Christine Giddens is a fighter. And soon, she hopes, she can call herself a survivor.
The cheerleading coach at Legacy High School, in Ocoee, said she noticed some changes in her skin — redness and a large indention — in April, but she didn’t take measures until she felt the lump in her breast.
A trip to the doctor was followed by multiple tests and a biopsy.
“Life was crazy,” Giddens said. “I honestly was scared (and) didn't know what to think. I prayed the Lord would give me the peace I needed as I waited for an answer.
“I received a phone call from my doctor on May 16 at 2:23 p.m. informing me that I had Stage 2 breast cancer,” she said. “I remember the details so clearly because my middle niece was a senior in high school and had her Senior Walkout day at school that afternoon and my oldest niece had her college graduation ceremony that evening. I was thinking, ‘How was I going to keep it all together and not ruin this day of celebration for my family?’
“It was a day I will never forget,” she said.
Giddens began chemotherapy in June, with treatment every two weeks.
“I (lost) my hair within the first two weeks of treatment, and that definitely was a shocker on how quickly it came out,” Giddens said. “In a way, it's kind of nice not having to worry about doing my hair every day. I either put my wig on, brush and go or decide which hat looks best with my outfit.”
She is now in her second round and goes to the clinic every Thursday for her medication. When this treatment round is complete in six weeks, Giddens will have surgery followed by six weeks of radiation.
She said she has developed nephropathy in her hands, is fatigued and has been in the hospital several times.
“All I can do is take one day at a time and know that this is only for a season,” she said.
A recent Pink Out day with the elementary and high school staff and students honored Giddens and several other women who have had cancer and paid tribute to the Legacy staff members who have died of cancer.
“We have had a few women, who work at the school, deal with some kind of cancer within the last year, and the school has been so supportive of every one of us,” she said.
What Giddens didn’t know was that the school also was honoring her personally.
Everyone gathered in the gymnasium and took a group photo of everyone in their pink attire. On the gym floor, the football players’ helmets were arranged in a circle, with pink pompons in the shape of a heart and blue and silver pompons creating her initials.
“Our athletic director announced that they had pink ribbon decals made that had my initials on them and that the players would be wearing them throughout the rest of the season to show their support,” Giddens said. “The cheerleaders then placed a decal on each helmet, and once all that was said and done, the kids went crazy cheering and clapping to show their love and support.
“It took everything I had to hold back my emotions.”
Giddens is proud of her cheerleaders and their support and said they have been understanding of her ever-changing schedule. They were aware she might not be present at all the practices and games, depending on her health.
Two assistants, Anna Bustamante and Rachael Kirkpatrick, have helped her with coaching this year.
“I honestly don't know what I would do without them,” Gidden said. “They definitely have been an answer to my prayers through all this.”
Giddens has been a member of the Legacy High team for five years, starting out as a teacher’s assistant for two years at the elementary school level. After being asked to judge cheerleading tryouts, she became the middle school squad coach.
When the head coached left the following year, Giddens took the position and moved to the high school campus. She continues there as the head coach and a teacher’s assistant.
She lives in Winter Garden with her husband, Mike. She counts her blessings to have such a great support system between her family, church and school.
“You hear of women being diagnosed with breast cancer every day, but I never would have thought I would be one of them,” Giddens said. “(It) brings a whole new meaning to your life and how precious it is — along with cherishing every moment with the ones you care about and love.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.