By Emily Williams
When it came time for Lindy Walker of Vestavia Hills to tell her son and two daughters that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she put her husband in charge.
“We waited a little while before we told them,” Walker said.
She had three separate lumpectomies before the doctors gave her the news that she had cancer.
“You never think it will happen to you,” she said. “I was 42 years old and it was after my very first mammogram.”
It was already a chaotic time in their house. Her oldest, John David, was turning 16; her daughter Elise was getting ready to travel with the Pizitz Middle School choir; and her youngest, Meghan, was in elementary school.
Elise said she remembers the family meeting perfectly. Her parents told her that they needed to have a talk, but she just wanted to go up to her room and finish some homework. She put up a bit of a fight, probably because she realized that the news was bad.
“Initially, my husband was going to be the one to tell them,” Walker said. “Well, that didn’t work out. He got about four words in and he couldn’t do it.”
Elise recalls her competing feelings in that moment. She watched her brother cry and she simply felt dumbfounded at the news of her mother’s diagnosis.
Though it didn’t go quite as she had planned, Walker said she tried her best to be as straightforward as possible with her kids.
“Be transparent,” Walker said. “It’s best to be honest with your kids, because they are a lot tougher than you think.”
In hindsight, both Walker and Elise find the humor in the situation and even argue about potential misinformation; Elise is sure her parents told her that the diagnosis was “stage 0.”
Unfortunately, stage 0 is not a recognized stage of cancer. In Walker’s case, she was stage 1. The cancer was found before it had spread, so she just needed radiation treatment but chose to go ahead and get a double mastectomy as a preventative measure.
“I was very lucky that I had a good prognosis and that I had one of the most treatable cancers,” she said.
Though she was able to forego chemotherapy, Lindy still had to slow down to recover. She said that was one of the hardest aspects of the treatment process.
“The day I got my diagnosis, I remember them explaining everything to me and I just kept telling them I needed to leave because I was supposed to go check John David back into school,” Walker said.
It’s hard for any mother to slow down, she said, and having three kids in their teenage years with a long list of activities didn’t make it any easier. Luckily, the Walkers had support from their community, with friends and family bringing over dinners and giving the kids rides to school and extracurricular activities.
“We’d have to make her rest because she was trying to do everything for us,” Elise said. “I would have to tell her to go get in bed.”
In addition to advising other children to stay positive and keep up their faith, Elise said it’s important to help out as much as possible.
In recovery for about three years, Walker said she and her children now support others in their battle against cancer.
Walker serves on the advisory board for UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her favorite part is visiting the patients and families who live at Hope Lodge.
“Getting that one-on-one interaction with people and having a chance to talk to them and encourage them is one of my favorite things to do,” she said.
Finding empowerment in her battle against cancer and being able to share it with others has been one of the things she appreciates about her journey, and her kids are following suit.
John David was involved in planning Vestavia Hills’ Relay for Life event before he graduated, and he has passed the baton to Elise.
In her junior year at Vestavia Hills High School, she has been a part of the annual event each year and so has Lindy. At this year’s event, held April 22, the school raised more than $280,000 for the American Cancer Society.
“It’s great because it is something that everybody does,” Elise said. “Every peer group gets involved and it’s fun seeing every type of kid come together. Because almost everyone has been affected by cancer or has been touched by it.”
Elise has one more year at the high school and one more VHHS Relay for Life, but the Walker family legacy will live on in the school club as her sister Meghan joins the high school as a freshman.