Carson woman says she's laughing her way through cancer

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Today marks Beth Haddad's 100th day of chemotherapy.

With it has come hair loss, excruciating pain in her joints that leaves her immobilized for days, fatigue and memory loss along with other loathsome side effects.

Still, she sees her breast cancer as a blessing.

"I can't speak for anyone else going through cancer, but for me, it's been positive," she said. "Not that I would ever want cancer. Who would? But it's made me realize that life is precious. I have a second chance at life."

Haddad, 36, has never been ignorant to the possibility of contracting the disease.

Her mother is a 26-year breast cancer survivor. Haddad found a pea-sized lump in her breast at 24 and has been receiving yearly mammograms since. She faithfully performs her monthly self-examinations.

However, after her father-in-law's death in September of last year, followed by husband George Cotsonis' illness in December, she fell out of the habit.

"I've been getting mammograms since I was 24," she reasoned, "and they've always been clear. I figured five or six months of not checking, what's the big deal?"

But it was a big deal.

"The day after the Super Bowl, I did a check, and there it was," she said. "And it was huge."

She found a lump that had grown to the size of a golf ball in the months since she'd last checked.

"Had I waited until my next mammogram in April, I would not be here," she said. "I'd be looking at living until about Christmas."

On Feb. 19, she received the official diagnosis of late stage 2 breast cancer.

On March 2, she had a mastectomy along with removal of lymph nodes. But she decided early on that she would fight, not just for her life but for her lifestyle.

"My philosophy is humor," she said. "If you don't have it, this will take a toll on you emotionally. If you don't laugh, you're going to cry. I only cry on bad days. I'm too busy doing good things on my good days."

She also believes in complete honesty. While she's vague with her two smaller children, ages 5 and 3, she said down with her two step-daughters Athena, 17, and Allie, 15, Cotsonis and told them the news.

She gave them all the paperwork that detailed the side-effects of the chemotherapy she'd be receiving. An avid journal-keeper, she opened the book up to her family, allowing them to read as often as they like.

"I put it all down," she said. "I want them to know what's happening to me."

The girls have struggled with their own fears and sadness, often feeling overwhelmed when classmates approach them about it at Silver State High School, where they are students and Haddad is a counselor.

"Sometimes you have your days when it's just really stressful," Allie said.

But the two try to find ways to laugh as well. Even when Athena helped Haddad shave her head.

"When she first started losing her hair, we were like, 'Oh, let's make this fun,'" Athena said.

Putting her artistic skills to good use, Allie often draws cartoon characters on the back of Haddad's head. The two color it in using fingernail polish.

"I always get so many compliments on it when I go out," Haddad said. "I want to look back on this in 20 years and say, 'What got me through this? Laughter. Laughter and family.'"

The community has also stepped up, she said, her co-workers providing three months' worth of meals for her family and filling in for her when she was out for treatment. Her husband's co-workers also sent gift baskets and cards.

Friends offer to help clean her house, mow the yard and drive her to her chemotherapy appointments in Reno.

"People I don't even know have supported me," she said. "How do you thank strangers?"

Although she can see the bright side, she doesn't want anyone else to go through it.

"Self-checks are crucial," she said. "I don't care if you're a man or a woman, you have breasts. Is it embarrassing to touch yourself? Maybe. But you have to know your body. It's life or death."

She will have her last round of chemotherapy on July 24, then begin radiation treatments. Three months later, she will visit her oncologist, and she sure of the results.

"I will be free and clear," she said. "I will be cancer free."

And she knows how she's going to celebrate.

"I want to take my family to Disneyland," she said. "It's time to play."


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