LEWISVILLE, Texas -- Seldom does a bit of news make your life flash before your eyes. As cliché as it sounds, that's what happened to Debra Hengst on December 22, 2010, when she was told that she had breast cancer.
"I was very upset; I thought my world was coming to an end. When I heard that I have the big "C," my whole life flashed in front of me," Hengst said. "My life became like that Tim McGraw song, "Live Like You were Dying."
But Hengst isn't dying. She's fighting, and she's determined to win. In her corner are her family and friends, including her sponsors and teammates. Strike King teammate Mark Menendez has worn a Lance Armstrong Live Strong bracelet for some time now, since he's been dealing with skin cancer on his face. "Mark Menendez called me on the way to a boat show in Kentucky and told me that he'd been wearing one (Live Strong bracelet), and told me, 'Debra, I'm going to put this in the mail and send it to you so long as you wear it the entire time that you're dealing with this,'" she said. "I told him I would and I've been wearing it since, and I'll wear it until I'm cancer-free.
" Hengst has a long road until she's totally out of the woods. She underwent her first set of surgeries January 14, but a call several days after that revealed that not all of the cancerous tissue had been removed. She returned a week later to have the rest of the tissue removed, and this time a pathologist determined that she was clean. But, this is just the beginning of a long road to recovery. "Two weeks ago, I went to my oncologist and was scared out of my wit at what she might tell me about treatment. I was relieved when she said I didn't need chemotherapy, just radiation," Hengst said. "I start when I get back this Tuesday." Throughout all the surgeries and into her treatments, one thing remains constant: none of it is to interfere with her fishing schedule.
"I got with my team of lady doctors and I told them that fishing is what I do, and I don't want it to be interrupted," Hengst said. "So, with that in mind we've decided to give me a double-whammy dose of radiation the whole month of March so I can be ready for the Table Rock Central Open."
Since her surgery, Hengst has felt fatigued and has had difficulty loading and unloading her boat each morning. But, a friend has pitched in and helped out, so she doesn't have to strain herself before she's on the water. Her doctors told her that she'd feel even more fatigued after the radiation, but Hengst is determined to take it in stride. "This is what I do, and I'm very passionate about it," she said. "Fishing is very therapeutic for me and I need to be out here."
Hengst caught her cancer during an annual checkup. She has received mammograms regularly for the past 11 years, and can't stress enough that both men and women need to be screened yearly. "Early detection is key to beating this puppy," he said. "There are a lot of women who I've talked to since all of this, and they don't have screenings regularly. I did my due diligence, and we caught it early. If I hadn't it would have spread and been a lot worse."
For the next five years - when she'll be done with her pill regimen and can be considered 100 percent cancer-free -- Hengst will read her mantra each morning, which is written on her bathroom mirror in lipstick: "kick its ass." "I look at that every morning and think, 'I'm going to beat this,'" she said. "This is not a death sentence. It's something that I'm going to fight, and beat. I've got too much to live for and too much fishing to do.