Clearview Cancer Institute Breast Cancer Interview

Debbie Hargett, Head of Greengate School at Randolph School, speaks about the experiences of breast cancer during an interview at Clearview Cancer Institute Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 in Huntsville, Ala. (Eric Schultz / Redstone Rocket)

Serving as a reminder for women everywhere was never on Debbie Hargett’s agenda, but it is a calling she has accepted.

“There’s always a story to tell. And you never think it will be you telling it,” Hargett said.

Yet here she is, a reminder to women everywhere: don’t forego your annual mammogram. It is thanks to her faithfulness to the screening – and a determined radiologist – that she is still here today.

“Were it not for a diligent radiologist who would not stop looking, I’m not sure it would have been found when it was,” said Hargett, who went in for her annual screening in spring 2018. “She just kept saying, ‘I just know something’s there. There’s a shadow.

In my gut I know there’s something there.’”

After a 3D mammogram, ultrasound, unsuccessful 3D-guided biopsy, MRI and MRI-guided biopsy, the radiologist confirmed her suspicions – a 2.7 centimeter tumor in Hargett’s right breast.

“It was her determination that may have saved my life, and I don’t mean that to be melodramatic,” Hargett said. “I think it probably did, because my cancer was HER2-positive, which means it grows quickly. I had had 3D mammograms for the last six years, and my mammogram a year prior had been clear.”

Diagnosed in April 2018, Hargett didn’t wait long to take action in

putting an end to the disease in her body.

“Someone once told me, ‘How you respond in the first 30 seconds after hearing you have cancer sort of determines your path,’” Hargett said. “I remember sitting there at the Breast Center with my sisters, and when the nurse told me it was cancer, I just sat there for a couple seconds and then I said, ‘What are we going to do?’ That’s how I approached it. I cried a few times, don’t get me wrong, but my attitude was let’s just deal with it, do what needs to be done.”

Hargett underwent a bilateral mastectomy, with reconstruction, at Vanderbilt in May 2018, followed by chemotherapy at Clearview Cancer Institute starting in July 2018. Thankfully, the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. While the fatigue caused by the chemotherapy was “debilitating,” she only missed three days of work as the head of Greengate School at Randolph. A second surgery to complete the reconstruction was done in December 2018.

“I’m thankful and blessed overall, there’s no doubt about that,” said Hargett, who still deals with some neuropathy. “I feel really fortunate, because I don’t feel like I had as hard a time as a lot of women do. It could have been much worse.”

When she asked her oncologist Dr. Marshall Schreeder what exactly he would classify her as today, his response was the best she could hope for, “You are free of the disease,” with a five-year survival rate of 95%.

“I can’t get much better than that,” Hargett said. “I’m a very realistic person and I know everything happens for a reason. I haven’t found the reason yet, but I think opportunities like this, opportunities to tell my story, are important for other women.”

It is one she shared with her Greengate staff shortly after receiving her diagnosis.

“I told them, ‘The most important thing I will say to you is get your mammograms yearly. Do not put it off or think it can wait until next year. Your life may very well depend on you getting that mammogram now. Do not think you don’t have time or you have to take care of your husband or your children. You’ve got to take care of yourself,’” Hargett said.

“There was a purpose. And maybe in some small way it was just saying that to my staff,” Hargett said.

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