FAMILY: Husband, Paul; children, Zachary, Wendy, Jennifer; five grandchildren
OCCUPATION: Retired from Westinghouse Savannah River Company; currently a secretary and bookkeeper
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT: October 2001; radiation
NAME: Mildred Akins
FAMILY: Daughters, Ann Coupal, Gail Ferguson and Kay Fuller; son, Larry Akins
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT: Summer 2003; lumpectomy and radiation
NAME: Gail Ferguson
FAMILY: Husband, Herb; daughter, Jennifer Montgomery and son, Herbie Ferguson
OCCUPATION: Executive assistant at Savannah River Remediation
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT: April 2004; chemotherapy, radiation and mastectomy
Sisters Ann Coupal and Gail Ferguson and their mother Mildred Akins are now proud members of a survivors club. All three women were diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.
“We were all there for each other at different times,” said Coupal, 61.
She persevered through treatment with the support of family and her church. Then Coupal had the chance to let others lean on her.
“It was devastating for our family,” said Ferguson, 57. “By the time it rolled around to me, it was like how much more of this are we going to go through.”
The first person Ferguson called when she was diagnosed was her older sister. They were in the process of planning a birthday party for their mother.
Akins, 82, said her own diagnosis was not nearly as devastating as her two daughters’. Watching Ferguson lose her hair during chemotherapy treatments was a difficult moment for all three. Akins comforted her daughter after having her head shaved.
“I remember telling her, ‘We’ve been through it twice already and we can go through it again,’ ” Akins said.
Through it all, they reminded each other to laugh, enjoy life and fight to survive breast cancer. They never had testing to determine whether the family carries a breast cancer gene or whether the diagnoses were a coincidence.
– Compiled by Meg Mirshak and Galan Lewis, staff writers