LINCOLN COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - There are stages of life that seem to fly by and you wish you could have it back, you wish you had savored more of those memories. Leah Caldwell says her battle with cancer went by in the blink of an eye, but it's a blink she's glad to have in her past.
"It's hard and takes a toll on your body. But you are stronger than this," Caldwell said reflecting on her bout with breast cancer. Here battle started three years ago, but looking back she says it seems like it was a whirlwind.
Leah is a mother to twin girls, a wife, and an Exceptional Children teacher with Lincoln County Schools.
Leah just had her phone resting on her chest one day in 2013, when she felt something with her pinkie. Knowing it didn't feel right, she was concerned, but cancer was never on her radar.
When she went for her mammogram in October, doctors suggested she have an ultrasound, then biopsy all in a matter of two weeks. It was then that Leah found out she had triple negative breast cancer at the age of 36.
In November of 2013, she started chemotherapy. A lumpectomy and radiation were also part of her treatment regimen down the road. The brisk pace of it all may have been overwhelming, but she says it made her feel reassured that her doctors had her treatment under control.
Through the months of treatment, Leah says her Rock Springs Elementary School coworkers gave her more support than she ever expected. In fact, one of her fellow EC teachers in Lincoln County was the one who nominated her to be a Survivor of the Month.
"She is the most loving and talented young lady I know," Alison Young wrote in her nomination of Leah. "Leah was such a trooper through her treatments and she was so positive throughout the whole process. Leah is such a courageous lady."
Leah kept working through the chemo and radiation and says she never took a day off. She says the community of people she saw everyday at her Denver school, gave her the boost she needed to get through her day.
But it was a higher power she credits for her strength day in and day out. "I was able to get through it with God's strength," Leah said.
It wasn't just moral support that her school gave her, they stepped up to organize a Zumba-thon, hosted a barbeque dinner and made t-shirts and bracelets to cheer Leah on.
"I feel blessed," Leah said talking about her neighbors and peers who were there for her along her journey.
It was her neighbor and friends who were with Leah and her husband when it was time for her to shave her head. Leah cut her locks, but it was her husband, Kevin, who finished it off with the clippers. And to her surprise, he came home one day with his head shaved as well, in solidarity. Thinking back on that surprise she said, with a smile in her voice, "He was in this with me."
Kevin's mother died of breast cancer, and Leah says her own diagnosis of breast cancer hit him hard. "He didn't show emotions; however, I am sure that he was dealing with thinking about his mom while I was going through my journey."
He's also in the medical profession and gave Leah insight into what she was battling.
When her chemotherapy treatments came to an end, it was Kevin who had two surprise parties in the works for Leah. "I am loved by him," Leah said. "I am blessed to have him walk this life with me."
Like many cancer survivor's, Leah doesn't shy away from offering words of wisdom and encouragement to men and women going through their own cancer battles.
"You will make it out stronger."
In the middle of it, she'll admit it seemed like a long battle, but in hind site, and on the other side of her diagnosis, she says it went by "in the blink of an eye."