Breast Cancer Awareness: Community support key to treatment

By Racey Burden | Published Wednesday, September 30, 2015
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Leanna Thomas remembers the exact day she was diagnosed with breast cancer – May 29, 2015, the last day of school at Paradise ISD, where she works as secretary for the junior high.

LEAN ON ME – Paradise ISD has backed junior high secretary Leanna Thomas since her breast cancer diagnosis in May. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

She’d just had her regular mammogram and been called back in for a second checkup, a common occurrence that she didn’t think much of. When the results of her biopsy returned positive for cancer, Thomas was at the school with Paradise Intermediate Principal Kristin Gage and Junior High Principal Greg Fletcher, who immediately began to pray with her.

Thomas has been leaning on the support of her community ever since.

“I know I can’t do this by myself. I worry about too much, too much,” Thomas said. “I mean, I cry over spilled milk. I’m just so soft-hearted like that, but I have not cried since that day. I know it’s God and all the people praying for me because I can’t do this without them.”

Thomas’ doctors recommended six rounds of chemotherapy treatment, the last of which will take place Oct. 6. The community rallied around Thomas during treatment, raising money to pay for her chemotherapy caps, chilled caps that freeze her hair follicles during treatment to prevent hair loss. The caps cost around $435 for every treatment.

“What this community did, they came together because I didn’t want to lose my hair, so they came together and raised money so I could have that done,” Thomas said.

At the school, Thomas said everyone from kids to the superintendent will stop by the front office to check on her. Whenever she needs to miss school for an appointment or because she’s feeling ill from treatment, Paradise ISD accommodates her.

“I do want the world to know that this job is absolutely wonderful working with me,” she said. “If I feel bad, I can go home when I want to. They don’t bat an eye at me. They take care of me.”

Outside of the school, Thomas knows 10 others in Wise County with cancer. She said that some of them have formed a makeshift support group to talk about treatments and encourage each other.

“Every one of us is at a different stage, and so we ask, ‘Am I supposed to be doing this?’ and ‘What am I expecting here?,'” Thomas said.

After going through the stress of a diagnosis and chemotherapy, Thomas has a bit of advice for other women (and men, too).

“I just want women, and men, too, to please, for your sake, for your family’s sake, for your friends’ sake just go and get your yearly exam,” she said. “The earlier, the better.”

In just over a month, Thomas hopes to be cancer-free and undergoing a double-mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Approaching the end of her chemotherapy treatments, Thomas is excited and also grateful to everyone who has supported her, from her family to her friends to the entire school district.

“I owe it to this community 10 times over,” Thomas said.

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