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Two years ago, at age 28, Kerri Huff was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Within two weeks, she went from finding a lump to her life flashing before her eyes.
She met with doctor after doctor and then finally a surgeon to remove the lump.
“How is this possible?” she wondered, as being diagnosed with breast cancer at such as young age seemed more devastating. “It was really hard, especially being 28.”
During the two-year-long roller coaster ride, she had to undergo surgery, six rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation.
“I had never thought about doing a self exam,” said Huff, who was in the shower when she found the lump. “It had to be God’s will or fate that I found it.”
After Huff found the lump, she thought she would wait it out for a couple of weeks to see if it would eventually disappear. After a couple of weeks, one of her friends referred her to a doctor in the area.
“Thankfully, I had a good doctor,” said Huff. “She said ‘It’s probably nothing, but let’s have this checked out.’”
Some doctors disregard lumps found in young women, she said, relating horror stories she has heard from friends battling breast cancer. “They say, ‘You’re just young. It’s nothing.’”
Huff, the children’s librarian at Galax Public Library, had only lived in Hillsville for six months at the time. Her family lives in Floyd, which was especially hard for her at the time. After each treatment, she spent time with her family to recover and have support.
She cried for a week after her hair began slowly falling out, a side effect of chemotherapy.
“After three days of my hair falling out a little at a time, I decided I wasn’t going to let cancer take my hair,” she said. “My mom invited a woman over to shave my head — it was powerful. I felt it was one way to take control.”
Looking at photographs from the past couple of years — the most painful part of her life — has been difficult, but one of her friends, a professional photographer, snapped some pictures of Huff just as she began chemotherapy and right after she shaved her head.
“For some reason, it is my favorite picture during that time,” she said. “I just love it.”
In the picture, her blue sweater brings out her bright blue eyes, as fall leaves set the background, with her shaved head symbolizing strength, power and courage.
Now, at 30 years old, her hair is growing back. Huff is cancer-free, but meets with doctors every three months to make sure it hasn’t come back.
Today, Huff walks three miles a day and eats healthy. Those are the two big lifestyle changes she’s made, Huff said.
Recently, Huff attended a C4YW conference in New Orleans, an annual event held for young women affected by breast cancer. There, she was surround by 700 courageous women from 43 states and 10 countries, with most diagnosed with cancer in their 20s.
“I’ve met some amazing women. I found my strength from other breast cancer survivors,” she said. “That helped more than anything.”
She returned to Galax uplifted, after hearing stories of other young women that faced the same struggles.
“It makes you stronger and self-reliant,” said Huff. “You become a different person when you go through something like that.”
Racing for the Cure
Huff is now helping other women battling the illness. She serves as team co-chair of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to be held April 14 in downtown Roanoke. Huff works as coordinator for race teams.
The Susan G. Komen Blue Ridge affiliate is part of the 125-member affiliate network of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest and most progressive network fighting to end breast cancer.
“I want women to become more aware of themselves — go to the doctor and get mammograms,” she said. “And I would love to see our efforts doubled this year. I would do anything for women not to have to go through that.”
Last year, $310,000 was raised during the race. Of the seven agencies in the Blue Ridge area awarded, two were local, including $26,000 going to Twin County Regional Hospital and $41,000 going to Mount Rogers Health District for breast cancer detection, prevention and awareness programs.
Up to 75 percent of net proceeds generated by the affiliate stay in the Blue Ridge area. The remaining income goes to the national Susan G. Komen for the Cure grants program to fund research.
Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Blue Ridge affiliates provide breast cancer awareness and education to 26 cities and counties for breast health education and mammography access, including Alleghany, Amherst, Bath, Bedford, Bland, Botetourt, Buena Vista City, Campbell, Carroll, Craig, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Grayson, Henry, Lexington City, Lynchburg City, Montgomery, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Pulaski, Roanoke, Roanoke City, Rockbridge, Salem City and Wythe.
Whether you’re a competitive runner or just out for a stroll, the race consists of a 5K run, 5K walk and a 1-mile family fun walk.
Also, cancer patients can register for a sleep-in, which means they can rest at home while helping to support the organization.
So far, only a couple of teams from the Twin County area have signed up.
“I know it’s a long way to drive, but I would love to encourage more people to register, either individually or by forming a team,” she said.
Last year was her first time participating in the race. After completing radiation treatments just two days before, she participated in the one-mile walk.
“It’s not only a great event, but it’s a great fundraiser for research,” said Huff.
The Race for the Cure will be held near Elmwood Park in Roanoke, with concerts, survivor recognition, inspirational speakers and food vendors. It’s a great day to learn about breast cancer research and Susan G. Komen Foundation, said Huff.
To register, visit www.komenvablueridge.org. Regular registration fees are $40 per person, $25 for survivors, $35 for seniors and $15 for children ages 12 and under.