Much more than a pink ribbon

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Lisa Coppinger

During Breast Cancer Awareness, the Coppinger family reflects on their experience with Lisa Coppinger suffering from breast cancer a couple years ago. “It was very hard on my body. It made me feel very tired. I lost all my hair, all my energy, and I didn’t feel well. It didn’t make me lose weight since I ate to try to feel better,” Lisa said. “I was extremely tired, and I was unable to continue to do things the way I normally did.”

By Athena Tseng and Andrew Jáuregui

“I found my lump on January, 10 of 2018.”

That was the day everything began to change for the Coppinger family. 

Six days later, Lisa Coppinger was officially diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.

“You’re told there’s a one in eight chance, so those other seven women it’s going to be nothing,” Lisa said. “But the fact that it was actually something I knew it was in me, I didn’t really want to hear that information.”

As the news broke, each family member reacted in different ways.

“Honestly I think I was kind of in shock and it took me a while to sort of register,” daughter freshman Katie Coppinger said. “I definitely think I was a little sad because she wouldn’t be with us as often.”

It made me feel very tired. I lost all my hair, all my energy, and I didn’t feel well,”

— Lisa Coppinger

With his mother’s diagnosis, senior Chris Coppinger started to understand the reality of cancer beyond what’s seen in the media.

“At first I just wasn’t really sure what breast cancer was or what it entailed, so it was a little bit frightening,” Chris said. “It was just kind of open ended; you hear about cancer in the news and you think it’s like a death sentence, but once we learned what she would be going through, it evened out a little bit.”

During her treatment, Lisa was a part of the Keytruda study which led to even more treatment.

“It was very hard on my body. It made me feel very tired. I lost all my hair, all my energy, and I didn’t feel well. It didn’t make me lose weight since I ate to try to feel better,” Lisa said. “I was extremely tired, and I was unable to continue to do things the way I normally did.” 

Although her family was by her side, It was hard for them to see her go through the physical and mental effects of her treatment. 

“She had a lot of trouble with chemotherapy,” Chris said. “So it was really weird seeing her physical changes, especially when she got thinner, frailer, and lost her hair.”

At the lowest point of Lisa’s condition, the worst possibilities were being considered. 

“For a while, I had to cope with the fact that it was possible to lose my mom,” senior Michael Coppinger said. “I most often ignored it, but once someone loses their hair from chemotherapy, it’s a little bit harder to ignore. Of course, my mom couldn’t always be herself because chemotherapy really takes a toll on your body.” 

Separating emotion from her illness, Lisa was able to treat chemotherapy as another challenge.

“I could compartmentalize a lot better than I thought, so I was able to truly treat it like it was just another project,” Lisa said. “I liked to compartmentalize the emotions and just tackle the to-do’s.”

Beyond the changes in his mother’s health, Michael was faced with the challenges of reevaluating his behavior.

“It’s forced me to care for someone other than myself. I had the responsibility to make things easy for my mom, whether that involved having a clean room, being able to take care of dinner, school lunches, or anything else I could take off of her plate,” Michael said. “I tried not to add any stress to my mom’s life when she was already dealing with something so big.” 

It reminded me not to take time for granted and to focus on being happy in the moment instead of living in the future or the past,”

— James Coppinger

The effects of Lisa’s fight on each family member would become obvious to one another.

“My brothers definitely seemed sad, and they were less enthusiastic about school and sports,” freshman Katie Coppinger said.”My dad was definitely less enthusiastic about work, and so we all struggled to do what we had to, but we still carried on.” 

The Coppinger family learned to find joy and strength in one another.

“We got closer together because we realized that we have to live life by the moment,” Chris said. “We started doing a lot more family outings and spending a lot more time together, and honestly, it was a pretty positive experience.”

As the family continued to stick together, Lisa took more pride in her family and tried to continue her daily activities.

“What I learned about my family was that they are pretty resilient. We all found joy doing the things we normally did,” Lisa said. “My husband and I became much closer because we were tackling it together. It reminded us how much we lean on each other and it made our marriage stronger.”

The experience gave Lisa’s husband, James Coppinger, a new perspective on life.

“It was a blessing that way,” James said. “It reminded me not to take time for granted and to focus on being happy in the moment instead of living in the future or the past.” 

Breast cancer awareness helped Michael realize how all people can unify behind a cause.

“I definitely think that Pink Out is a positive thing, but I think that a lot of people view it more as an event than actually spreading awareness,” Michael said. “Breast cancer is a significant issue that affects a lot of people, regardless of race, gender, or any of the other things that typically divide us. It’s a struggle that everyone can relate to whether or not you specifically have been affected, and I got to see firsthand that breast cancer awareness and support really affect patients.” 

Breast cancer is a significant issue that affects a lot of people, regardless of race, gender, or any of the other things that typically divide us,”

— Michael Coppinger

Lisa continues to pay forward the support and knowledge she received during her battle to others who need it.

“I’ve started wearing my breast cancer awareness ribbon to work. When I was battling cancer, the network helped me a lot,” Lisa said. “There were message boards that I could put my concerns on, and people responded. I went to lunch with other people who were going through the same treatment I was. These networks and this month do actually help support people, and I will continue to support people who are going through it.”

James hopes that people take a moment in October to check themselves for cancer.

“If it’s caught late, it’s incurable,” James said. “So now is an especially good time to push awareness.”

It’s what potentially saved Lisa’s life, and without finding the lump when she did, it’s unknown what may have happened. It’s why she preaches proactive health care. 

“Going to get mammograms is extremely important,” Lisa said. “Make sure that you are taking care of your body so that you can get the most out of it, and if you have a scare, don’t put it off. Figure it out right away, so that you can get back to life with a new perspective.”

This story was originally published on Wingspan on October 21, 2021.