By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Serving in the role as dispatcher for the Millington Police Department for several years, Karen Craig is used to being the one on the end of instigating an interaction with the men and women in uniform.
Usually giving them a call, details and information to keep them safe on the streets of Millington, Craig had to put down her headset back in 2012. Then it was the turn of the men and women in uniform to get the call out to the community to help Craig in her battle against breast cancer.
With public fundraisers and several prayers, Craig October 2012 diagnoses transformed into remission by June 2013. Through support, chemo, radiation and surgery, Craig is now one of Millington’s and Shelby County’s biggest champions for breast cancer awareness.
“As of today’s date I am cancer free,” Craig emotionally declared. “We’re going on 8 years. So hooray.
“My purpose is to make more people aware of early detection of breast cancer is the key to actually surviving,” she continued. “When they caught mine, I was in Stage One. So mine wasn’t quite as bad as some of the other girls here at the department who have had breast cancer. Just early detection is the key.”
Craig is trained to ask questions and vet situations to get the most information possible to help her officers go into an incident. That background served her in her battle against breast cancer asking her doctors questions and reading up on treatments to boost recovery.
“Eating the right foods – a lot of vegetables, a lot of fruits they suggest,” Craig recalled. “They suggest a healthy weight. My cancer was hormone positive. What that means is basically I had a lot of estrogen in my body. My body wasn’t using the estrogen as it should. Doctors had to throw me into early menopause. As of now I don’t have any estrogen at all but thanks to pills I can cope.”
Armed with information, medicine and treatments, Craig said there is one element of the battle you can’t prepare for until you endure it.
“When I first started my cancer journey I had no idea the changes that I would go through,” she acknowledged. “I wasn’t mentally prepared. I don’t feel like I am the same person I was prior to cancer.
“I am happy and thankful for being alive,” Craig added. “But when you’re first diagnosed your thoughts are I don’t want to die, I want to stay alive. You get caught up in trying to live and doing everything you can do to help the doctors. Mentally and physically they don’t prepare you for the changes your body will go through.”
Celebrating 8 years of remission, Craig said she has moments of doubts she might have to re-engage the battle with breast cancer.
“There’s always the thought in the back of your mind, ‘What if?’” she said. “What if it comes back? It doesn’t just affect you. It affects your friends and your family when you’re diagnosed. When you’re diagnosed you actually don’t face it alone. It affects them and without the good Lord and all of them I couldn’t have done it.’
Family and friends were there for Craig to help her reach remission. But her biggest public champion during her journey and still today are her colleagues at the Millington Police Department.
“Especially that one right there (Inspector Rita Stanback),” Craig noted. “I was overwhelmed by them all. My family here at the police department went over and beyond for me. Inspector Stanback was actually Chief at that time and was a great motivator spiritually and just as a friend.
“Everyone here went over and beyond,” she continued. “I was completely shocked how many people actually cared. That moved me to fight. Along my journey with what I call my Pink Sisters, it was formed through social media. I met a lot of ladies who were going the same journey as I was.”
Craig is currently sending up prayers for two women in Munford, Kelly and Cindy, who are trying to beat breast cancer. She uses her experience, connections with the City of Millington and social media to spread the word of early detection and routine mammograms.
“October is really kind of hard for me,” she acknowledged. “It brings back that memory of being diagnosed. But October reminds us of the importance of early detection. It’s not just October. Breast cancer can show up at any time.
“Mammograms, early detection, and even self-examines, not only women but men can get breast cancer,” Craig added. “The No. 1 key is early detection. It’s not just in October. Breast cancer can come at any point and time. It is always best to do regular examinations on yourself.”
Granted more days on this earth, Craig said she will use her blessings to help others.
“I am extremely grateful to be given another chance at life,” she said. “I live life to the fullest. I’ve learned to appreciate the simple things in life much more than before. And to love your family.
“You have people out there who care for you that you don’t even know about,” Craig concluded. “I am in love with life. And I appreciate and I am very grateful to have the chance to live some more years and I pray I never have to face it again.”