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The Heroes Project 2021: Courage, Strength and Hope

They’re our neighbors, community leaders, role models – they’re cancer-fighting heroes. This year, we’re sharing inspiring Heroes Project stories about perseverance, faith, service and the value of being there for those you love. Cancer brings challenges and setbacks along the way, and these stories are a true testament to human strength. So, take a moment to reflect, read your neighbors’ stories and remember to cherish every single day.

Debbie Mason: Grateful for every moment & every relationship

As First Lady of Peachtree Corners, Debbie Mason is an enthusiastic leader who’s always engaged in serving her community, whether it means volunteering at a local nonprofit or always being there at major events. But little did she know that all of that love and hard work she’s put into helping her neighborhood thrive would come right back to her when her life took an unexpected detour.

When Debbie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it came as a disheartening shock. The diagnosis was also a harbinger, signaling a temporary hiatus from her busy professional life. Social and political commitments were cast to the wayside, replaced by medical visits and treatments. Due to the pandemic, Debbie traveled solo to doctor’s appointments, conveying updates and test results to her husband and mayor of Peachtree Corners, Mike Mason, through FaceTime.

In every way imaginable, her husband and sons stepped up, ensuring Debbie felt comfortable, cared for and never alone. While going through treatment, Debbie found the universe working inversely. Used to being on the giving end of situations, she found herself receiving, and receiving in abundance, from an entire community of neighbors and close friends who flooded her doorstep and home with get-well cards, food, and gift cards for local restaurants. Flower arrangements in rainbows of colors arrived in droves. “People were telling me that I had a whole city of people praying for me,” Debbie says.

But the person she’s most grateful to is her neighbor who, upon the urging of his late mother who herself passed from the disease, urged him to tell every woman he met to take the CA 125 test, a test that detects ovarian cancer before it’s too late. At the time, Debbie had conceded for no other reason than to pay deference to a life lost. But today, she’s thankful beyond words. “By urging me to get the CA 125 test, my friend Richard may have saved my life,” she says.

Margarita Argueta: My family and my faith in the Lord give me strength

Margarita Argueta appreciates that she is able to open her eyes every morning. She finds beauty in a blooming flower and even in her neighbor hollering from next door in the middle of the night. Her outlook on life has changed drastically since cancer made its appearance in her life, reminding her that every moment is a gift and one to be cherished.

When the doctor first diagnosed her with breast cancer, Margarita felt fear and shock. Her mind shot to her two young children, her odds of survival, and what the rest of her life would look like. Her family rushed to her side, showering Margarita with nothing the doctor could prescribe, yet everything she needed: heavy doses of love, support and care at a juncture when life was at its most challenging: she’d been diagnosed with cancer twice, back-to-back.

Margarita’s experience with cancer has altered her view on many things—“physically, mentally and spiritually.” But she also cannot look past the beautiful lessons it has taught her, one of the most integral being to view life’s many blessings in a new light and appreciate them in a way she never before had.

“My family and my faith in the Lord gave me and continue to give me strength,” says Margarita. “I thank God for my family. I enjoy the good things in life every day. But I make it a point to also learn from all experiences, even the ones that feel the worst.”

Charlotte Armstrong: Cherish every minute of every day with those you love

On pleasant days when the sun is shining bright, you’ll find Charlotte Armstrong riding her bike outside with the “big kids.” As a cheerful preschooler, her mornings are filled with crayons, markers and a vivid imagination that brings out her carefree, free-spirited nature. But underneath it all, Charlotte is made of tougher stuff than any preschooler should be.

Charlotte’s mother Kathrine remembers all too well the day their universe turned upside down. Charlotte was a cherubic baby, only 20 months old when her mother noticed a strange firmness in her belly. An x-ray confirmed a cancerous tumor.

What followed felt surreal to Charlotte’s parents as they faced disbelief and heartbreak. “We started that day like any other day,” says Kathrine. “But as soon as you hear those words, your life changes forever.”

Fortunately, Charlotte was too little to understand what was happening. A jubilant child, she immersed herself in Snapchat during treatments, having fun with the different, often silly filters that took her to a happier, carefree place so reflective of her true nature. And she rarely if ever cried during months on end of chemotherapy. “Luckily, most of the time she was smiling and stealing everyone’s heart,” says Kathrine.

It’s been over a year since Charlotte’s last round of chemo. Watching their beaming daughter, Kathrine and her husband are amazed at her resilience, bravery and all she endured with rarely a complaint. “She gets her strength from the prayers and support of so many people,” says Kathrine. “Going through a situation like this reminds you how precious life is and how important it is to cherish every minute of every day with those you love.”

Andre Redding: Blessed to be able to help

Andre Redding felt a swarm of emotions flood him when he was diagnosed with three types of cancer: breast, prostate and colon, all appearing within two years. Why me? He asked God. The response came back, soft, a whisper: Why not you?

Andre accepted it humbly, bowing his head to God’s will. As his treatments began, his children, grandchildren, wife, brothers, cousins and many others sourced him hope, kindness and prayers.

“I appreciate the fact that God decided that he would put brilliant people in my life story when he did,” says Andre. “He allowed me to meet heroes who have now become friends. I look at life differently now. I look at it through hopeful eyes.”

In the process, Andre also discovered a larger purpose in life. No longer was his focus solely on fighting for himself, but on restoring his own strength to become a source of strength for others in a similar situation.

So strong was his willpower and desire to help that he not only won the fight against cancer, but in the process, he also launched what has become his pride, passion and legacy for others diagnosed with this illness: his nonprofit organization, Fight 2 Finish. True to his ambition, Andre’s organization does exactly as its name suggests: helps men suffering breast cancer fight till the end in their war against this abominable disease.

“Knowing I have an opportunity to lend a hand to another human being who is going through what I have been through is really motivating,” says Redding. “I am so blessed to be able to help.”

Suzanne Adams: Every treatment, every test, every procedure and surgery, God is with me

“I had heard about breast cancer, supported breast cancer initiatives, had friends and acquaintances with breast cancer, but I really didn’t know what breast cancer was,”
says Suzanne Adams.

So, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the whole ordeal felt very surreal to Suzanne at first. But the moment grew very real when her loving husband, Jimmy, and her dear daughter, Tiffany, huddled around her chair, a spread of gadgets on the counter before them, all of them at a place in life none of them had ever imagined being.

Together, they all prayed. Then, her husband and daughter took turns shaving Suzanne’s head while comforting her and assuring that they would face this challenge together, supporting her every step of the way. That is when the sobering reality of cancer struck Suzanne.

Suzanne and her devoted family have faced many heartbreaks and triumphs along her journey fighting cancer through many treatments, hugs and tears. Surrounded by her family and adoring granddaughters, the one thing she refuses to do is let the disease steal her joy. “I am surrounded by an unfailing God,” she says. “I have a beautiful family, amazing friendships, and a community that has already healed me in many ways no one will ever know or realize.”