"Roxann, are you listening?"
Those are the words Roxann McIntyre remembers hearing from the radiologist who did a biopsy on the lump she found in her right breast. McIntyre had frozen, gone blank and felt like she was at the bottom of a hole upon hearing that she had breast cancer.
But last weekend, McIntyre walked with about 10,000 others at the American Cancer Society's benefit walk, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. She wore a pink shirt that read "survivor" in all capital letters on the back. She pushed her 2-year-old daughter in a stroller through a 3.2-mile walk over and around part of Tempe Town Lake.
McIntyre kept a swift pace through the course as she walked past hot pink stray feathers separated from their boas, pale pink Band-Aids stuck adhesive-side down to the ground, empty chip bags adorned with the signature pink ribbon crossed at its ends, and vivid pink cups crushed under the footprints of pedestrians who walked in the fight against breast cancer.
Other walkers participated in teams and wore shirts with names of their loved ones accompanied by "warriors," "troopers", "fighters" and "honored." McIntyre, who lives in Litchfield Park, was one of tens of thousands affected by breast cancer at the event.
She found the lump while performing a self-exam in the shower. She scheduled an appointment with her OB/GYN doctor, concerned it may have been breast-feeding related. McIntyre then received the phone call that changed her life three days before her only child turned 6 months old.
Less than a month after she initially scheduled an appointment, McIntyre, at 31 years old, was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma - breast cancer.
From that day in April, McIntyre began the battle against the tumor inside her chest. She saw a doctor or took tests almost every day for the next two weeks, overwhelmed with nonstop examinations.
"I felt like I was being farmed out," McIntyre said. "Farmed out to constant doctors and tests."
Her oncologist called her after one test came back that showed the tumor had spread into her armpit and chest. Chemotherapy was necessary.
"My heart just sank," McIntyre said.
She began the first of six chemotherapy rounds in May. She received three drugs per cycle (every three weeks) because of the aggression of the cancer. McIntyre remembers the first visit to receive her treatment.
"It doesn't matter what you do. I'm not ready to not see my baby's babies," she told her oncologist.
The worst part of her battle was having to "sit and wait," according to McIntyre. Waiting in offices to take tests, waiting for results, waiting for the five-day sickness to pass after every chemotherapy cycle, waiting to beat her cancer.
"It's just horrible," she said. "You already have this diagnosis and you just want to do whatever it takes to fix it."
After she finished chemotherapy, McIntyre had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor. Tissue was taken out that came back clear of cancer, due to the chemotherapy. She began radiation five days a week for seven weeks to kill off any possible remaining cancerous cells.
McIntyre finished radiation two days before Christmas in 2009.
"It was the best Christmas present I ever received," she said.
McIntyre began to fan her teary eyes as she recalled the toughest parts of her eight-month fight. The morning her husband convinced her to shave her head was the hardest day of her treatment.
"I felt so ashamed because I didn't have hair," McIntyre said. "To me, it was a symbol that I was truly sick."
She texted colleagues on her way to work at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Goodyear, asking if any of them had a scarf she could borrow. When she entered, she was surprised to find everyone had a scarf for her to wear. They were waiting for this day and displayed their support through the scarves - some personalized, all heartfelt.
McIntyre persevered through chemotherapy treatments in order to live to see her daughter's life. The cancer benefits she did before were for others. Now, she also walks for herself. She displays her sense of empowerment because she beat cancer and has been free of it since.
McIntyre pointed out to a coworker, Tracy Whitworth, that her face was fittingly pink upon coming up to the end of the walk. Whitworth laughed and said she knew.
As music began to boom, crowds gathered, supporters on the sidelines held out hands for high-fives, booths became visible and whoops and hollers were heard, McIntyre turned around to look at her daughter before she crossed the finish line at Tempe Beach Park.
She said she does as many benefits that come her way, now with a drastically more personal reason.
"It never gets old," she said. "No, never."