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Front Page - Friday, October 20, 2017

Realtor Padgett uses cancer scare to help others


One year ago, Keller Williams Realtor Lisa Padgett gave little thought to October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She’d never been diagnosed with the disease, nor did she know many women who’d had it.

“I’d always been healthy, eaten right and taken care of my body,” the 45-year-old wife and mother of three says. “So, breast cancer didn’t weigh on my mind.”

What a difference a year has made.

Padgett was performing a breast self-exam in February when she found a lump. It was mildly painful, which she’d heard suggested it probably wasn’t cancerous. But Padgett saw her OB-GYN anyway.

“She didn’t express concern,” Padgett recalls. “I was packing for the Keller Williams Family Reunion conference in Las Vegas. She told me to go and then schedule a mammogram after I returned.”

Padgett did as instructed and immediately found herself caught up in a whirlwind of appointments at Battlefield Imaging, which performed the mammogram and biopsy. On March 10, the pathologist called her and gave her the news: she had cancer.

“My mind started racing – ‘What’s next? What do I do now?’ But it was after hours and I couldn’t make any appointments, so I call a friend who’d been through breast cancer and asked her what to do. We cried on the phone.”

Padgett found herself in a strange position: at the mercy of her doctors. As someone who’s accustomed to taking charge of situations and solving problems, waiting to find out what to do next made her feel helpless.

Padgett did not, however, feel like she was at the mercy of the cancer. “I had a little bit of apprehension about it, but my faith kept that at bay,” Padgett recalls. “I never felt like having breast cancer was a terminal diagnosis. I knew it was going to be a long road, but I believed God was going handle it.”

Padgett did have trouble saying the word “cancer.” Instead of telling people she had the c-word, she told them she’d tested positive. “Cancer has a connotation of being deadly and the worst thing you can have, so it was hard to say at first,” she says. “It became easier over time, though.”

Padgett was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which requires a combination of therapies, making it difficult to treat. “Triple-negative grows fast, so they have to blanket you with aggressive chemo,” Padgett explains.

The whirlwind never stopped. Within two weeks of being diagnosed, Padgett was at Erlanger East’s infusion lab receiving her first of 20 rounds of chemotherapy.

She also made an appointment with her hairstylist – or, to be more accurate, her friend and business partner, Linda Carter, who was a hairstylist before becoming a Realtor. “I didn’t want my hair falling out in chunks,” Padgett says. “We cried when she cut off my hair.”

Although going bald upset Padgett, who’d always taken pride in her hair, losing her hair made her realize her journey had a purpose.

“When I looked in the mirror, I was shocked. But that moment wasn’t as emotional as I thought it would be. Instead, I saw my face in a new way,” she recounts. “I learned to love myself regardless of my appearance. Your beauty comes from your actions. When you treat people kindly and are an inspiration to them, your appearance doesn’t matter.”

This epiphany was not for Padgett alone. Instead of keeping a private journal, she shared her experiences through social media. “I didn’t want to say, ‘Woe is me; I feel terrible.’ I wanted people to realize they could get through anything,” she says. “It’s all about your mindset. Yes, chemo sucks, and no, you don’t feel good, but this is only for a season.”

In her most soul-baring moment, Padgett posted a video of herself – sans make-up, hair and hat – on Facebook to encourage others to focus on the beauty inside of them. “Here I am. My eyebrows are gone and I have only a few eyelashes,” she says in the clip. “But when I look in the mirror, I can see all the features God gave me.”

Although Padgett pressed through her treatment without becoming discouraged, she did teeter on the edge of dismay one day. “Every cancer patient hits a wall. Toward the end of my first round of treatments, I was frustrated, tired and I didn’t want to do it anymore,” she says. “I cried and had a good talk with God.

“I didn’t ask why I had cancer because I didn’t feel like I was being punished or had been dealt a bad card; I knew there was a purpose behind it.

“I needed to go through it to learn something and for other people to see how I handled it.”

On most days, Padgett handled cancer by living her life. She continued to serve her buyers and sellers and strived to accomplish her goals for real estate.

She also ate platefuls of tater tots. “Your taste buds change – and I craved tater tots,” she offers. “My doctors told me to eat whatever I could. I tried to eat healthy, cancer fighting foods, but once I was in the throes of chemo, that didn’t happen.”

What did cone to pass was Padgett’s belief that she would be healed. One week after starting chemotherapy, she couldn’t find her tumor any more; four weeks into treatment, an ultrasound confirmed it was gone. “Everything worked,” she says.

Her surgeon and oncologist were excited about her progress and long-term prognosis. But in addition to finishing chemo (which happened Aug. 1), Padgett had one more step to take: undergoing a double mastectomy.

Midway through her treatment, Padgett had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, which gave her a high probability of contracting breast cancer. Since her genetic makeup gave her cancer an 87 percent chance of returning, the only way to ensure she’d never have it again was to remove her breasts.

Although initially dazed by the thought of losing a vital part of her body, Padgett rolled with the punches and underwent the procedure on Sept. 19. “The mastectomy didn’t bother me,” she says. “I felt reassured. There’s no breast tissue for the cancer to invade.”

Padgett is, however, second-guessing her decision to undergo breast reconstruction, as it’s been the most unpleasant part of her experience. “It’s a long, painful process,” she adds. “I’ve had to talk myself out of going to my doctor and saying, ‘I’m done. Take the expanders out and sew me up. I’ll get some cool tattoos.’”

As this season in Padgett’s life ends and a new one begins, she has a fresh sense of purpose. She plans on speaking at churches and women’s groups about her journey and is writing a book about her experiences.

“I want to inspire women to love themselves, feel beautiful no matter what and believe they can conquer anything,” she says. “I’m excited to see where this new journey will take me.”

Padgett is also sporting an all-new do. As her hair grew back, she was shocked to see its silvery color. But people have convinced her it’s cool. “I never dreamed having white hair would be stylish,” she says.

“But I can’t take credit for it. My blonde hair came out of a bottle. This is three kids and a grandchild.”

In addition to using her story to encourage other women who are going through a similar battle, Padgett will be donating a portion of each real estate closing to the MaryEllen Locher Foundation, which awards college scholarships to children who have either lost a parent to breast cancer or have a parent who is a breast cancer survivor.

Padgett is also committed to doing everything she can to ensure other woman are more aware than she was of the significance of October.

“One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer,” she says. “That’s astounding.”

As part of creating awareness, Padgett will never again shy away from the word she once had trouble saying, as it has ceased to be a diagnosis and is now a battle she has won.

“I’m proud to say I had breast cancer and beat it.”