Renee DeAngelo wanted to recreate a moment with her granddaughter captured in a Times-News photo nearly two years ago back when she had hair flowing past her shoulders.
“The chemo was bad. The mastectomy was bad, too, but to lose your hair — for a woman …” said DeAngelo, 50.
A year after the picture of DeAngelo and then 2-year-old Riley Blanchard picking pumpkins at Iseley Farms was published, DeAngelo was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she started what she calls a journey — the kind that goes through some rough places no matter where it ends up.
“I have a family history, so I knew it was a possibility,” DeAngelo said. “It’s different when it happens.”
She had been crying for hours one day in September, she remembered, after losing her hair, on top of everything else, when her father came to her with a copy of the fall edition of Alamance Living.
Times-News editors and graphic designers went around and around in late summer about which picture from the archives said “fall” in Alamance County. Of course, some shots of the Original Hollywood Horror Show were in contention. Eventually, the editors decided to go with the sweet picture of DeAngelo holding her granddaughter’s hand in the pumpkin patch, and without knowing it made DeAngelo’s day.
“It made me feel grateful that I’m still here, hair or no hair,” she said, “and I thought, ‘We’ve got to do that again.’”
These past two years have been powerful for DeAngelo. Her treatment has been successful and she aims to be done this year.
“I told my doctor I’m not going into 2018 with this monkey on my back,” she said.
It started off rough, though, with her insurance company dropping her after her diagnosis. She’s gotten to know a community of people going through struggles like hers, like all the women with breast cancer she now knows who can’t get essential things like Neulasta, the drug that stimulates the regeneration of bone marrow after chemotherapy, but can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per injection.
“All in all it’s been tough, but I’ve been really blessed with these people along the way,” she said.
Through it all, she said, she has had her granddaughter, now 4, who calls DeAngelo “Pipi” because she couldn’t pronounce “Mimi” when she was little, who cried when DeAngelo lost her hair, then delighted in playing with the wig DeAngelo never wears, and then showing off her grandmother’s bald head to her soccer team.
“Through this journey she’s made me laugh at things I didn’t think I could laugh at,” DeAngelo said.
DeAngelo also says things she never thought she would say.
“I never thought I’d say I was grateful for cancer, but I’m grateful for cancer,” she said. “It teaches you things about yourself you never would have learned. I don’t think I would be the person I am today if it weren’t for cancer.”
Reporter Isaac Groves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-506-3045. Follow him on Twitter at @tnigroves.