This is Chris Epting’s last In the Pipeline column for the Huntington Beach Independent. He will continue his local storytelling at www.surfcitychronicles.com
Last week, I saw the following Facebook post written by a Huntington Beach mom named Jacque Balbas-Ruddy:
“So, on Friday, I learned from my oncologist that the MRI I had revealed an abnormal lymph node in the left axilla [armpit]. Yesterday, I had a diagnostic ultrasound and needle biopsy of the abnormal node. Today, I learned that the results were positive for breast cancer. Yes, I have breast cancer again!
“I am OK and am already receiving lots of love, prayers and well wishes. I will see my oncologist tomorrow … to learn more about the findings as well as the next steps.
“Please feel free to post any questions you have about this on my wall. I want to be a resource to reduce the fear for those who may be diagnosed in the future and those with a recurrence of breast cancer.
“I hope my open journey will inspire you to walk through any fear you are facing at this time. Whatever it is, it will be OK. Just don’t let it stop you.”
I was as moved as you might be at this moment. I wrote to her and told her so, and I asked if I could share her story.
It was still dark Sunday morning when I picked her up in Huntington Beach and we headed down the 405 Freeway to Newport Beach for the Susan G. Komen Orange County Race for the Cure, where she would be running, cheering, supporting and being the intensely effective advocate that she has become since first being diagnosed in 2011. She just hums with energy and clarity — a born communicator.
“In a way, getting breast cancer the first time was one of the most amazing things that ever happened to me,” she said as we drove. “Without it, I’d never have met the most incredible people or would be in a position to help others like this.”
She brought with her a hot-pink silk superhero cape to wear, a similarly colored wig and other festive items to help draw attention to the cause.
She’s the mother of four and is a single parent. She is going to school to get a degree in psychology. And she will not let the next year of treatments prevent that, or keep her from being a team mom, or from anything else in her life.
“Based on what we know,” she said, “I will have surgery ASAP to have a port-a-cath inserted. This is where they will administer the chemotherapy. It will be a more aggressive cocktail than I had the first time around. I do not know the frequency or number of treatments I will have. This will be determined within the next week. Following chemotherapy, I will have surgery to remove the lymph nodes. Then, a course of radiation. Basically, the next year is going to suck. But we will get through this together.”
Balbas-Ruddy wrote this in May: “The day I received my breast cancer diagnosis, July 12, 2011, I was singing “Happy Birthday” to my son on his second birthday. My first thought was, ‘I can’t die, my boys need me.’ Followed immediately by many other thoughts no one ever wants to think.
“Then I found myself driving by a building with a pink ribbon on it and I made an immediate U-turn and walked into the lobby of Susan G. Komen Orange County.
“At the time, I was a single mom struggling with poverty … doing everything I could to keep my sons in our home. I was in college to make a better life for my family and I was still breast-feeding my 2-year-old son.
“I stood in the lobby at the Susan G. Komen office off of Red Hill Avenue [in Costa Mesa] and I said, ‘I don’t know what you do here and I don’t know what I need, but I was just diagnosed with breast cancer.’ Without hesitation, I was welcomed with kindness and calm support by Jane, who shared the many Komen Orange County resources available to me through its Komen-funded expert network of diagnostic care providers, living-support organizations and the Komen survivor community.
“Komen gave me hope and life-changing support during a desperate time in my life.”
Now she gives back to the organization as much as she can.
When we arrived at the event, she was treated like a returning war hero. Everyone seemed to know her. Everyone seemed to love her. Her reputation pulsated all around us.
She is magnetic. People are drawn to her. They asked how she is. Bright-eyed and smiling, she told them: “It hasn’t spread. It will be a year of hell, but I will be fine.”
The homemade sign she carried said it all: “I am my kids’ hero.”
She’s now mine too.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 25 books, including “Legendary Locals of Huntington Beach.” You can follow him on Twitter @chrisepting or at facebook.com/hbindependent.