When Angie Blankenship woke up following double mastectomy surgery, she was relieved to hear that her breast cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. But, she said, “in that moment of jubilation, I also knew that we had the fight of healing.”
That fight continues even as she approaches five years in remission. Though people often think cancer treatment ends after completing chemotherapy, radiation or post-operative recovery, Blankenship said it’s an ongoing battle that brings daily struggles.
“I saw a quote the other day that said, ‘Just because I smile as I carry this load doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.’ And I think that’s the missing piece for people that don’t walk this path,” Blankenship said. “…There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed, and there are days when I can’t get out of bed. My bones hurt, and I can’t wake up. But people don’t understand that. I’m a survivor. I’m cancer-free. What’s the problem?”
Blankenship has learned to manage the challenges of healing with support from her family, friends and the WVU Cancer Institute. Now, she’s showing appreciation and paying it forward by donating to the Bob Huggins Fish Fry, which benefits the Norma Mae Huggins Endowment Fund and Remember the Miners Scholarship Fund.
Blankenship and her husband, David, currently work for Fresh Hospitality, an alumni-led public-private partnership that provides food services at Evansdale Crossing. At their urging, the business partners agreed to contribute all the food for the Fish Fry in 2019 and again for 2020. Angie, David and their staff will provide fish, barbecue, broccoli salad, coleslaw and more for about 2,000 guests Friday, Jan. 24, at the Mylan Park Event Center in Morgantown.
‘In good hands’
Angie Blankenship knew she was meant to share her cancer story to help others almost as soon as it began. Not long after discovering a lump under her arm and learning she had aggressive, stage-2 cancer that would likely require surgery, she was sitting in a waiting room when another patient asked how she found such strength.
“I realized then that I have hope. It’s not just strength,” she said. “I wasn’t strong enough to carry it myself, but I had hope in the Lord and my faith was what was going to get us through this. At that moment, I knew that I was going through this journey so I could help someone else, so I could bring awareness.”
Blankenship underwent surgery and post-operative treatment in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she lived at the time. When she moved to Morgantown two years later, she planned to drive back to the Tar Heel State to visit friends and family for follow-up appointments every six months. Then, she found a knot behind her ear, and her oncologist in Charlotte said she needed a team in Morgantown.
Blankenship loved her medical team in Charlotte, so she was reluctant when she first came the WVU Cancer Institute. Since her initial visit to check out the benign knot, she’s been impressed by the quality of care, support services and other resources for cancer patients and survivors.
“It’s better than what I had,” Blankenship said. “There’s a comfort. I walk in there with a smile. I’m not going to say that when I lay down for a scan that that angst doesn’t come back, because I think it always will. But I know that I’m in good hands. I know that I’m taken care of. And I know that if something goes wrong or comes back, I’m going to be OK.”
Because cancer affects every aspect of a patient’s life, Blankenship is particularly appreciative of the Cancer Institute’s efforts to provide comprehensive care. Staffers offer exercise and nutritional guidance to help her feel her best, coordinate support groups that create a sense of community and ask what she needs to thrive as she as she conquers the continuing challenges of recovery. On June 3, she will mark five years in remission, an exciting milestone that significantly reduces her likelihood of recurrence.
Blankenship is eager to share her story for the same reason she got involved with the Bob Huggins Fish Fry: She hopes it will help the cancer patients who come after her.
“I had it pretty good, but it can only get better,” she said. “And that’s why I feel like, for me, grace has been bestowed upon me, so anything I can do to help those that come behind me, it’s my responsibility to participate in that.”
A portion of the proceeds from the Fish Fry provides support for clinical research trials at the WVU Cancer Institute via the Norma Mae fund established in memory of Coach Huggins’ mother, who lost her battle with colon cancer in 2003. Dr. Hannah Hazard-Jenkins, interim director of the WVU Cancer Institute, said clinical trials are essential to advancing care for cancer patients.
“We’re slowly inching our way toward a very specific personalization of medicine and of cancer care, and eventually, one day, we hope that we’ll be able to either prevent it from happening and or certainly cure it and treat it in the most efficient way possible,” Hazard-Jenkins said. “I cannot emphasize enough how important this fund is. Patients with cancer have better survival when they have access to clinical trials.”
Huggins hosts the Fish Fry, which features sports legends, delicious food, live music, live and silent auctions, a signature bourbon tasting, commemorative keepsakes and more. This year’s special guest is WVU basketball great Rod Thorn.
Blankenship said it makes for a fun night out, even for someone who has no personal experience with cancer. And she’s happy to explain its greater purpose to attendees who want to learn more.
“I want people to really understand that breast cancer, any cancer, is a journey,” she said. “They call it a journey for a reason. We have a new normal. And the Cancer Institute, and the support of things like Bob Huggins and the Fish Fry, allows us to live our new normal in a way that is comforting. And it’s important. And we need you.”
For tickets and more information about this year’s Bob Huggins Fish Fry, visit wvucancer.org/fishfry or call 304.293.4597.
CONTACT: Cassie Rice
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