Woman sustained on journey
Eagle News Intern
Written by:
By Tracy Geibel
October 5, 2016
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Melody Hooks was diagnosed shortly after her 55th birthday with breast cancer. A lifelong Christian, she said, “I can’t imagine going through this without my faith. I knew, even if I died, it would be OK.”

If she’d known what would happen the next day, Melody Hooks may have made a different wish when she blew out the candles on her birthday cake Jan. 19.

Hooks, a member of Butler First United Methodist Church, went for a routine mammogram Jan. 20 — the day after her 55th birthday — at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, never expecting that she’d spend the next several months battling breast cancer.

Following a second mammogram and an ultrasound, Hooks’ doctor, Mark Casteel recommended that she proceed with a breast biopsy, which was performed Feb. 1, less than two weeks after the initial mammogram.

“Cancer isn’t even an issue in my family,” Hooks said. “It’s something I never worried about ... [but] thank God, he did do a biopsy.”

A few days later, the Kittanning resident was rocking her 1-year-old granddaughter, Bentley, when the phone rang.

The result shocked Hooks, her husband, John, and the rest of her tight-knit family.

“It was like everything stopped for a minute,” she said. “It’s not something you want to hear, but if you have cancer in your body, you want to know about it.”

Hooks was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer. She had a 1.5 inch tumor in her left breast.

On March 11 at UPMC Passavant in Cranberry Township, her first of three surgeries removed the entire cancerous tumor, some surrounding tissue, and four sentinel lymph nodes, which were fortunately cancer-free. However doctors found residual ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the most common non-invasive breast cancer.

While less than 30 percent of people with DCIS will experience a recurrence, Hooks chose to be cautious.

On April 8, her second surgery at UPMC Passavant removed six inches of breast tissue in a segmental mastectomy. But the results left her disappointed. More DCIS was found on three of six sides, and it was recommended that she get a total left breast, skin sparing mastectomy.

“That’s when reality hit me. I couldn’t even imagine losing part of my body,” Hooks said.

Her faith eventually allowed her to accept it. Hooks related the experience to the well-known “Footprints in the Sand” poem.

“There were times when I felt like I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other; that was Jesus carrying me,” she said.

Hooks is a born-and-raised Christian. Her father became a pastor when she was a young girl.

“I can’t imagine going through this without my faith. I knew, even if I died, it would be OK,” she said.

Her husband has been her “rock,” but his faith was tested, too.

“It’s very easy to become discouraged, and it’s tempting to ask the question: Why is this happening to us?” John Hooks said.

The couple began dating in 1977 when they attended the same high school and church youth group. They married in 1982, and have two sons, John, 29, and Nathanael, 25.

They all supported her throughout the entire process, even wearing pink “Fight Like a Girl” wristbands.

Because the final surgery was precautionary, Hooks took the summer off. She enjoyed the little things: lunch with a friend, walks, and campfires with the entire family.

On Aug. 29, Dr. Gretchen Ahrendt at Magee Women’s Hospital in Oakland performed Hooks’ mastectomy. She didn’t need any follow-up radiation or chemotherapy.

Currently, Hooks is going through breast reconstruction. She hasn’t yet returned to her job as a patient transporter at ACMH because of its physically strenuous nature, but is excited to return soon.

“If I can say one thing about this whole cancer journey, it’s that it was worth it for two reasons,” Hooks said. “It strengthened my faith in God and it’s made me appreciate what a wonderful gift life is.”