remove the tumor and affected lymph nodes. Following her surgery, she begins chemotherapy treatments at the hospital.
Recognizing that October is breast cancer awareness month, Debbie knows the value of having cancer services nearby; from imaging and surgery to infusion therapy. “I’m a small-town girl and they kept my care close to home,” she says.
Debbie begins radiation next month and will continue with physical therapy in Hood River. She plans to be back at work by January.
“This cancer has brought so many blessings into my life,” she says. “Does cancer stink? Of course, but the people I have met along my journey have been angels.”
For more information, visit www.provi-dence.org/hoodriver.