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Surviving breast cancer - Renee Rogers: 'I appreciate the small things so much more'
Diagnosis to treatment to recovery: SEB teacher shares her story
Renee Rogers

In 2019, Renee Rogers found herself standing on a cliff in Jamaica. The Southeast Bulloch High School teacher was on a 30th anniversary trip with her husband, several years removed from treatment for breast cancer and coming up on five years of being cancer free.

“We went on an excursion where you had to jump off a pretty high cliff,” she said. “I can't even remember how many feet. I probably would not have thought about doing that (prior to having cancer). But I was like, you know what? You only live once. You need to jump! And I did!

“I think that (having and surviving cancer) gives me the courage to do some things that maybe I wouldn't have done before. It's made me appreciate the people in my life even more. I think that it's made me appreciate the small things so much more.”

A veteran teacher of 20 years, Rogers worked in Claxton her first 12 years, Bryan County for two and has been in Bulloch County ever since, including the last two years at Southeast Bulloch. She teaches classes in audio, visual, technology and film. Rogers also supervises the student yearbook effort.

Now 50, Rogers began her cancer journey with her discovery of a lump on her breast that initially was thought to be a harmless cyst.

“I had a clear mammogram in November of 2014,” Rogers said. “Several months later I found a lump, but it was dismissed as just a cyst. But it continued to grow and finally I was diagnosed September 1st in 2015. I was told it was triple negative breast cancer.”

Rogers said triple negative was explained to her as a more aggressive type of cancer.

“I think that it means that there weren’t receptor cells in my body that would fix it, so the treatment itself pretty much has to try to kill those cancer cells and the treatment needs to be more aggressive.”


Renee Rogers gets some support from her husband Matt prior to double mastectomy surgery.

Reaction to diagnosis

The news of her diagnosis, Rogers said, was a shock. She knew of no one in her close family who had cancer of any kind.

“I went to my appointment a week after a biopsy was done to take out what we thought was a cyst,” she said. “I went to the appointment all by myself not even thinking anything about it. I got the news and I think that I was pretty much in shock to begin with.

“But I believe in God and I believe in Jesus. I guess I would say I had a peace about it that whatever His plan was and however He was going work through to get me through it.”

Also, Rogers had just started working at Statesboro High School four weeks prior to her diagnosis and had to tell her principal she would be out for a while.

“The school, principal, fellow teachers, students were all very supportive throughout the whole treatment,” Rogers said.

She said her family, of course, was the base of her support.

“I have a very, very good support system, family-wise,” she said. “I have a brother and two sisters, and then my mom and dad both live in Claxton. We're all very close.”

She said her husband and two older sons were shocked, but she thought they dealt with her cancer diagnosis as well as could be expected

“At that time one of my sons was already out of the house and in college at SCAD and the other son was a freshman in college,” Rogers said. “My daughter was 10 at the time and she probably didn't understand it. She would ask questions of her dad, ‘Is this the dying kind of cancer or another kind?’ not understanding the full concept of everything.”


Renee Rogers' father, Larry Tuten, left, and her uncle, James Tuten, help keep her spirits up during her cancer treatment.

Treatment begins

Rogers said her treatment began with a lumpectomy of the cancerous tissue.

“The lumpectomy did not get clear margins,” she said. “In the meantime, I was also tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene right after my results came back that I did not have clear margins, so they were going to have to do another surgery.

“BRCA is an abbreviation for the “BReast CAncer gene.”

A BRCA positive test means a patient has a mutation on one of the breast cancer genes – BRCA 1 or BRCA 2. While a positive test doesn’t mean a patient is certain to develop cancer, it does place them at a much higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

“I learned that based on that gene mutation, before I died, I had an 87-percent chance of getting breast cancer and a 58-percent chance of getting ovarian cancer. So, with the BRCA 1 positive test, that made us decide not to do a lumpectomy again, but to do a double mastectomy.”

