published Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Chattanooga races to help find cure to breast cancer

Toni Springman knows all about surviving.

After an accident in high school left her with a crushed femur and pelvis, she had 20 surgeries and relearned how to walk.

"Finally, about four years ago, after three kids, I had a partial hysterectomy and I had a hip replacement, so I stood without pain -- well, major pain," said Springman, who grew up in Rossville and now lives in Charlotte.

A full checkup included a mammogram. And that's when doctors discovered Springman had breast cancer. She was 39 years old.

"It was like, I thought I'd gotten a new lease on life with the hip and being able to walk, and then they told me I have cancer," she said. "Time just stopped."

Over the next year, she had chemotherapy, radiation and a lumpectomy. There were days she couldn't remember her children's names -- chemo brain, it's called, a side-effect that causes memory lapses. Chemo wiped her out, and she had to force herself to keep going.

"You just have to get up every day," she said, "and you're tired, but you get up anyway, and you're tired, and you go anyway, and you're tired, but you keep going because you have those people around you who love you and you want to be a part of their lives."

Her son Kyle, now 11, grew out his hair for Locks of Love. "It helped him be a part of it," Springman said. "He needed to do that."

Springman is participating in her first Komen Race for the Cure on Sunday with her team, Pink Winks, but while she was going through treatment, her friends were there, walking for her. She has a photo in her front room of a close friend wearing a T-shirt with Springman's photo on the back.

Springman is proud to be entering her third year of remission.

Sheril Miller will also be walking on Sunday, in memory of her cousin, Amber Gitgood, who died from breast cancer in 2008 at age 28.

"She battled," said Miller. "Oh, she battled. She did not want to leave her children. She had two very small children."

Miller's oldest daughter was the same age as Amber, and her struggle, Miller said, affected her daughter greatly. Family members and friends worked to put together a growing group to walk in the Race for the Cure -- Amber's Army.

"You cannot be involved in this organization for very long without meeting so many wonderful people and brave women who are battling," said Miller, who has been walking for four years and has taken on an administrative role this year. It's not uncommon, she said, to get an e-mail saying that a woman who is being honored by a team has passed away. "It's a very emotional place to be involved."

Springman said she hopes Chattanooga can take away a message of unity and action from Sunday's walk.

"You got to get up," she said. "You got to go. I know you're tired, but you've got to be there."

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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