Fight like a girl: taking on breast cancer together

Oct 7, 2021


When Chris Gearhart found a lump in her breast, her first thought wasn’t cancer.

Instead, the 45-year-old mother thought it could have been something minor. Something that could be ignored. Something not so serious.

But when Chris saw her OB/GYN for a routine visit, she discovered that things might be serious. The eventual diagnosis: stage II triple-negative breast cancer. The last news Chris and her family wanted to hear.

But through positivity, family support and the backing of a team of experts at the Adventist Health St. Helena’s Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center, Chris became one of the 90 percent of women to beat breast cancer.

Walking in for treatment for the first time was a surreal experience, Chris explains. “You can think you know what to expect, but unless you’ve been through breast cancer treatment, it’s hard to truly understand the experience.”

But Chris wasn’t alone. At her side was her husband, Doug, and daughter, Dani. And a team of oncology physicians, nurses and staff at the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center were there to make sure Chris received the very best treatment and support from day one. Her treatment included surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, as well as the whole-person care provided by the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center team. With the support of her family, friends and treatment team on her side, Chris took on breast cancer treatment with a positive attitude and tenacious spirit.

“I tried to make every day of treatment as positive as possible,” Chris says. “I didn’t want to spend any day in sadness. Along with the incredible medical treatment, I think a good attitude made a big difference in improving my chances.”

That meant a special playlist and dance moves for treatment milestones, custom t-shirts emblazoned with encouraging phrases for the whole family, silly socks and gifts for the nurses.

“I actually looked forward to seeing all of the nurses and staff. I wasn’t looking forward to chemo or radiation, but the Cancer Center team became like friends—they are always so welcoming and caring.”

The experience went beyond welcoming smiles to include well-coordinated treatment.

“Everyone at the cancer center was working together as a well-oiled machine, organizing all of the many tests and appointments and allowing me to focus on fighting,” Chris describes. Doug agrees. “It’s completely patient-oriented. They made the process a lot easier by holding our hands through every step.”

Chris and her family also were connected to integrative cancer support services through the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center. One was a program at Sunrise Horse Rescue in Calistoga.

“Working to get into the mindset of the horse, listening to their needs and taking deep breaths helped shift my focus,” Chris said. “Trying to get a horse to listen to me helped me realize what was important. I still use those techniques when I get anxious to help me relax.” Dani, on the other hand, fell in love with a particular horse, Ged, and the rescue’s aging Chihuahua, Tazzle.

“Thanks to the Cancer Center, I was also able to do a program with a trainer at Calistoga Fit,” Chris recalls. “Dani got to come and work out with me as well.” This program is made possible for Cancer Center patients thanks to the generosity of Hope Strengthens, a nonprofit organization that provides critical support to individuals facing life-threatening illness or recovering from traumatic injuries.

One day, Chris was having a tough time and Jordan, the trainer, could tell something was wrong.

“After I told her how I was feeling, Jordan scrapped the workout she had planned and had me do restorative yoga instead. And it took me from a 10 in terms of my anxiety and sadness back down to zero.”

These extra programs improved not only her outlook, but also the outcome of her treatment.

As Chris’s treatment successfully came to an end, she prepared to ring the Cancer Center’s gong, a special tradition for each patient as they move into the next stage of their survivorship journey.

“When treatment ended, I wondered what I was going to do with myself. I had this extended family at the cancer center and I knew I was going to miss them,” Chris says.

On her last day of treatment, Chris, her mom, Doug and Dani each wore a special tie-dyed shirt with “Fight Like a Girl” written on the front. “I got to help her ring the gong,” Dani says. “We swung it together.”