Breast cancer survivor Candy Grant of Columbus is a newly-published children’s book writer. The former teacher is pictured at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library Tuesday, where “This — books and children reading — is what it’s all about,” she said. Grant is nominated for the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation New Author Award. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
October 18, 2014 11:44:34 PM
Candy Grant tries to tell the story without becoming emotional, but a telltale waver in the voice and eyes that tear up testify to the fear and upheaval breast cancer blind-sided her with six years ago. The good news is, she triumphed in that battle. Ever since -- especially during October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month -- it's not unusual to see her wearing pink. Pink in her attire, on her nails or in her jewelry. The month's signature color expresses moral support for others who know the same fight.
Grant wakes up every morning grateful for the health she enjoys today and the chance to see a long-held aspiration launched. Her first three children's picture books have been released since June in rapid succession by The Omnibus Publishing of Baltimore. The next is due out in early 2015; others are currently in illustration.
She has just returned from the Baltimore Book Festival, and the former teacher and Mississippi University for Women graduate is a nominee for the 2015 Ezra Jack Keats Award for Best New Author. It's all light years from Aug. 8, 2008, and the life-altering phone call that brought the news she had cancer.
After picking up copies of her very first book, "The Pigs Did It!," this summer at the post office, Grant's first stop was the Imaging Center of Columbus.
"In the car I held one of the books to me and had tears of joy running down my face," she recalled. "The first person to get a book had to be Dr. (Ed) Williams. If he hadn't questioned the mammogram, I wouldn't be here. I'm alive because of it."
Grant readily credits Dr. Williams, Dr. Jerry Stennett, Dr. Wail Alnas, Dr. Robert Jones and the nurses and staff at the Baptist Center for Cancer Care and the Imaging Center for getting her successfully through treatments.
"How thankful I am. Because of their dedication and knowledge, I was able to live out my dream," she said with feeling.
The home front
Grant's family was also front and center.
"My husband, Andy, and daughter, Katie (Baty), were amazing," Grant said. "All the family rallied around me. And fellow breast cancer survivors ... I call them my 'pink buddies.'"
"It's been a rumble," Andy said, his voice heavy with things unsaid. "It would have been easy to give up, but that isn't what I said I'd do for her 25 years ago."
The Columbus Fire and Rescue captain and his wife celebrated their 25th anniversary Oct. 16 with dinner at Harvey's Restaurant in Columbus. It's where they went on their wedding day, after a brief courtship and a simple ceremony. It's a "date" they go on every year. Even during the surgeries and chemotherapy, it was important to them to keep the tradition.
For Andy and Katie there was no question they would be close by throughout the illness.
"It's very, very stressful going through that time of sickness," Andy recounted, mentioning the support he got from fellow firefighters and others he worked with in a construction business. His own personal rehab was the time spent working with the cows on the family farm.
Katie was only a senior in high school when her mother was diagnosed. She went to her knees when she was first told. But, in the end, helping care for her parent inspired her career. She is now a registered nurse at the Baptist Center for Cancer Care.
They all leaned on each other through surgeries and treatments. Through alarm clocks at 5 a.m. to get to radiation and then to Caledonia High School by 7:30 a.m. so Candy could continue teaching. Through weakening days and nights, hair loss, brave faces and soothing washcloths chilling in the refrigerator. Eventually, the time came when Grant wasn't able to teach.
"When I saw Mom going through that, I wanted to be able to take care of people the way they deserved," said Baty, who lives in Hamilton. "Working with cancer patients now I want to make sure they're taken care of the way I would want my own family to be taken care of."
Grant's students and friends at school rallied around her, too. And faith was a major ally.
"They put you in that room in that paper gown ... " Grant said, recalling one of the early days. "I sat there and said, 'God, if this is something I've got to go through, OK. I'll do it. All I ask is that you give me the strength and that you let me live.'
Her last chemo treatment was Dec. 24, 2008, Christmas Eve. The family called it their Christmas gift. Radiation treatments ended in March 2009.
Grant's attitude, her 23-year-old daughter said, stayed positive. "I'm very proud of her. I've seen my mom go through the worst time in her life to awesome now."
A taste of awesome
Today Grant lives on a Lowndes County farm with her husband, "some smart dogs, a few hens and one bossy little rooster." Her days are a swirl of story ideas, book signings and one of her favorite activities, reading to children in schools and libraries.
Writing is "like breathing," she admitted. Her passion is to create a love of reading in children, something she imparted to her own daughter, who had a library card by the time she was 5.
"Teachers never want to hear this, but from time to time you'll hear children say they hate to read," she said. "I want to make reading fun so that they want to read more and more."
A particular book she wants to write within the year is one that can help children understand what a mother with breast cancer is going through.
If Grant could broadcast any message after her ordeal, it's that early detection is the best protection. She was told by doctors that had she waited a year, she would not be here today.
"When in doubt, check it out," she affirmed. "I want people to learn from my mistakes. I never did self-examination. I think people should start as teenagers," she added, telling of a 19-year-old breast cancer survivor. And the disease strikes men as well as women, she pointed out. About 2,400 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men were expected to be diagnosed in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society. An estimated 232,670 were expected to be diagnosed in women.
She recommends checking out what hospitals and physicians have in the way of support, especially peer support. No one understands more than someone who has been through it.
"When you're a breast cancer survivor, it's a bond that cannot be broken," she stressed. "We look at each other, and we know what you went through. You're drawn to each other ... it's a kinship."
Her husband shared advice as well: "Keep your head high. It is beatable. It's not going to be an easy road, but you can get through it. Support each other."
And it doesn't hurt to wear pink every now and then. To someone, pink matters.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.