October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re jumping the gun just a little bit when it comes to talking about breast cancer, because we think it is so important for women in our community to pay attention to the health of their “ladies” every day. For Teri Trotter, a routine visit to the OB/GYN turned into a breast cancer diagnosis, rocking her world. When you meet her, though, you quickly realize that even a breast cancer diagnosis can’t keep her down. She started The Pink Wig Project not long after her diagnosis in 2009. Send a pink wig to any survivor, Teri says, “As a way to empower and raise the spirits of that person. We also raise awareness and funds for genetic cancer research and testing.”
To date, The Pink Wig Project has given away more than 500 pink wigs. As October arrives, we celebrate this powerhouse realtor, wife and mother of two who is committed to helping women power through their personal battles with breast cancer. Welcome Teri, today’s FACE of Memphis!
Are you a Memphis native?
I was born is Silver Spring, MD. My dad worked for the FAA and was stationed in DC at the time. When I was 3 years old, he got transferred to Memphis. So I think it’s safe to say that I’m a Memphis girl.
Tell us about the day you found out you had breast cancer.
I was diagnosed on February 7, 2009, which would have been my father’s 73rd birthday if he were still living. I went to have my first mammogram after my OB/GYN had examined a lump that I had found in my right breast and thought it would be best for me to have it checked out. I remember sitting in the waiting room in the white robe that is provided, texting with my sister-in-law about the upcoming ’80s party we were attending that evening. I was laughing with the mammogram technician, then the ultra sound tech about the fact that I was wearing a dress that I actually wore to a dance when I was in high school. Then my world was turned upside down when the doctor came in and said she is 99.9% sure I have breast cancer.
I was in complete shock. I called my husband and we cried. We tried to process the information we had and were overwhelmed by all of the unknowns. We told my sister-in-law, mom and mother-in-law who all stopped by that afternoon to give me a hug. We decided to wait to tell others until we had more information. We were most concerned about our sweet children and how they would process hearing that their mother has cancer. I think I was hoping that it was all a dream. Then I decided it would do us no good to sit around and worry, so we donned our ’80s-wear and went to the party. I saw lots of friends and had a great time, which was exactly what I needed.
What was your course of treatment and prognosis?
Part of my diagnosis is that I am BRCA2 positive. This is one of two gene mutations that are related to breast cancer. While it doesn’t provide a cause for the cancer, it does provide a more individualized treatment option. And because I was just 37 at the time, this information informed my doctors that my treatment needed to be more aggressive, so I had a double mastectomy followed by four rounds of chemo. Since being BRCA2 positive can increase one’s chances for ovarian cancer as well, I had a hysterectomy a few months later. I tolerated all of my treatment very well. My BRCA2 diagnosis is why I’m so passionate about cancer genetic research because I believe the more we learn about the genetic make-up of cancer, the more of a chance there is for my children to benefit from less invasive treatments and possibly a cure. My oncologist was encouraged once I finished my treatment and believed that my prognosis was many more years of a healthy life.
By April of that year, your sister was throwing you a wig party and you put on a pink wig. Why?
Yes, my sister-in-law planned a birthday celebration for me in April of 2009. I was bald so we thought it would be fun to make it a wig party. Everyone wore a wig, and I chose a pink one simply because I like pink and thought it was cute. It wasn’t until a stranger asked me if I was wearing a pink wig for a reason that I realized all cancer patients and survivors should have a pink wig. Wearing the pink wig made me feel free and empowered. No one pitied me for having cancer. I decided I wanted to share this feeling with others.
Five years later, you had another cancer diagnosis.
Statistics show that if there is no recurrence within five years after a diagnosis, one’s chances of recurrence drastically reduces, so I felt it was time to ring the bell at the West Clinic. Then, just two months later, it was time for one of my regular six-month check-ups. I had felt a small bump near my collar bone but thought it was just an indication that I had a cold or some other minor illness. Not so. My oncologist had it biopsied and found that the cancer was back — in my lymph nodes and bones. I remember being in the car with my husband when I heard the news and having a complete meltdown. I did not want to have to go through cancer treatment again. I didn’t want to put my children, husband, family and friends through it again. But, luckily and what I can only attribute to my faith, that was a fleeting moment. I am currently on my fifth type of chemo while living with cancer. My doctor is hopeful that one of these treatments will get rid of it for good. And I’m thankful that I feel strong enough to exercise, work, be a mom and live my life.
What’s your advice for women who are facing a breast cancer diagnosis?
Every single diagnosis is different. My advice is to try not to compare yourself to others, and by all means do not search the internet. That will only drive you insane. The waiting — waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting for test results, waiting to get started with your treatment, waiting to lose your hair, waiting for treatment to be over, waiting for you hair to grow back — is the hardest part. Take one day at a time and remember to LIVE YOUR LIFE!
What’s your favorite Memphis attraction and why?
You can’t beat the free concerts at Levitt Shell.
Finish this sentence: If I had a superpower, it would be …
Teleportation. There are so many places, family and friends I want to visit. I wish I could just blink my eyes and be there.
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
My husband’s grilling/cooking skills, music and trips to the beach.
Thanks to Teri for sharing her experience with us and inspiring us to not only get involved but also take care of our health. The Pink Wig Rocks! fundraiser is October 29 at Propcellar, 2585 Summer Ave., Memphis, TN 38112. Tickets are $100 and are available online at pinkwigproject.org
Thanks to Lisa Buser for the beautiful photos of Teri.
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