Karen Sellers places a flamingo in the ground at MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center as a part of an event to raise awareness of breast cancer.

Second of four parts

FLORENCE, S.C. — It doesn’t take long for anyone to understand Karen Sellers’ secret to her successful battle against breast cancer: relentless positivity.

Sellers credits her faith in God, Toni’s Tigers — a support group at MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center — and her family (she has two sisters and her mother) and friends for helping her maintain a positive attitude for her battle against breast cancer.

Her sisters are Jan and Judy. Her mother is Miriam Moody.

“If I did not believe in God, I would not be here today,” Sellers said. “I’ve kept a positive attitude about it.”

Sellers attends First Baptist Church in Florence.

She said the church had been extremely supportive of her.

“They were there for me,” she said of the support group. “If I needed something, all I had to do was pick up the phone and call one of them and they were there for me.”

Sellers especially credited Florence cancer patient navigator Toni McGiboney, the namesake of the group.

“You gotta have a positive attitude. That’s another important thing is you’ve got to think it’s not whether the glass is half empty or it is half full,” Sellers said. “If you say it’s half full, then it’s good.”

Sellers was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2014.

“Initially, the doctor says you have cancer and you just don’t hear much less what he says about how it’s going to be treated or anything,” she said last week on the campus of MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center.

Sellers said she had no indication something was wrong until she was diagnosed. Her tumor was against her chest wall in a location she could not feel.

“When you checked your breast every month, you wouldn’t have found it,” Sellers said.

Sellers said she had been undergoing mammograms every six months.

“This showed up between the six months,” she said.

Sellers credited a radiologist for finding her tumor.

She said when she was diagnosed, she didn’t blame God.

“I never asked Him why me,” Sellers said. “It was why not me? That’s my philosophy.”

She is a hospice nurse, and she said the diagnosis wasn’t as traumatic to her as it would be to another person.

The plan of battle, Sellers said, begins when the doctor refers a patient to an oncologist and a surgeon, if necessary.

Her treatment started almost immediately.

The first step was a mastectomy — removal of the whole breast — and then she started treatment after Thanksgiving 2014.

“Whenever I did my mastectomy, I felt like that was what I needed to do,” Sellers said. “Being a nurse, it was a little different for me, because I knew what the incision was going to look like.”

She said it was very traumatic to look down and see the incision.

“You look down and it is gone,” Sellers said. ‘You’ve just got stitches or whatever.”

Sellers said she found her incision to be pretty.

“It was a pretty incision,” Sellers said.

She also went through reconstructive surgery at the same time.

Eventually, she made the decision to remove her other breast for medical reasons.

“It can be very devastating, but it wasn’t to me,” Sellers said. “This is the way I look at it: I’m saving my life. I can do without breasts. If I don’t have this mastectomy, I won’t be here.”

The next step was the insertion of a port for chemotherapy.

“I had to heal from my mastectomy before I could start chemo,” she said.

Her chemotherapy lasted approximately six months.

Then she went through 34 or 35 radiation treatments.

“All in all, it probably took nine months, because there was a lapse between the time I stopped chemo and the time I started radiation,” Sellers said.

Sellers said the only time she cried was when she started losing her hair during her treatments.

“I said right then, I’ve got to get it cut off,” Sellers said.

She rang two bells to signify her completion of treatments: once when she finished chemo and once when she finished radiation.

‘That was like, ‘I’m free!’” Sellers said. “I’m free! It’s over! It is like winning the lottery.”

With a positive attitude, the chemo and the radiation, are easier to handle.

She said those battling breast cancer just have to keep pushing through the treatments.

She also credited the MUSC Florence staff for helping her.

Sellers said she felt she had been given a new lease on life after her battle with cancer. She said she lives every day of her life as if it were her last one, because she doesn’t know what tomorrow holds.

Sellers is now involved with Toni’s Tigers to help other women battle breast cancer.

“I can’t do enough for somebody that I know that has cancer,” she said. “You try to help others”

Sellers also offered advice for friends of those diagnosed: Support them, be there for them, and don’t offer to help if you’re not going to follow through.

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Government and Poltics Reporter

I cover the city of Florence, the county of Florence, the state legislative delegation of Florence County and surrounding areas, and the federal delegation representing the Pee Dee for the Morning News.

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