Hemelt: Verna Schexnayder’s cancer survival is guide for many

Published 12:04 am Saturday, October 17, 2015

Verna Schexnayder is one of those people that it just feels good to be around.

I was lucky enough to spend some time speaking with her Wednesday, first on the phone, then on the front porch of her East 31st Street home in Reserve.

She’s been there for decades and warmly explained how she is related to many of her neighbors on the quiet street but doesn’t much care for the speed bump installed near the dead-end road’s entrance from Louisiana 44.

Pleasantries aside, what we discussed this week was serious.

Ms. Verna is a breast cancer survivor, 20 years clear of a successful mastectomy.

Despite two decades of healthy living post surgery, Ms. Verna still remembers with vivid clarity what it was like to be diagnosed with cancer.

It’s obvious it won’t be something the 84-year-old will ever forget.

“To hear that word ‘cancer,’ it’s like the world had stopped,” she said. “I was stunned. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t do anything. With the help of the good Lord, I’m still here.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s something that unfortunately unites so many in the extended River Parishes.

There are countless stories of survival and way too many tragic endings for those friends and family members who, despite valiant efforts, eventually succumbed to the vicious disease.

I want to thank every cancer survivor who has shared their story this month with L’OBSERVATEUR so we can publish them for the community. They serve as inspiration and warning for all about success and early detection.

Thank you to Cyndi McGregor and Bettye Boswell, a daughter and mother, who each shared their stories in the Oct. 10 newspaper about battling breast cancer.

Thank you to Gwen Entermont and Laurie Lasseigne who are part of a fundraising team putting together a special day Sunday in Paulina to support Nicole Entremont, who is battling stage four inflammatory breast cancer. That story published Oct. 14.

Thank you to Judy Creekmore, a breast cancer survivor who had two aunts die from the disease and a mother diagnosed with it while in her 80s. Her story appears on page 8B of today’s newspaper and is brought to readers by a host of special sponsors that have allowed us to create extra pages and coverage this month so we can share these stories.

The happy ones of survival all have a common theme — early detection.

Ms. Verna’s is no different. She discovered a lump in her breast early on and had it checked yearly for cancer development, allowing her to catch it before it proved fatal.

She was fortunate a second time in 2002 when colon surgery to remove a cluster of polyps led to the discovery and removal of early cancer accumulation.

Still, Ms. Verna remembers the fear that crept in following her cancer diagnosis 20 years ago. She told me she was in a little bit of a daze for two weeks.

“I remember my sister was bringing me to the doctor one day and I had not had the surgery yet,” she said. “I said, ‘oh, you know they are having a shoe sale.’ She said, ‘do you want me to bring you to get your shoes?’ I said, ‘no, I may not make it to even wear the shoes.’ After I had the surgery, when I was 64, I said if I live to be 65, I’m going to have a birthday party. I made 65. I had a birthday party and I didn’t need anymore birthday parties after that.”

Ms. Verna might say she doesn’t need any more birthday parties, but she has a story to celebrate, one I hope keeps my wife, mother and daughter safe for decades to come.

Early detection remains key. Please consider scheduling yearly breast cancer screenings.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.