Soon after learning about a coworker’s breast cancer diagnosis, Cathy Hackman felt compelled to do something.
The 60-year-old Vallonia woman has worked at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour since 2007, spending most of that time in the endoscopy department until transferring to Schneck Surgical Associates on Feb. 29.
She knew one of the surgeons, Dr. Amanda Dick, before the transfer, but she got to know her even more, and they became good friends.
In June, Dick, 38, of Brownstown, was diagnosed with Stage 2A invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer.
Story continues below gallery
Knowing Dick would lose her hair once she started chemotherapy, Hackman decided she was going to shave her own head.
“I was like, ‘You don’t really have to,'” Dick said. “But she was adamant and thought it would be fun, and she wanted to do it.”
Hackman sent out letters seeking donations and said the money would benefit Dick, but Dick wanted the money to go to the Schneck Foundation to benefit the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center.
“I said, ‘There are people that need funds more than I do, so let’s do it through the foundation because they donate free mammograms for women that can’t afford it and breast screenings and things like that,'” Dick said.
Hackman said she would get a buzz cut if $5,000 was raised and promised to shave her head if funds reached $10,000.
In October, Dick asked Hackman how the fundraising was going, and she wasn’t getting much response from the letters.
“Then I started sending texts, I called people, I did everything I could,” Hackman said, adding that she and Dick also did radio advertising to get the word out.
That work paid off, as Hackman recently surpassed $5,000.
With Schneck coworkers gathered outside the cancer center Thursday, Dick took a few minutes from her chemotherapy treatment to use scissors to cut off about 10 inches of Hackman’s hair. She then used an electric shaver to smooth out the buzz cut.
“I’ve never had it this short, but I used to wear the pixie-style cut, the shorter cut,” Hackman said. “When she cut it today, it’s as long as it has ever been.”
Dick was touched by Hackman’s gesture.
“I think it’s amazing,” Dick said. “Cathy is an amazing person. She has a huge heart. She’s very generous. This is a huge thing. This is a big thing to do.”
Hackman has raised nearly $5,700 and said the foundation will continue to accept donations in Dick’s honor to benefit the cancer center.
So is a complete shave in the future?
“I would say maybe if it comes before the end of the year,” Hackman said, smiling. “If it gets to $10,000 and she wants to shave it, she can shave it.”
Hackman said Dick does a lot for the community and her patients, so she was happy to do something for her friend. Dick specializes in surgeries for breast cancer patients.
Hackman’s younger sister died 14 years ago from endometrial cancer. She also lost a mother-in-law to cancer, and her father-in-law is a cancer survivor.
“I used to work in the endoscopy department, and I was their spokesman basically for people to get out and get their colonoscopies,” she said. “There are so many things that we can do as a society to help people that can’t afford it, that don’t have the insurance or they can’t do it. … That’s the rewarding thing is to help other people.”
Toward the end of May, Dick became suspicious of a small lump on her right breast. She had just finished nursing her youngest son, and a muscle near the right breast felt a little sore, but she thought it was sore from working out.
“My first thought was that it was probably just because I had stopped nursing, and maybe there was a little milk duct that was clogged,” she said.
Even though it didn’t feel right, she thought she would watch it for a while and it would go away.
“Then that little voice was like, ‘You know, if someone came in your office and they said they felt this, you would tell them to go get imaging,’ so that’s what I did,” Dick said.
Three days after calling a radiologist at Schneck, she was in the office for a mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy.
The next day, Dr. George Weir, a pathologist at the hospital, walked into Dick’s office. She knew that wasn’t a good sign.
“He told me what I kind of knew,” Dick said. “I do this for a living. When I saw the ultrasound, I knew what I was looking at. I could hold onto a little bit of denial until I got the diagnosis.”
She experienced a variety of emotions when she was told she had cancer.
“I was just angry about it because I was like, ‘I don’t have time for this. This isn’t fair. Why me? I’m young. I’m healthy. I don’t do anything wrong. I don’t smoke. This is not fair. I’ve got young kids,'” she said. “Past that, you just kind of say, ‘This is what it is, and we’re going to move forward and deal with this, and what do I need to do?'”
Dick had more imaging done to make sure there was no evidence of the cancer spreading.
“It’s a very localized disease,” she said. “The cure rates are very high in patients like me, 95-plus percent that I’ll be fine. I just have to go through the steps.”
In early July, she had a bilateral mastectomy and also had some lymph nodes checked underneath her right arm.
“The cancer was cured then, but they wanted to keep it from coming back, so based on the size of my cancer and the type, chemo was recommended,” she said.
She had a port put in and started chemotherapy in September.
Before that began, Dick had her dark brown hair buzzed because she knew she was going to lose it.
“I felt like I would mentally be able to handle that length of hair falling out versus big clumps,” she said.
Two weeks after her first treatment, she lost all of her hair.
“I knew it was coming,” she said. “It felt weird, like my scalp was kind of itchy, almost like a sunburn would feel, just kind of sore. It really just rapidly kind of started coming out.”
She said losing her hair wasn’t as hard as she initially thought it would be.
“I feel like it’s a very small price to pay, and it will grow back,” she said. “I honestly haven’t lost a lot of sleep over not having hair.”
Dick’s chemotherapy was every three weeks, and Thursday marked the end of her first round.
Around mid-December, she will start weekly treatments for 12 weeks. Then she’ll be done with chemo.
After her surgery, Dick said she was able to work for a couple of months. But once she started chemo, she decided to take time off to focus on getting better.
Dr. Andrew Dick, Amanda’s husband and an anesthesiologist at Schneck, said he admires his wife’s courageous battle.
“She has been very strong and courageous and faced everything with a lot of grace,” he said. “It’s kind of one of those things you just have to go through it. What else are we going to do? We’re going to have the surgery, we’re going to get treated as best as the doctors recommend and then continue on our life. I hope it’s just a small bump in the road.”
Andrew said his wife’s most toxic round of chemo is done.
“Hopefully, it’s a downhill ride from here,” he said. “She has just been incredible the whole time. I haven’t had to really worry at all because she has just been so strong.”
Whitney Taskey, office manager of Schneck Surgical Associates, said she was amazed when Amanda returned to work after the surgery.
“She had a moment, I think, where you could tell shock set in, and then after that, she regrouped herself, and it was back to caring for her patients, right back to ‘I’m going to get through this. I just have to move on.’ You would have no idea that she was going through it,” Taskey said.
“I told her she’s an inspiration to everyone,” Taskey added. “I can only hope that I could do it with such elegance and ease like she did. I don’t think a lot of people can, so I think it’s pretty outstanding, but I’m not surprised with her demeanor and how she is.”
Amanda’s patients weren’t aware of her cancer diagnosis until after she lost her hair.
“She didn’t notify them until they started to ask questions,” Taskey said. “She always left it as patients would say, ‘That’s very unfortunate,’ and she would say, ‘It is, but it’s something I have to go through. I’ll be fine.’ She just reassured them and went on.”
Amanda said she appreciates her patients’ thoughts and concerns.
“There has just been a great outpouring from especially those patients saying, ‘I’m so sorry this is happening,'” she said. “Obviously, I am, too, but I feel like that conversation maybe has changed a little bit now that ‘Yes, I know what you’re going through before, but now, I really know what you’re going through.'”
After Dr. Amanda Dick’s breast cancer diagnosis, a fund was set up in her honor through the Schneck Foundation to benefit the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center.
To donate to that fund, contact the foundation at 812-524-4244 or visit schneckmed.org/ways-to-help/foundation.