Editor's note: This story appeared in the Houston Texans Gameday Magazine on Oct. 13, 2013.
“Mommy has cancer” are words Samantha Dewey never thought she would have to tell her sons.
Described by her doctor as “disgustingly healthy,” the former 2008 Houston Texans Cheerleader eats extremely well, does CrossFit and even exercised on the days she delivered her sons Caleb, two, and Asher, eight months.
“I’m always drinking those green smoothies,” Samantha said with a laugh. “I guess no matter how healthy you are or if you’re doing all the right things, there’s always a chance.”
A three percent chance, to be exact. On August 6, Samantha was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. She has tumors in her neck, hip, sternum and sixth rib. What makes Samantha’s case so rare is that the cancer manifested during her second pregnancy.
“While I was carrying Asher, my body was swimming in estrogen,” Samantha said. “The pregnancy hormones sped the process along to where the tumors grew at an accelerated rate. That’s how I reached Stage IV so quickly.”
What makes Samantha’s story even more unique is how the tumors were discovered.
“We have this little routine where I pick Caleb up over my head and carry him into the house like he’s on an airplane,” she said. “I went to lift him and my neck and arms just collapsed. I fell to the ground and just cradled Caleb to my chest. My arms and hands went completely numb and my neck fell forward.”
The tumor that had been discretely growing on Samantha’s spine over the past year caused her neck to break. Being a Doctor of Physical Therapy, she performed a few tests on herself and concluded that her injuries were serious.
“I’ll tell you something about my pain tolerance,” she said. “I’ve delivered two boys all natural with no drugs, and that was a 10-out-of-10 on the pain scale. But this was a whole other type of pain.”
After a number of X-rays and tests, Samantha was informed of her prognosis four days after the neck break.
“I allowed myself five minutes to cry, five minutes of sadness,” she said. “Then it was like ‘OK, what’s the next step?’ My husband is a planner, and he was amazing to have by my side. We decided right then and there we’d do whatever it takes to beat this thing.”
Samantha is in the process of undergoing Taxol chemotherapy. She will need months of more chemotherapy, surgery to remove her left breast and axillary lymph node, followed by radiation to her neck, hip, sternum and rib. The final stages include hormone blocking medication to prevent recurrence and the possibility of ovary removal.
Although it’s only been two months since Samantha’s diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy treatment, she says she can’t remember a time when she didn’t have cancer.
“The little things are not important anymore,” she said. “I remember when I’d complain that ‘work was stressful’ or ‘oh, there’s traffic.’ Now, it’s like all of that doesn’t matter. It’s amazing how your world can change in a day.”
Being a mother to her two youngsters is what motivates Samantha. Wearing a neck brace and battling constant fatigue, she admits that her condition has forced her to get creative.
“Caleb mixes up the words ‘need’ and ‘want,’ so he constantly tells me ‘Mommy, I need hugs,’” she said. “I can’t lift anything over 20 pounds, so I’ve learned to just kneel on the ground and let him cuddle up to my chest. We used to do crafts and activities every day, but I’ve learned to moderate them into something less strenuous like coloring or something indoors. You just have to find ways around it.”
The change in routine isn’t lost on Caleb. He asked his mother about her hair after she cut off 12 inches and began to wear hats to cover up the patches on her scalp.
“It’s ‘Mommy has cancer’ not ‘Mommy is sick,’” Samantha said. “I don’t want them to think that if they get sick they’ll lose their hair or have to go to the hospital like me. I’m still a mom. I have to be there for them and let them know I’ll be OK.”
Her second family lies in past and present Houston Texans Cheerleaders, who gathered at the Houston Methodist Training Center for a prayer meeting in her honor. Many of the women participated in the Texans ‘Komen for the Cure’ race on October 5, sporting “Cheer for Sam” T-shirts.
“Between work friends, friends from Second Baptist church and the cheer girls, I don’t have to cook a meal until probably December,” she said, smiling. “It’s amazing to have all these people reaching out and rooting for you. I’m so thankful and blessed.”
In just two months and four treatments, the tumors have shrunk from their original size. Samantha is confident that she will conquer the cancer and will look back on this time in her life as a trial she successfully overcame.
“God and my faith in Jesus is taking me through this journey, and I know he’s guiding me every step of the way,” she said. “This isn’t the end for me. I truly believe that. I really, truly do.”