Editor's note: In honor of October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this week The Columbus Telegram is publishing profiles of area residents who are breast cancer survivors as part of our second-annual "Think Pink" series in collaboration with Columbus Cancer Care, which worked with us to find profile candidates. Read previously published stories on our website. Our masthead on the front page will also be pink throughout the week.
Traci Weverka didn’t have to read the text last January from her best friend and fellow Columbus resident Sarah Sorenson beyond “it’s time.” She knew her friend was ready to have her head shaved.
So the two friends and their spouses got together to complete the task. Sorenson pulled out a chair and sat in the middle of the room, while her husband stood next to her. Weverka held her friend’s hand and her husband pulled out the clippers and razor. It was hard, but they were all there for their loved one.
“There was a moment when (Sarah) broke down – it was during the first initial run with the razor. I remember my heart sinking and just wanting to take her pain away,” Weverka said. “After five minutes, Sarah being Sarah started cracking jokes, looking at her husband saying, ‘I bet you can’t wait to take me out on a date now' … We even laughed a few times and made some funny hairstyles until her hair was gone.”
Sorenson then started trying on new and fun hats and scarves she could model as part of her new look.
“Obviously, she would rather not have had to shave her head, but she made the best of the situation,” Weverka said. “That’s just how she is.”
Indeed, that’s Sorenson. A Columbus native, she’s a wife, mother of two, dear friend to many and world-class person, by all accounts. But her world was thrown a serious curveball last December when she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She had noticed what she called a somewhat distorted area on her right breast that month but didn’t think much of it until a couple of her co-workers at Columbus Community Hospital pushed her to make an appointment.
“I was shocked,” she said of when she first was diagnosed. “You think, ‘this can’t be happening to me.’”
She then had to wait patiently for the results of a PET scan to make sure the cancer had not spread to other parts of her body beyond the breast and lymph nodes. Luckily, it had not.
“It’s definitely a lot to wrap your head around,” she said.
With the support of her family and friends, Sorenson began her battle – undergoing eight rounds of chemotherapy in 16 weeks, followed by surgery and 33 treatments of radiation.
“They wanted to shrink it first,” she said of the cancer and why she did chemotherapy before surgery. “It was larger than what they liked.”
Chemo started Jan. 2 and ended April 9. She had surgery April 26 and then started radiation May 23 – every weekday for 33 treatments. It wasn’t easy.
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“Chemo was very rough,” she said. “I was sick for a couple days after each treatment. I was gone from work quite a bit. By the time I was done with radiation, my body was suffering still from the treatment – I was sore, achy.”
Even though it was challenging physically, it was arguably even worse mentally. Sorenson said she doubted her strength at times.
“My first chemo appointment – I went in brave and strong, but as soon as I went to the back room where they administer, I lost it … I lost it for quite a while. It was very emotional,” she recalled. “After three or four rounds of chemo, I had a complete meltdown at home with my husband. I remember thinking, ‘why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?’”
Sorenson found strength and support in her friends and family, including her sons, Jordan, 20, and 11-year-old Caiden. There was also her niece Paisley, who at age 1 was diagnosed with a form of cancer.
“My niece was battling a neuroblastoma tumor in her abdomen area. I thought, ‘if she can be brave and strong, then I have to be,” Sorenson said, noting her niece is now almost 5 and healthy. “She kind of helped. Not that she knew it, but she helped me through it.”
Sorenson has been cancer-free since completing her treatment, though acknowledged she will always have fear of it coming back for the rest of her life. She’s planning to share her story with as many people as possible to encourage them to be more aware, noting she might not have even realized she had breast cancer if it were not for her co-workers.
“Never once was I told to look for anything abnormal in appearance,” she said. “If not for my coworkers pushing me to go, I probably still wouldn’t know I have it. So if it’s going to save somebody else to share my story, by all means I’ll do it.”
Weverka said Sorenson is a great friend and inspiration to all who know her, including herself. She recalled her friend’s battle and last New Year’s Eve when everything really changed.
“It was 11:45 p.m. and I remember getting some wine glasses so all of the girls could have a drink at midnight. I looked over and saw Sarah staring into space, with tears in her eyes and consumed with thoughts. It was the first breakdown I saw ... That’s the moment it hit me that my best friend had cancer,” she said.
“And that in 15 minutes, it was going to be the start of a new year, the start of a journey and a year that she was going to have to fight like hell. We toasted to her kicking cancer’s a** in 2019, and boy, she did that.”
The ordeal gave Sorenson a whole new perspective on life. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends, as well as going to The Y regularly.
“I learned that I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be,” Sorenson said. “There are days you don’t think you’re going to keep moving forward but you have to. Now I feel like I can enjoy the absolute littlest thing in life. I’ve learned to not take so much for granted.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.