Submitted by Forrest General Cancer Center
In 1999, Becky Rhinehart enjoyed the dream life she’d built for herself on the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast. She had signed a contract for her thirtieth year of teaching and planned to retire at the end of the school year and begin teaching at another school.
She said, “My plans were to teach that thirtieth year and then retire. I already had a job at the parochial school. I could have retired at the end of that year, walked into another job, continued teaching, continued living on the Coast, and maintaining my lifestyle.”
Those plans were put on hold June 11, 1999 after a colonoscopy revealed a tumor in Becky’s colon; she moved back to her hometown of Waynesboro to be near her family while she underwent surgery and chemotherapy. The surgery to remove the tumor was performed at Forrest General Hospital seven days later, on June 18. She would have 18 inches removed from her colon and would need to begin chemotherapy immediately after. For nine days post-surgery, her sister, Beth, never left her side in the hospital.
“My sister came over and spent 9 days and 9 nights with me. They had to put the line in my neck so you can imagine trying to get around with that pole and everything. She was right there with me doing all of that, and she brought me home. She made sure I had everything that I needed. She would come by every day and check on me, although she had to work at that time,” Becky recalls.
With Becky’s father in the final stages of congestive heart failure as well as receiving treatment for prostate cancer, Becky’s mother was unable to leave him alone in order to give Becky the attention she needed. So, Beth became Becky’s primary caregiver through her fight with cancer.
“She [Beth] was a principal in the Wayne County district, but the superintendent and her supervising principal let her get off at 2 o’clock in the afternoon so that she could carry me to have my chemo once a week. I was so appreciative that they would let her do that,” Becky said.
Becky received treatment for colon cancer from June until February of 1999. She suffered some emotional lows due to her own condition as well that of her father, who she would lose the following year. Many patients suffer from depression during the course of treatment. Becky looked to the kindness of others to lift her spirits through those difficult times.
She said, “I would get anywhere from 15 to 25 cards and/or letters from people. I didn’t even know I knew that many people down on the Coast or people that would take the time to do that! It really made me feel good, and now, I send cards to people when I hear they aren’t feeling well.”
After completing her treatment, Becky decided to retire from teaching because of the physical toll the cancer had taken on her body. She built a home in Waynesboro near her sister and began enjoying her life again by helping others through her volunteer work.
“They always love volunteers; I don’t care where you are. And so, that’s what I became is a volunteer. I volunteer at the library. I do work at my church. I tutored. I am trained in a program of phonemic awareness, which is something that helps children with language processing and disorders, for example, dyslexia. I tutored children and helped a lot of children that way,” Becky said.
In 2008, Becky received two honors for her service to the community. She received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce and the Civil Servant Award from the Waynesboro Lions Club.
Becky hit another bump in the road in 2012 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. With her sister still by her side, Becky had a mastectomy at Forrest General, but fortunately, did not need chemotherapy or radiation afterward. Her physician collected cancer cells from her left breast and sent the cells to another lab for an Oncotype DX, a genome test that can help physicians determine the likelihood of cancer reoccurrence and the best possible course of treatment. In Becky’s case, a low score indicated that neither chemotherapy nor radiation were necessary.
Becky said, “One of the things that I joined — or do a lot of work in — is Relay for Life, and I do it mainly because of the research. They took the cancer cells and sent them to California, I believe. They did a genetic test on the cells, and due to the genetic test, my score indicated I did not need to have radiation or chemo. I was so happy.”
Because of her family history, Becky had not been surprised by either diagnosis. In fact, because she knew of multiple paternal family members who had died of cancer, Becky was conscientious about getting all of her routine cancer screenings, which allowed her physicians to find the cancer early.
She said, “I knew that I would probably get cancer. I didn’t know that I would be this blessed that I would find out early so that we could do something about it, and I could return to my life.”
Today, after battling cancer twice and retiring from a 30-year teaching career, Becky is as active as ever. She volunteers at the library in Waynesboro and the bookstore, which helps to fund the library. She’s very passionate about honoring United States Veterans. In particular, Becky has done a lot of work in Wayne County to bring recognition to local Vietnam veterans through the 50th Year Vietnam War Commemoration Program.
Additionally, Becky spends much of her time working with Breast Cancer Awareness Team (BCAT), a local organization that promotes breast cancer awareness through special events and education. She is the recording secretary of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and serves as the 2016 Rosalie Rose, an honor she received for her fundraising efforts to benefit the upkeep of Rosalie Mansion in Natchez, Mississippi. When she isn’t working in the community, Becky can most likely be found recording herself reading the Wayne County News; the recordings are distributed to blind and elderly members of the community so that they can enjoy the paper. Becky says she decided to participate in the reading program because it brought back memories of her father and how much he enjoyed hearing the paper read on PBS.
When asked how she manages to keep up with so many activities, Becky said, “I just live each day. You never know what will happen to you, so you have to make a statement. In my town, I think I’ve made that statement.” Above all else, Becky urges the importance of supporting cancer research through volunteerism or monetary donations. She said, “I know a lot of people who get breast cancer who have to take chemo and radiation, but I was one of the fortunate ones. Ten years ago, I would have had to take that. It wouldn’t have mattered what my genetic code was on those cancer cells. So, that’s one thing that I want to emphasize. Support the American Cancer Society, support the Red Ribbon Fund, and support Relay for Life to help anybody with cancer.”
For more information about the Forrest General Cancer Center, visit forrestgeneral.com.
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