The surgery went well, Rogers said, and created no complications. In fact, after the surgery, Rogers said her doctors offered her a very positive prognosis

“After the mastectomy, everything was clear,” she said. “I had clear margins. They felt like they had it all.”

Nonetheless, she began her chemotherapy treatment almost immediately after surgery.

 “The first round of chemo was what they call AC, which is Adriamycin and Cytoxan,” she said. “It’s also called the ‘Red Devil’ because it’s red as it goes through the IV into your body.”

Rogers said her oncologist told her AC was a common chemotherapy regimen that’s usually used for localized breast cancers.

Rogers said the treatment did not affect her as badly as she had anticipated. She lost all her hair almost immediately, but “the Zofran they gave me for nausea really helped.

“I kind of found some tips and tricks from reading and everything trying to figure out the best way to not be very sick,” she said. “I would have treatment on Thursday ... and I would be back teaching at Statesboro High on Monday.”

After 12 weeks of AC treatment, Rogers began a 12-week regimen of Taxol, which is used as a chemotherapy treatment to reduce the risk of cancer returning.

“But the second round was Taxol and that was rougher,” she said. “I was really tired. I had seventh period planning, so I would leave at 2 o'clock, get the chemo and go home to bed.”


Side effects

Rogers did suffer from one serious side effect of Taxol.

“I actually lost seven finger and toe nails during that time,” she said. “I had really bad neuropathy. It's just the pain at the end of your fingers and your toes. Just burning. I had a rash over most of my body.”

While going to work at the high school was tough at times, Rogers said the benefits of staying busy as long as she could manage her cancer treatment side effects, were much better than staying home.

“Well, it was difficult, but I'm one that I have to be a doer,” she said. “I don't sit well. I don't think that I would sit well at home just mulling over it. So I think it helped me to stay busy. And all the staff and kids and everyone was very supportive (at Statesboro High).”

When her treatment was complete, Rogers’ oncologists were confident the cancer that had upended her life was gone.

“When I had my double mastectomy they also removed my lymph nodes, even though I had no lymph node involvement, which was a good thing,” Rogers said. “Actually that gave me some peace of mind even before the chemo treatment began.”

After her chemotherapy, Rogers began her recovery.   

“Well, my hair started growing back probably about two, three weeks after chemo,” she said. “I'd say it took about a month to really start feeling like myself and my nails started growing back in. It probably took about five months before the neuropathy pain eased up.”

Rogers said she went to see her oncologist every three months for three years and now has appointments every six months.

“So far, so good,” she said. “No sign of any cancer. We do scans. Sometimes we'll do CT scans. We'll do bloodwork. They want to make sure no levels change.”


Breast cancer survivor Renee Rogers is shown helping a student with video production during a video class at Southeast Bulloch High School.

Support groups

To help her get through dealing with her treatment, questions and even some fears, Rogers said local support groups have been very helpful.

“The Statesboro-Bulloch Breast Cancer organization had a support group that I was going to every month for about four years – during treatment and after,” Rogers said. “That group now meets on the same night as my Life Group and I’ve stayed with the Life Group.

“These support groups have been very helpful. I'm also on some Facebook support groups. It's really good to be able to talk to other people, because I didn't know anybody personally that went through cancer. I can talk to my family all day long, but they don't really understand what you're going through. So it's good to have some other support. Not that family weren't being caring, but it's just that it's easier to ask questions of somebody that's been through it.”

At the support groups, Rogers said she thinks she has helped some friends better handle their cancer.

“I have several friends that have gone through cancer from my hometown that I feel like I've been able to help some. Reaching out to them when I hear that they're having to do the same chemo I did or have the same surgeries. I always try to reach out to them to be able to help answer questions and stay supportive.”

So, after more than four years of battling cancer, Rogers found herself on the cliff in Jamaica, excited to literally jump into something she believes she probably wouldn’t have done prior to her cancer diagnosis.

“Now, I’m not going start doing crazy things,” she said. “But it’s a life I feel grateful for and I am more conscious of being more appreciative for everything.”

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