Celebrating Survivors: Irene Hawley celebrates nearly 20 years of surviving breast cancer

October 9, 2018

Irene Hawley, president of the Pink Ribbonetts and a veteran of breast cancer survival, will soon be celebrating two decades of beating the odds since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.

Born in Aiken, Hawley moved to Michigan and became a high school teacher of French and English. Like many Americans, she led a hard-working, active life, and didn’t have any reason to wonder if the fatigue she had been feeling was due to something other than her busy schedule.

“Looking back, I had been very tired, but I was working, I was teaching school,” Hawley said. “I had all these things going on. You kind of figure it’s just the way things are.”

After a routine mammogram, Hawley was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in February of 1999.

“I had no idea,” Hawley said. “I didn’t have any immediate relatives that had breast cancer that I knew of ... It was just kind of an overwhelming feeling of, what next?”

After her diagnosis, Hawley underwent a mastectomy, followed by rounds of chemo and radiation. She had a lot of sick days saved up, so luckily, taking time off work wasn’t difficult for her to do.

Chemotherapy is a painful and taxing process, but for Hawley, the worst part of the experience wasn’t being nauseous for days or having her hair fall out.

“The worst part was not knowing if the chemo was working, and not knowing if you’re going through all of this for nothing,” Hawley said. ”... My thoughts were ‘I’m going through this now, is it (the cancer) still going to be there when it’s all over?’”

Hawley finished all of her treatments by December of the year she was diagnosed.

In February of 2019, Hawley will be a 20-year survivor of breast cancer. Hawley said she didn’t know if she was going to celebrate the anniversary yet, but she would certainly like to.

“I think that being positive about things and having a positive outlook definitely affects your treatment and the way your life goes after that,” Hawley said. “Having the cancer made me realize life is precious. You celebrate every birthday. Always be happy to have another birthday, and thank God your cancer is still in remission.”

In addition to being a (nearly) 20-year survivor, Hawley is also a two-time cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2010, but needed only one round of treatment.

Hawley said she hopes sharing her story will encourage people to educate themselves about the signs of cancer and to have a positive outlook on life.

“Don’t just be a survivor, be a thriver,” she said.

The Pink Ribbonetts are an Aiken-based group of breast cancer survivors that seek to spread awareness about various forms of cancer and to empower survivors. To learn more about the group, visit pinkribbonettes.org.

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