Curves helps with member’s battle with cancer

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 21, 2005

About a month ago, Toni Russ discovered that she had stage three breast cancer.

It was the best news she’d had in months.

In January, the Babbtown Road homemaker, 37, discovered a lump in her breast. Thinking it was a cyst, which runs in her family history, she ignored it. Two months later, it was still there.

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&uot;I was too scared to go to the doctor,&uot; she said. &uot;I didn’t have health insurance.&uot; Her husband is self-employed in heating and air conditioning.

Her mother finally made her a doctor’s appointment in March. Then the bad news came.

Not only did Russ have breast cancer but it had been growing in her body for two to three years. It had spread to her bones. She had stage four cancer – for which no cure exists.

The mother of a 6-year-old, Russ began treatment. She made out her last will and testament. She told her friends at the fitness facility Curves for Womenabout her situation.

&uot;It was absolutely devastating,&uot; said Curves owner Jodi Gray. &uot;We’ve been friends for over a year.

&uot;The biggest thing for us was her age. Breast cancer isn’t just for older women.&uot;

Russ underwent CAT scans, bone scans, biopsies and other procedures.

&uot;I thought it was the end,&uot; she said. &uot;Every day, I’d wake up thinking it was the last day of my life. Women fuss sometimes about cleaning their house or doing their laundry, but I was thinking, ‘God, please give me the chance to clean my house and do my laundry!’&uot;

After a few months, her doctor gave her a call.

The cancer in her bones wasn’t cancer after all. Her disease was still in the third stage, which isn’t immediately fatal.

She wasn’t cured – but for the first time, there was hope that she could be.

Just after the new diagnosis, Russ headed to the University of Virginia for her first round of chemotherapy.

All the while at home, her friends at Curves were still looking out for her. They’d pick up her son Aubrey from school. They’d come to her house and get her out of bed and do what she couldn’t do for herself.

Then they decided to do something extra.

Gray and the rest of the Curves crowd organized a hairdressing fundraiser. On Saturday, hairdressers from around the area came to the Suffolk Plaza store to raise money for Russ, a former hairdresser. For a $20 donation, visitors could receive a haircut, and other donations were accepted.

&uot;We did it behind her back,&uot; Gray said. &uot;This is to help with her expenses. We’ve been planning this for about a month.&uot;

&uot;I found out about this early in the week,&uot; Russ said. &uot;I can’t even put it into words how it made me feel.

&uot;I felt so blessed that some of the most important people in my life would take so much time out of their busy lives to do it. It was unbelievable. It was incredible. But that’s who they are.&uot;

The Churchland business Great Expectations was one of three local facilities to send over some of its employees.

&uot;As soon as they asked me, I said yes,&uot; said Great employee Terri Horton. &uot;I didn’t even know Terri until today, but my heart went out to her. I had two aunts who had breast cancer, and from seeing what they went through, I don’t want to see someone else go through it.&uot;

Doctors recommend that women have annual mammograms starting at age 40. Russ knows that that can be too late.

&uot;If I had waited for 40, I wouldn’t be here,&uot; she said.

Ever since her first chemotherapy, Russ said, her hair has been falling out in handfuls.

&uot;Every day,&uot; she said, &uot;I lost a Wal-Mart bag of hair. I couldn’t handle looking at myself in the mirror.&uot;

So she decided to get rid of it herself. After Aubrey cut off her ponytail, another hairdresser shaved the rest of her head. Nearly bald, Russ began to cry – but not from sadness.

&uot;Not only have they been there, taking care of Aubrey,&uot; she said of the Curves crowd, &uot;They’ve been calling me 10 to 15 times a day. They’ve sent love. They’ve sent prayers. They’ve sent laughter. I’ve gotten cards, calls, hugs, prayers, everything from them.&uot;

Watching Russ’ hair fall to the floor, Ann Turner remembered her own battle with breast cancer.

&uot;You have to hang on,&uot; said Turner, a six-year survivor of the disease. &uot;I had a young grandson, and I had to make it for that little guy. She’s got a great motivator in her young child.&uot;

As the event wound down, Gray counted the take. Roughly $1,200 had been raised. On Monday, Russ will go back to UVA for another round of chemo, the second of eight she’ll have to undergo. Eventually, she’ll have a mastectomy.

&uot;God is in the miracle business,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m living proof.&uot;

The facility is still taking donations, and an account in Russ’ name has been set up at BB&T Bank. For more information, contact Curves at 925-2878.