A year ago, Judy Walden heard the words no one wants to hear: “You have cancer.”
“Once you hear those words, ‘I’m sorry, you have cancer,’ it changes your entire life. It flips your world upside down,” she said.
Walden, 50, was diagnosed with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer.
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and very aggressive disease in which cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin of the breast, according to the IBC Network Foundation’s website.
The foundation goes on to say inflammatory breast cancer accounts for 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States and it rapidly progresses, often in a matter of weeks or months. Inflammatory breast cancer typically either is stage III or IV at diagnosis, depending on whether cancer cells have spread only to nearby lymph nodes or to other tissues as well.
Once she was diagnosed, everything went quickly, Walden said.
She went through chemotherapy, surgery and then 33 rounds of radiation treatment. Her radiation treatment was at James Graham Brown Cancer Center in Louisville.
Although she had rough days, such as getting sick multiple times during chemotherapy and losing her hair two weeks after her first chemo treatment, Walden said she’s tried to keep a positive outlook.
“It hasn’t always been easy. I have some dark days. I have had some really dark days and I have been sick. There have been days when I didn’t know if I was going to make it again,” she said.
Walden said having that positive attitude and having support from family and friends has been crucial.
“Everything in life is not going to be happy, but you have a choice in how you handle things,” she said.
When she was first diagnosed, Walden said her friends rallied and showered her with a variety of gift cards – for gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants – not to mention moral support.
“I couldn’t have done it without them. … I am very grateful,” she said.
Walden, an avid runner, said she tried to maintain a certain level of fitness during her treatments.
“Running and fitness have helped me not only mentally and emotionally but physically to help me overcome some of the side effects,” she said.
Her health now is stable, but Walden indefinitely has to go every three weeks for a Herceptin infusion. Walden said Herceptin is like a “maintenance drug to keep the cancer at bay.” She also has to have an echocardiogram every three months to keep an eye on her heart functions and regular CT and bone scans to keep track of the cancer.
Walden, who initially scheduled a doctor’s appointment after noticing lumps in her left breast and swelling, encouraged women to do self-exams and listen to their bodies and if they feel something isn’t right, insist on being seen.
As a way to give back to the community that has supported her through her journey, and continues to support her, Walden is raising money for the Hardin Memorial Health Cancer Care Center in Elizabethtown through the Judy Walden 5K, sponsored by Central Kentucky Race Management.
Walden said it is free to participate in the race, which starts at Severns Valley Baptist Church in Elizabethtown, but for donations of $30 or more, participants receive a race T-shirt. All the proceeds go to the cancer center.
“I want to give back to our great community,” she said.
The race is at 8 a.m. Oct. 26. For more information or to register, go to bit.ly/32TzDAK.
Walden, who lives in Elizabethtown, is married and has three sons. She attends Severns Valley Baptist Church.