When 147 cyclists converged on Harford Community College on a recent Saturday, Adele Snowman was waiting to check them in for the Bike4BreastCancer fund-raiser. Her work with the organization and as a manager of the event suggests one of the ways her life has changed since her diagnosis, treatment and recovery from breast cancer.
"Things will change, as far as how you perceive things," said Snowman, 62, of Upperco, who was treated 16 years ago and has been free of cancer ever since. "There's much more empathy. You get a deeper understanding of other people who are going through the same thing."
She has also become more vigilant, to "make sure my female friends get their mammograms. …They say, 'It's so uncomfortable,' 'It's inconvenient.' We've gone so far to not avail ourselves of a simple test."
She was 46 when she was diagnosed, leading the over-scheduled life of a single mother of two boys while working full-time as a neuroscience researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and going to school at Hopkins at night for her master's degree in biotechnology.
Her regular mammogram in 1994 turned up a lump in her left breast; another test showed it was malignant. She chose to have surgery to remove the cancer at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut so she could be near a younger sister who is a nurse and a breast cancer survivor.
Snowman's chemotherapy and radiation treatments went well — so well that she had sometimes wondered if they were working. She didn't suffer the severe nausea that often goes with the regimen, but when she started losing her hair, she figured the treatments must be working.
More comforting was the news that 21 lymph nodes removed in the surgery were clean, meaning the disease had not spread.
"I knew once I had a negative result from the lymph nodes, everything would be fine," said Snowman.
And so it's been since, as test after test has shown no sign of the disease.
Snowman recognizes that "some ladies have it a lot tougher than I did." But she doesn't dwell on her experience with the disease; nor does she feel she's living with the anxiety of cancer recurring.
"I don't think of it that much. It seems so far removed," she said.
In the last 10 years she has taken up cycling and triathlons, although she said that's not because of her experience with the illness. After the treatment, and the clean follow-up tests, she said, "life kind of resumed where it was. I'm very happy to be here."