Keeping the Faith
“Bigger than imagination” is how the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Ky describes its replica of Noah’s ark, built to the exact measurements described in the Bible. Irene Sutton, a patient of Wellstar/Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers’ (NGOC) Austell Cancer Center at Wellstar Cobb Hospital, can testify the slogan’s true.
Walking the ark’s dimensions during a recent visit called to mind the unimaginable depth and width of her own survivorship story. Prior to her breast cancer diagnosis in October 2017, Irene’s perspective of life and its purpose was, in her words, limited.
“I rarely lived in the present. I always lived in the future trying to prevent bad things from happening,” said Irene. Today, equipped with experiential wisdom and a stronger faith, Irene is free from grasping for control. “Living that way is an illusion and robs the present of its joy.”
Irene felt a small lump during a self-examination a few months after her annual mammogram looked normal. A biopsy at The Philip Israel Breast Center revealed stage I cancer with an initial two-step treatment plan: a lumpectomy followed by radiation.
“Knowing there was nothing I could do to reverse my cancer diagnosis was the beginning of surrender. It taught me to trust God not only in the circumstances I was trying to control but with my whole life.”
Irene responded well to the cancer news and initial treatment plan, but with more observation, chemotherapy was needed to more effectively treat Irene’s triple-negative breast cancer, a type of cancer that doesn’t have any of the receptors commonly found in breast cancer making it more challenging to treat.
“We needed a more aggressive treatment plan to fight this aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Irene. NGOC’s Oncologist Dr. Sujatha Hariharan customized a treatment protocol with two types of chemotherapy medications to help prohibit the cancer’s growth and spread.
“Emotionally, facing chemotherapy threw me into another world as it represented a more serious and long-term approach to my care with potential life-altering side effects. I didn’t want to have to go through all that.”
“The faith, efficiency, attentiveness, and compassion of Dr. Hariharan and the Wellstar/NGOC team made a difference especially when the chemo was doing a number on me,” added Irene. Irene felt as though her body detached from who she once was as she experienced common, yet fierce, side effects as the treatment worked to kill the cancer. “It was hard staring at a bald and weaker me in the mirror, but I knew I had to keep pressing on.”
Despite the physical challenges, Irene refused to look too far into the future. She knew filling it with fear and worry erodes a life of faith. Hours in the infusion room with other patients in a fight like her own, strengthened her dependency on God and gratitude for supportive family and friends.
Now, beyond the five-year remission mark, Irene is back to annual visits at Wellstar/NGOC’s Austell cancer center to ensure she remains cancer free.
Irene’s retirement from an 18-year tenure as a property tax accountant at the Cobb County Tax Commissioner’s office lasted a mere 12 months before joining Milford Church Elementary School as a lunchroom monitor where she currently serves since August 2022.
“It’s not just about keeping the children quiet; it’s leading them in the right direction and making a difference in their lives just like Dr. Hariharan did for me,” said Irene, continuing her lifelong investment in younger generations as a mother, Sunday School teacher and grandmother of two.
Even if the flood waters didn’t recede when she wanted them to, Irene, in her words “kept going forward, trusting and believing. Everything I needed God provided. Eventually, those harrowing days came to an end. The grace of God gave me strength to persevere.”