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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: An inspiring story

In February this year, I missed out on the St. Patrick’s Episcopal yearly trip to Santa Fe with 20-plus women for an overnight and mammogram trip because it conflicted with an annual school board conference.

I put a note on my list of things to do to head to Durango to the Breast Care Center and kept putting it off. So much was going on it just never made the top 10 list — until now. It is October and with all the pink ribbons around and public service announcements about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it was screaming at me to just get it done.

But, really, what drove me to make the appointment was the number of women in Pagosa diagnosed with breast cancer this year. It seems that every week someone else gets word that she has breast cancer. These women are diagnosed with different stages, all different treatments, and all are hopeful that treatment will be successful.

One of Pagosa Springs’ recent breast cancer survivors, Dawn Robel, made me stop and think about what would it be like if I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And gave me a clear example of how to deal with it.

On the day Dawn was diagnosed with breast cancer, she made a proposal to the PROST committee (Parks and Rec, Open Space and Trails) asking for financial support to build a playground at Yamaguchi Park. I knew she was making the presentation because we had discussed it; Dawn made a point of talking to many community members who could help guide the design of the playground for all children, including special needs children.

Dawn walked into the Pagosa Youth Center one afternoon with her three young sons, introduced herself and talked about her desire to get the playground built in Yamaguchi Park. It was the first time I had met Dawn. I gave her some leads on who to talk to and told her to keep in touch if she needed anything else. I was impressed.

Our next meeting was at the elementary school Book Swap, where Dawn not only signed up to help, but drafted other moms to clean and sort books and work the Swap with me. It was at this meeting that she told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, was undergoing chemo treatments and didn’t want to spend too much time around the school children. So, she helped clean books for the event and we caught up on the progress of the playground. Wow … nothing was stopping her. Not even the big “C.”

When playground funding and in-kind donations began to materialize for this project, Dawn was in the middle of her chemo treatments. I followed her progress on Facebook. Dawn amazed me with all she was going through, trying to build this playground, be a wife and mother, and take care of herself as she went through eight rounds of Chemo, and then surgery.

Dawn was seeing her vision and community project come together and she was also waiting for her personal battle with cancer to have a happy ending, too.

On Sept. 23, Dawn posted this on her page: “PCR! PCR! I want to shout it from the rooftops, PCR! The long night is over; the morning breaks. The clouds have lifted; the sun now shines. The report given in committee, though not yet seen in writing by the surgeon — PCR! (pathologic complete response, no cancer found).”

I was so happy for Dawn. I was stunned by her amazing ability to make it through her chemo treatments and surgery, and this past weekend she cut the red ribbon to the new playground at Yamaguchi Park. I added another hero to my book of most inspiring individuals. I called Dawn to congratulate her and, of course, when we talked about the playground, she immediately said, “It wasn’t just me, I had so much help and support.”

Yes, Dawn did have wonderful support, but she was the woman who made sure it got done. Those who helped her financially and with sweat equity include: Community Connections, Parelli Horsemanship, Keely Whittington, Pagosa Rotary Club, Scott Strategic Investments, Bank of Colorado, Pagosa Feed and Nursery, Citizens Bank, State Farm Insurance, Pagosa Land Company, the Robel family, Anthony and Veronica Doctor, Kurt and Lisa Raymond, Jim Smith, Tim and Gwen Taylor, the Sagers, Carol Ann Peterson, MaryAnn Robles. And the talents and resources of: Cameron Parker, Divine Designs, Bob Hart Construction, Nick Bissell, LLC, Eric Ziminsky, Veronica Doctor, Strohecker Asphalt, Dave Medina Builders, Lucero Construction, Lisa Scott, Jesse and Kristin Morehouse, Chris Dollar, Dave Herrington, Olin Blodgett, Steve Scheppelman, Devyn Doctor, Jon Bollig and Bill Kerwig.

Dawn’s husband, Jeff, also contributed through all of this, and in between treatments and playground deadlines and phone calls, Jeff, Dawn and the three young boys managed to escape on beautiful drives and hikes around our area. I know that from the wonderful photos posted on Facebook. I also know that Dawn has a wonderful, strong will to accomplish things like building a playground and kicking cancer’s butt. I also know she has a strong spiritual connection. What I don’t know is, could I have accomplished what she was able to do?

I know that if Dawn Robel starts a new project, I will be there to help her and if I were to ever get a diagnosis of cancer, I know she would be one of the first I would call for help, support and guidance.

It is said, “It is easier to give than to receive,” and in Dawn’s case she did both at the same time.

There are six other women in Pagosa Springs who have been diagnosed with cancer recently and who have contacted our local organization, Women Helping Women. We are ready to help them and any others, in any way we can or in any way we’re needed.

In the meantime, make the call for your yearly mammogram and know that we have some of the best support right here in Pagosa Springs.

If you need help or want to help in any way, call 946-7545.