BILLINGS — Everything Rebecca Hedegaard says and does is done with a smile.
It’s true, even when talking about some of her most challenging days.
“Chemo is not very fun, but you just kind of get through it,” Hedegaard said with a smile and a laugh.
In April of 2020, she was diagnosed with triple-negative, stage three breast cancer at the age of 39.
“Which is a rare form of breast cancer. It represents approximately 10-to-15 percent of breast cancer diagnosed in the United States. Triple-negative breast cancer tends to be a little more aggressive than the other types of breast cancer. It’s more likely to reoccur in the early phases after completing therapy,” said Dr. Troy Fiddler, oncology specialist at St. Vincent Healthcare.
With no family history of cancer, her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer a year before Hedegaard, in March of 2019. Since then, Hedegaard religiously performed monthly breast self-exams at home and discovered a lump.
“I was watching it and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. And my gut was just telling me – you need to get this checked out.”
With the diagnosis came 16 rounds of chemotherapy, and her current round of treatment is scheduled to continue through the summer.
“I ended up having a double mastectomy in December and then I had 25 radiation treatments in January through February. And then I had a month off and now I’m doing more chemotherapy treatment that’s kind of an oral treatment,” Hedegaard said.
To pass the time, she started a gratitude journal.
“Every day I write five things down that I can choose to be thankful for. And that’s really helped my perspective and just try to find joy in all the simple things,” she said.
She’s passing that positive perspective onto her sons.
“I want to give them hope that even on the days where I wasn’t feeling good and I couldn’t go and do all of the activities, I could still sit and cuddle them, I could still read them stories and just let them know I’m still there, I’m still fighting hard to beat this thing because they are my life, and that’s everything I want to live for,” Hedegaard said.
It appears her optimism paid off.
“She had some rough times during treatment, it was fairly rough on her, she probably told you that, but she got through it, and she’s doing very well right now,” Dr. Fiddler said.
An important life lesson came from Hedegaard's journey.
“I learned I cannot lose hope. And I can’t lose joy. Because even though I’m sick, I don’t feel good, and this sucks, I don’t like it, it’s not the journey I chose, but I still have a lot to live for, and I can still find hope and joy in my days,” Hedegaard said.
Events like the upcoming Relay for Life of Yellowstone County on July 9 help support cancer research.
“I think the only way we’re going to make advancements in treating a cancer, breast cancer, many different types of cancer, is if we engage in clinical research. We are engaged in cancer research here at the cancer center. We have a very robust clinical trial portfolio, and like I said, we’re actively recruiting patients into these trials in hopes we can advance the treatment of this terrible disease,” Dr. Fiddler said.
Learn more about Relay for Life of Yellowstone County by clicking here.