NEWNAN, Ga. (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Mingling in the crowd at Cancer Treatment Centers of America's Celebration of Life, Karen Reynolds feels grateful to be here.
Reynolds is a five-year, stage 2 breast cancer survivor. Cancer came into her life with a diagnosis in the middle of a February storm that shut the city down.
"It was odd," Reynolds remembers. "The doctor kept saying, 'Carcinoma, carcinoma, carcinoma.' I expected the words to come, 'You have cancer.' And, that didn't happen. So I was a little disconnected."
A physician friend, listening in, later explained what the cancer doctor had not.
"She said, 'There is something in there that is not supposed to be in you, and there is a process to get it out,' ” Reynolds says. " That kind of stopped me in my tracks, from going over the edge with grief or fear.”
Reynolds, now 56 years old, got a second opinion. Then, she began treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Newnan, Georgia.
"I never questioned why," she says. "I never doubted the treatment plan. I actually felt really comfortable with the doctors."
The treatment was not as hard as she expected it to be. First, she went through eight rounds of chemotherapy.
"I basically slept through the treatments," she says.
Then, she had 12 rounds of radiation.
"I would lay on this machine facedown for about 10 minutes," Reynolds says. "They played great music, and then it was over."
Finally, she had a lumpectomy.
Because Reynold's cancer was caught early, Dr. Anita Johnson, director of Breast Surgical Oncology at CTCA, was able to remove the tumor, without removing Reynold's entire breast.
“Most patients who get a lumpectomy can get the 'oconoplastic' approach,” Johnson explains. "So, we want her to be cancer free, and we want it to look nice at the same time."
Now, Reynolds is celebrating the milestone many cancer patients long for: being five years cancer-free.
"Five years is big," Dr. Johnson says. "Every day is big.”
Reynolds pauses, choking back tears when asked what this benchmark means for her.
"It's like turning a corner in my life," she says. "I never thought I wouldn't be here, but the reality is I came close."
The room fills with survivors, celebrating each other’s' milestones, and the cancer treatment team that got them here.
"For me as a doctor, being here six years now, I needed this today," Johnson says. "It's a good day when we see our patients make it this far."
For Karen Reynolds, this means she can move on, and stop living in the shadow of cancer. The Cascade resident longs to travel the world, one day. Right now, she says, she is just grateful to be here, five years out.
"I'm looking forward to what's ahead, and the next milestone," she says, smiling.