Alabama State Rep. Debbie Wood opens up about breast cancer, positive influences
State Rep. Debbie Wood (R-Valley) knows first hand how quickly life can change.
“It stops. It just kind of came to a halt. All of a sudden, we had a new journey,” she said.
In 2015, Wood and her husband were driving when she was called by East Alabama Medical Center-Lanier Medical Center and asked to come in for a biopsy.
The next day, she had an answer: breast cancer.
“When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ you immediately think ‘I’m going to die,’” Wood shared with Yellowhammer News. “Or at least I did.”
Immediately, her life had taken on a radically different focus.
“It wasn’t if I had bought the best car, or did I live in the house I wanted, or if I had enough money — it was ‘have I left a legacy for my kids, have I treated my husband the way I wanted, did I treat my parents well?’” she emphasized.
Wood stressed that she also had to do some soul searching.
“I don’t think anybody is just placed on this earth to do whatever they want to do and not think about consequences,” she commented. “Whatever it is, you are here for a reason.”
For Wood, finding her breast cancer took over a year. She had gone to her family doctor after finding a lump in her breast and had a mammogram that came back clean. Days before she was called for the biopsy, she noticed a dimple in her skin. Her family doctor had retired, so she went to another doctor, who then ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound led to the biopsy, which confirmed the diagnosis.
Five surgeries later, including a double mastectomy, removal of her ovaries and breast reconstruction, Wood now takes a single tablet every day to hopefully slow the growth of any tumors that may reoccur.
Despite everything she has gone through, Wood is surprisingly upbeat about her cancer.
“It has probably enhanced my life, because I was in a rut. It rekindled in me that there was something else to do,” she outlined. “I could have stayed home if I wanted to with that diagnosis. But that is not what I chose to do, because I will not allow anything to defeat me.”
At the time of her diagnosis, Wood was a Chambers County Commissioner in addition to being a real estate broker/owner, wife and mother.
Impressively, she only missed a handful of commission meetings while she was undergoing treatment.
Then, in 2018 when former State Rep. Isaac Whorton decided he was not going seek reelection in Alabama House District 38, Wood decided it was her time to run. She won that election and now is working to craft legislation to make sure women get all the information they need when dealing with breast cancer.
In her situation, Wood was not informed that she had dense breast tissue, which may have delayed her diagnosis. In Georgia, the law requires medical professionals to inform women if they have dense breast tissue. Wood plans to introduce a bill in the next session to give women in Alabama that same protection.
She has also become a vocal advocate for breast cancer awareness outside the halls of the legislature.
Wood encourages all women to do regular self-examinations and, if they feel something, to see a doctor immediately. Additionally, she urges women to fully discuss any diagnostic tests and results with their physician so they understand what the results mean, what the chances are that the test missed something and the signs they need to keep looking for to catch any cancer as early as possible.
“You have to take responsibility for your own care,” she advised.
Finally, Wood believes women need to surround themselves with positive influences during that scary time.
“Find people that will surround you with a positive attitude because that will carry you through everything,” Wood emphasized. “There will be days you will be depressed. There will be days you will be scared.”
“If you hear that word (cancer), you will be scared and worried but you have to have positive people in your life that support you and tell you that you will make it,” she concluded.
Wood is looking forward to March 16, 2020, which will be five years since her double mastectomy.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn