Friday, October 16, 2015

Kickin' Cancer: Snell hopes to conquor cancer in 2015

Angie Snell
Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller • khutson@grovesun.com
Editor's Note: This is a part of a series of stories highlighting those impacted by breast cancer during the month of October, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Getting cancer once is tough. Getting it twice in less than 16 months is devastating.

Yet Angie Snell, 43, of Grove, is not letting the double diagnosis of breast cancer keep her down.

Instead, the words printed on the shirt worn by Snell's supporters sums up her attitude: "Kickin' Cancer's Ass Once - Awesome. But Kickin' It Twice - Priceless."

Snell's first diagnosis of stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma came in April 2014, when a mammogram indicated there was something located in her right breast.

After a double mastectomy, Snell underwent treatment and resumed life.

In April, she celebrated her one year anniversary with doctors, confident she was cancer free.

That elation changed in August, when Snell discovered a lump in the scar tissue on her right chest. Surgery conducted on Oct. 2 removed the remaining five lymph nodes on her right side and removed the cancer located on her chest wall.

"It was right in the scar, it felt like a little marble," Snell said, adding that she discovered the lump on Sunday and by Friday, knew it was cancer.

Her doctor told Snell the fact that her cancer returned was rare.

"He said most likely there was one cell so deep, against my chest wall - which is why it occurred again," Snell said. "He said I had such a low percentage chance of it coming back because it was caught early the first time. He was blown away [by the second diagnosis]."

Next week, Snell will return to her oncologist. During that visit her doctors will determine the next course of treatment - which is expected to include radiation and chemotherapy.

While Snell's aunt had a form of breast cancer, Snell's tests to determine if it was genetic in nature came back negative. Doctors believe her illness was estrogen-based.

Angie Snell added this tattoo, to her
left hand after her diagnosis
with breast cancer, as a way to keep her
spirits up during her treatment.
- Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller / Grove Sun
Continuing Life
In April, the eve of her first anniversary following her cancer diagnosis, Snell accepted a job at Pride Plating in Grove - her first desk job in years.

Snell knows what it's like to face adversity. She went into welding after the Eagle Pitcher plant in Seneca closed - an unusual second career choicer for a woman.

Snell jokes that one of her proudest moments in life came in 2003, at the age of 30 when she was the only woman to pass the Tig pipe stainless steel welding test at the Northeast Technology Center-Afton Campus.

"I did that [class] with a bunch of high school boys," Snell said with a laugh. "It was great. So much fun."

After working as a welder for companies in southwest Missouri, Snell returned to Grove when the economy changed and welding jobs dried up.

Before working at Pride Plating, Snell worked at the Seneca Cayuga Tobacco plant for five years.

Now, at Pride Plating, Snell works not on the line or behind a welding machine. Instead she helps complete paperwork as a painter's assistant.

"It's the desk job I never though I'd have," Snell said. "It fell in my lap and has been great."

Snell said her supervisors at Pride Plating have been very understanding as she prepares for round two of her fight against cancer.

In fact, the company gave her time off for her surgery earlier this month, even though Snell has not been employed there long enough leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

"They told me to go, get well and come back healthy," Snell said. "We'll move on together."

After her second diagnosis, Snell had t-shirts made with "Angie's Got This" on the front - at the request of her supporters.

Of the 80 some shirts she had printed initially, more than 50 were sold to co-workers at Pride Plating.

"Hopefully there won't be a third time," Snell said.

Employees at Pride Plating sport shirts saying "Angie's Got This"
 in support of their friend and fellow co-worker.
 - Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller / Grove Sun
Snell said her physician, Dr. Chad Johnson at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, has indicated he plans to develop an aggressive form of treatment.

Snell said she gained strength for her fight from attending the Green Corn Ceremony, held in August by members of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe.

She also drew support from her girlfriend, Melissa, who has walked beside her since the first diagnosis.

"I've put her through hell a couple of times and tried to run her away, but she's stood by me," Snell said, adding that her parents, Homer and Stella Snell have also provided support.

The back of the Angie Snell's shirts takes note
of her double diagnosis in less than two years.
 - Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller / Grove Sun
Moving Forward
Snell decided to forgo reconstruction surgery after her double mastectomy.

"I figured it would be more trouble than it was worth," Snell said, adding the thought of never wearing a bra again was also a factor in her decision.

She said she took the bra, worn to the hospital before her mastectomy, dunked it in the trash as she left the hospital and said "minus one." She burned the rest of her bras once she returned home.

"At first, I had a bad case of social anxiety because it was hard to get used to not wearing a bra," Snell said. "Now it's not such a big deal. I'm proud of what I did."

Snell knows that once she reaches the "one year" anniversary of being cancer free, her next goal is to reach the five-year milestone.

She's been told her attitude will help her become a survivor. Nurses have told her some women receive the diagnosis but never return for treatment - because they fear losing their breasts.

"They don't want to lose their boobs, but they don't realize they will lose their life," Snell said. "It's not about saving your boobs, it's about saving your life."

This story initially was published in the Friday, Nov. 15 issue of The Grove Sun.

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