2010-11-04 / Front Page

S.B. woman takes one step at a time to beat cancer

Darlene Prescott walks 12 miles to honor her 15-year remission, is fundraising for other survivors
BY SAM SLAUGHTER
Staff Writer
One step at a time. Everything, no matter how large or how small, needs to be taken one step at a time.

Darlene Prescott, a breast cancer survivor from South Brunswick, celebrated her 15 years in remission by walking 12 miles from her home to the Breast Care Connection center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick Oct. 25. Darlene Prescott, a breast cancer survivor from South Brunswick, celebrated her 15 years in remission by walking 12 miles from her home to the Breast Care Connection center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick Oct. 25. When Darlene Prescott was told she had breast cancer over 15 years ago, she all but lost hope; she did not want to take any more steps.

“I said, ‘Let me die, this cancer is going to kill me anyway,’ ” she said. “I was one of the worst patients you’d ever want to meet,” she said.

Fear, she said, was the main factor determining how she reacted to her diagnosis.

“I didn’t know anything about cancer. Somebody else had that; I never thought I would have it.”

But then five years passed. And another five. And now another five have passed, and Prescott is still cancer-free.

“When I got to five years, I was like, ‘Well, I made it to five.’ And then when I got to 10, it was like, ‘OK, it’s getting a little better.’ Now at 15, I’m really sure of myself.”

It took time, though, for Prescott’s opinion to change.

In 1996, after finishing chemotherapy, Prescott entered into radiation treatment. It was here, she said, that her mindset fully changed from wanting to die to wanting to survive.

“I went to one radiation treatment with four ladies. They all had long hair, and I kept looking at these ladies, saying ‘How in the heck are they sitting in here for radiation and they all have long hair and I have no hair. I was really angry.”

By the third treatment, Prescott decided to take her scarf and her wig off for the treatments.

“I was tired of people looking at me. I felt they were looking at me because I had this wig that made no sense on,” she said.

One of the other women asked her how long it took her to take her wig off.

“I said, ‘Listen, I’m very angry that I don’t have any [hair] right now, but eventually it will grow back.”

The women finished their treatment and went home.

When it came time for her fourth treatment, Prescott was held up at the registration counter.

“They made me wait, and I was getting annoyed,” she said.

When they finally let Prescott into the room, she said her mouth dropped open. All three women had their wigs off, sitting in their laps.

“This one lady says, ‘If you have enough courage to take your wig off and walk in here with a bald spot on the back of your head, then you encourage us to take our wigs off,’ ” Prescott recalled.

“That is what made me want to live and fight,” she added.

To celebrate 15 years of being free of breast cancer, Prescott decided she wanted to walk. She began by writing out a plan for herself and everything she wanted to accomplish. At first, her family wasn’t exactly on board.

“I started talking about the idea last spring. That’s when my family thought I was a nutcase,” Prescott joked.

Prescott’s original plan was to walk from her home in South Brunswick to the Trenton Bridge.

After talking with Peter Haigney, director of public relations at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, where Prescott is the operations manager of telecommunications, the plan was altered.

Haigney connected Prescott with members of the Breast Care Connection center at RWJUH, and they suggested that she walk to the center, the place that was instrumental in Prescott’s overcoming her cancer.

From there, Prescott began planning more intensely with the center on how she would go about the walk and what her route would be. When finalized, the walk was 12 miles long.

“We know the mileage by heart,” Prescott said. “It’s 24,424 steps — we counted.”

While Prescott had originally intended to walk alone, her co-workers would have nothing of it. Denise Green and Tatiana Isaeva wouldn’t let her go it alone, Prescott said. Isaeva’s son also participated in the walk, skipping school to show support because his grandmother died of breast cancer.

Prescott’s sister, Jeanice Hughes, followed the group in her Expedition.

“She was our protection,” Prescott laughed.

Setting out just after 10 a.m. on Oct. 25, the group arrived at the center a little after 2 p.m. The walk gave Prescott ample time to reflect on her previous 15 years.

“I really felt like I was making a step toward accomplishing something that I had set in my mind and my heart for myself,” she said.

She also had time to reflect on the landscape that she so often sees.

“We walked the path that I drive sometimes. To walk that path and look at all the awesome things that God has made, it was amazing. Amazing.”

Nothing that Prescott thought about during the walk, though, prepared her for the final few steps as she rounded the corner to the center.

“I was hysterical. When I came around the corner and saw all those people that came out especially to meet me at the finish line, I couldn’t believe the love I saw standing there.

“I saw love on everybody’s face. It was amazing, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Family and friends alike had gathered to show their support for Prescott.

“It was so rewarding. When I got to the end of the walk, one of the nurses that took care of me and made me want to live was at the finish line,” Prescott said. “She was wearing a pink ribbon waiting for me.”

As a tie-in with the walk, Prescott also started collecting donations to benefit the center. Starting with only a bucket and a flier placed in the hospital cafeteria, Prescott has already collected over $200 in just two weeks.

Prescott said she will be working closely with the center to collect more donations. In the near future, she plans to establish a website for her cause, The Pink Corner, which people will be able to go to in order to find out more information or to donate money.

“The website will have pink boxing gloves and my slogan ‘Fight like a girl and knock breast cancer out,’ ” she said.

Prescott plans to sell T-shirts for the website, as well as have a bake sale at the hospital — replete, she said, with pink frosted cupcakes.

Those interested in donating can contact Prescott at RWJUH.

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