Breast cancer was never something that Regina Swiney worried about.
She would go for her annual exams but she had no family history. Currently, the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 13 percent — meaning there is a 1 in 8 chance she will develop breast cancer.
“I guess I thought, ‘That will never happen to me,’” Swiney said.
But the Science Hill woman’s world would change in 2013. That March, her doctor felt a spot in her right breast and ordered an ultrasound and biopsy. The results came back as fibrocystic tissue, stemming from what Swiney was told was drinking too much caffeine. By July, her left nipple was inverted and felt funny to her.
So Swiney headed back to her doctor to be checked. “Before I left, they had an ultrasound and biopsy scheduled within days,” she recalled.
This time, the news wasn’t so benign. Swiney was diagnosed with Stage 2B Lobular Breast Carcinoma. She had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. She then underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy and another 36 rounds of radiation.
“After my first chemo, my hair started to fall out and my nails had a blackish tint,” Swiney said. “I had no appetite and was in bed for a few days. With chemo just imagine having the flu, stomach virus, migraine and being tired all at the same time. With radiation your skin is burnt and your extremely tired afterwards.”
It was difficult, but Swiney beat her breast cancer and was looking forward to getting back out and enjoying life. “After I completed all my treatments, I didn’t want to hear anything about cancer; I didn’t want to see or wear pink ribbons,” she explained.
Then in 2015, Swiney was dealt another blow when she and her husband lost their only son in an ATV accident. He died on their wedding anniversary.
“I couldn’t understand why I beat cancer, just to lose our son,” Swiney said, adding that she came to realize that God has a plan and reason for everything.
When she had first been diagnosed with breast cancer, Swiney had been visited by Brooke Cary Whitis of the local American Cancer Society office. Though the two women had never met before, Swiney was touched that Whitis cared enough to reach out with the resources ACS has available to cancer patients and survivors. Eventually Swiney attended her first Relay For Life meeting and was inspired to start her own Relay team, “Team Gina.”
“I thought to myself, ‘if everyone had my attitude, no one would get help and support they needed…,’” she said. “Everyone needs someone to talk to.”
Swiney started by recruiting family and friends to join her team and now finds that she’s always doing something for Relay. Most recently, she’s helped organize fundraising lunches with ProTrade Hardware and participated in the Pulaski Walker Weekend. On Sunday beginning at 1:30 p.m., Team Gina will also be part of the 4th Annual Pink Power Family Cruise in downtown Somerset
“I love my Relay family and love meeting and helping newly diagnosed,” Swiney said.
Now a seven-year survivor, she encourages women to keep up with their self-exams and annual mammograms.
“If you notice any changes, see your doctor,” Swiney said. “…Cancer doesn’t care about race, age or financial status. Life is too short; live each day like it’s your last. And always try to spread HOPE.”