NEWPORT—The American Cancer Society estimates that one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. For some, the diagnosis alone can feel paralyzing. For 53-year-old Christy Adams, who overcame stage 3 breast cancer in January, her constitution prevailed. Now she answers a calling from within to help new patients facing for themselves what she went through last year.
Adams, through the Close to My Heart Breast Cancer Foundation, which she began last October, aims to help make a positive difference in women’s lives as they undergo treatment for breast cancer.
Since surviving a deadly form of cancer, and faced with a high chance of recurrence, Adams has dedicated her life to being a force of good, and through her young foundation now sends out care packages with the goal of helping others through the difficult process of cancer treatment.
“I want to help people,” she said. “I want to do something that really matters. I think it’s an 85% chance of recurrence in the first three years, so that’s why I just want to leave something good in the world. I just want to do good for other people while I’m here.”
Sitting by the window of a restaurant on Cosby Highway, Adams described the soul-numbing effect of first being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.
“I already knew. I just had that intuition. I’d been having a lot of problems that I ignored for a long time. It was such a punch to the gut, that I could not feel anything for a while,” she said. “I could not feel immediate sadness.”
Adams said the initial numbness eventually gave way to deeper feelings, and with that came a better defined awareness of the world. Now, she says she is given to the moment, and finds herself appreciating life more, sensitive to its smallest details.
“It changes how you look at everything,” she said, gesturing to a bush near the window. “Now I can look at that bush out there, and it’s almost like I can see every little, teeny thing on it, you know? The leaves have more definition. The clouds, and the feeling of rain on my skin. It’s almost like I see things more clearly now. I feel more deeply about things than I used to. I can’t explain it.”
In her book, "Cancer, God, and Me," Adams writes about the profound experience of giving oneself over to something bigger, putting her life in other people’s hands and her trust in God. In giving herself over to whatever fate held, she finds herself increasingly guided by an emergent sense of purpose.
However, Adams said that her life-saving cancer treatment was so painful and difficult that if the cancer returns, she does not know if she could go through with it again. Knowing firsthand how terrifying the experience can be, she hopes to bring relief to anyone going through it.
“That’s why I’m trying to do as much good as I can, because there is a very high likelihood I won’t be here in three years.”
The care packages, which come with blankets, caps, and other helpful items, often contain a personal message from Adams herself. She is also happy about a recent partnership with True Love Skincare, which now sends her a monthly supply of skin care travel kits to be included in every care package.
This year Adams went on to put out a children’s book series – Adventures with Lolly – to guide young readers through topics like bullying, exclusion and prejudice. Remedies such as unconditional love, dignity, respect and acceptance found in her children’s works are echoes of newfound perspectives fortified by her own confrontation with mortality, trusting and accepting whatever may lie ahead.
In her book, Adams writes every detail of what it is like to go through the harrowing ordeal of discovery, diagnosis, and treatment, including the social and psychological aspects of how family and friends may react, or other complex changes that are not immediately apparent to everyone who has never had cancer or who might just be going through it for the first time.
“I tried to cover it all, because I had a couple friends who just ghosted me, because they didn’t know,” she said. “They didn’t understand. They couldn’t handle it. After I went through the journey, I realized not everyone knows how to cope.”
She said her friend came back, Adams understood her feelings, and they are good now.
Now her friends help out with foundation events, like a summer getaway raffle in which her friends donated their cabin for a stay in Pigeon Forge, tickets to Dollywood, and a dinner for four, put up by the foundation.
“I don’t take anything,” Adams said. “Every donation I get goes strictly to supplies.”
Sharon Rosenbalm, who she credits with helping out with the raffle, downplays her involvement in the organization, saying she is proud of her friend, and how well Adams runs the foundation on her own. The two met at Dollywood in 2017, where they worked. Now they attend church together.
“I’m mostly just her friend of encouragement,” Rosenbalm said. “I help her find the right people with the product that she needs, and things like that. Anything we can do just to encourage her.”
Rosenbalm said Adams’ knowledge and encouragement is an asset to other women experiencing the same problems.
“The response she gets from the women who have suffered through what she’s suffered through, she’s a great encouragement when it comes to that,” she said. “She’s very good at her writing and things like that to help encourage people. I try to do my best to keep her encouraged because everybody has some days where you don’t feel the best.”
Her care packages are sent to patients at breast cancer treatment centers in the area, including the Thompson Cancer Survival Center in Sevierville where she was treated. Women who are new patients, and are perhaps just hearing about their breast cancer for the first time often receive the news with the same sterile nonchalance as Adams when she learned she had caner. The care packages are intended to offer some measure of warmth in atmospheres of such clinical coldness.
Early detection through regular screening mammograms starting at age 40 are the best tool women have against breast cancer, says Deena Hill, Chief Nursing Officer at Newport Medical Center.
“Women in our community have many resources available to them to support their health and well-being,” Hill says. “Women often put their own health needs off to care for others but it's important to take care of yourself too.”
When Adams was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ducal carcinoma, considered to be among the most aggressive, and most deadly, form of breast cancer with the highest recurrence rate, she had already been ignoring the issue for some time.
Banking on a previous misdiagnosis, and ignoring her own intuition that the growing lump in her breast was in fact deadly serious, she wrote how she was afraid to learn for certain what, deep down, she already knew.
“I couldn’t bring myself to face what I already knew,” she stated in her book. “I didn’t want to know. I thought maybe I was just overreacting and letting my mind run away with me, but if I heard it from the doctor, then it would be real.”
“Some degree of fear is expected but it is best to take it one day at a time,” says Hill. “Our community has an excellent local cancer support group called Celebrate Life. It is good to have someone to talk to that has fought the same battle.”
In her book Adams admitted to being in “denial at its finest,” as she was being led by her emotions and not any rational thought process.
“Screening mammograms are covered by most health plans,” she says. “Patients without insurance also have the option to look at MDSave to save on costs and the TN Breast and Cervical Program can help some patients with the cost of mammograms.”
In the case of a positive diagnosis, Adams says to prepare for your life to be disrupted.
“It’s not just, you have your life – and this is a little thing to deal with – or it’s just something you deal with and then you get over it. No. It completely changes your whole life after that.”
She said the changes are not only physical, due to illness, but a person is challenged each step of the way, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. She said it changes how you see everything.
“So that’s just why I want to leave something good in the world,” she said. “I just want to do good for other people while I’m here. I always had a good heart, but after breast cancer it hit home that I’ve got to do something that really matters. I have got to help people.”
Adams said since starting the nonprofit last October, her friends have given generously in support of her mission. She said she appreciates a Facebook circle of friends with open hearts, and in an effort to take pressure off her social network, she is now in the lengthy process of applying for grants, and is currently seeking corporate sponsorship.
Throughout her treatment and beyond, Adams has remained enrolled in a master’s program in developmental psychology.
In this final week of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Adams is pushing to double her average number of outgoing care packages by the 29th, to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the foundation.
To help support the Close to My Heart Breast Cancer Foundation, visit closetomyheartfoundation.weebly.com for contact information, pictures, and more about their work lending a helping hand during life’s toughest time.