Editor's note: This is one story of a series of stories about local people dealing with cancer. The stories will run this week in conjunction with the Relay for Life, which is Saturday in the Butte Plaza Mall.
Cancer survivor Rachelle Sando wears a copper necklace inscribed with the words "Butte Tough," a gift from her daughter.
The words have become a mantra on her path to recovery from Stage II breast cancer.
"I just made up my mind I was going to barrel through it," she said, after her Jan. 2 diagnosis. "I knew I wanted to live, and my attitude is everything."
Sando, of Butte, will join other cancer survivors at the Relay for Life fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Butte Plaza Mall, 3100 Harrison Ave. Doors open at 10 a.m., and the walk starts at 11 a.m.
Sando, 60, who never skipped her annual checkups, discovered a lump in the deep tissue of her breast after years of 3-D imagery failed to show the egg-sized mass, she said.
"I actually did a self-breast exam, and that's how I found it," she said. "As soon as I felt it, I knew I was in trouble. I asked the doctor, how bad is it? Am I going to live?"
For the next several months, Sando underwent hormone therapy to reduce the size of the tumor in preparation for surgery.
She tolerated that chemotherapy well, experiencing less discomfort than many patients, but the resulting baldness was the hardest part for her.
"The worst thing about the chemotherapy was losing my hair," she said. "That was terrible."
Her first surgery on July 27 required a follow up two weeks later. The second surgery showed margins cleared of cancer cells, she said.
Sando says those surgeries were "a piece of cake."
"They weren't bad at all," she said.
After both, she was active as ever, dining out, shopping, and having fun at Evel Knievel Days.
Now, "I'm cancer cured," she said. "They got it all."
It's not her first brush with the disease. Her mother passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Because survival chances with her mom's cancer were small, Sando felt more optimistic about her own diagnosis, which has a more hopeful prognosis, and even considers herself lucky.
"If you've got to have cancer, this is the one to have," she said. "It's much easier to treat."
Soon, Sando will undergo preliminary testing for radiation therapy — the next phase of her treatment.
She said her doctor cautioned her about the effects of 35 radiation sessions over the next seven weeks.
Being Butte tough, she feels prepared.
"He says it's going to be pretty brutal," she said, "but it is what it is."
Sando also feels fortunate that she was selected to participate in a 10-year cancer study, based on the size of her tumor and the type of cancer she has.
Dr. James Hueftle, oncologist, and his wife Karen will track and record her progress during the next decade, she said.
Sando enthusiastically endorses regular self-breast exams for all women.
"I really think every woman should do it, because they could not see (the tumor) in the mammograms," she said. "It pretty much saved my life."