CHAPMANVILLE — Paula Thomas received the news in December 2013 that no woman ever wants to hear.
After a routine screening, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Although survival rates are high in the western world, up to 80-90 percent depending on early detection in some cases, Thomas had to act and act soon.
Thomas, the Chapmanville Regional High School volleyball coach and CRHS assistant principal, underwent several months of surgeries and chemotherapy.
She had to survive.
She had to.
Her son, Zane, now a CRHS student, was just 8 years old during that time.
“I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in December of 2013. My immediate thought was, I have to be around to raise my son. He was only 8 years old at the time,” Thomas said. “I had many surgeries and several months of chemotherapy.”
The treatments were successful.
“I’m delighted to say that I have been cancer-free for five years,” Thomas said.
Thomas is a very low-key person and tries to keep her personal life personal the best she can.
She has gone public, however, in her battle with cancer, hoping to help women in similar situations.
On her Facebook page, a pink banner across the top reads, ”I had cancer, cancer never had me.” On her profile picture it reads “stronger than cancer.”
While she hesitates in being called a “cancer survivor,” she has a new outlook on life. She sees the joy and struggles of everyday living as a gift.
“I don’t really like to be known as ‘the one who had cancer,’” Thomas said. “Having breast cancer was just an obstacle. Everyone has something they face in their lifetime. Everyone has difficulties. Mine just happened to be breast cancer. It doesn’t define who I am, though it did change how I live my life. I know it’s cliche’, but everyday truly is a gift.”
The chemo and treatments were tough but Thomas said she did her best to keep living as she normally would.
“During my treatments, I tried my best to maintain my usual routine. I continued working, going to church, etc. Normalcy was huge for me while dealing with the process,” she said.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Thomas stresses how important it is to have routine screenings do self examinations.
“I encourage every woman to do regular self examinations,” she said. “That’s actually how I discovered mine. It’s also important to have mammograms as scheduled by your doctor. As women, sometimes we don’t take the time to care for ourselves because we’re busy taking care of others.”
Thomas is also using her Facebook page to spread her personal experience.
“I always debate what to do when October rolls around. I hesitate discussing my past experiences or referring to myself as a survivor,” she wrote in a post. “It sounds so dramatic and makes it nearly impossible to pretend it all never happened. However, if I do that it robs God of the glory He so richly deserves for bringing me through it all.”
On the Logan County sports scene, Thomas was known for starting up the varsity girls’ volleyball program back in 2000.
She coached the Lady Tigers through eight seasons up until the 2007 campaign before stepping down. She became an administrator, but duty called again back in August.
Former volleyball coach Johnny Williamson, also the CRHS girls’ basketball coach, abruptly resigned, leaving the Lady Tigers with no coach.
“As an administrator, I have a different set of demands on my time and focus. Returning to coaching was not an expectation of mine,” she said. “Accepting the coaching position one week before the season began was definitely challenging.”
The learning curve was a great one.
“It took a while to get to know the girls, their abilities and strengths,” Thomas said.
The Lady Tigers have had their ups and downs this season but overall it’s been a successful season. CRHS is 13-10 and begins sectional tournament play on Nov. 2.
“We have some talented athletes at CRHS,” Thomas said. “Mikki Conley, Kaleigh ‘KK’ Davis, and Cameron Dodrill are all returning seniors. KK and Cameron both have powerful serves that are difficult to receive. Mikki is one of our most consistent servers. All three are outside hitters that have high kill percentages. Hannah Killen and Alexis Toler are seniors who rejoined the team this year. Alexis does a good job setting. Hannah is our libero who works the back row exclusively.”
Chapmanville’s underclassmen have also stepped up.
“Megan Sutphin is a junior who is our primary setter,” Thomas said. “She also does a great job on the back row. Emma Bush is also a junior. She has helped us out a lot with her serves and on the back row. We have two sophomores, Baylee Belcher and Hollee Blair, who also start on varsity. Baylee is a back row player and has an awesome serve. Hollee is our tallest player and does an outstanding job hitting and blocking. She also has a fantastic serve.This is a wonderful group of girls who have good chemistry and work well together as a team.”
Thomas is a local, having graduated from Chapmanville High School in 1988. She went on to earn a degree in Secondary Education at West Virginia State University and followed by earning a Master’s Degree from Marshall University.
Her parents are Paul and Shirley Hensley.
“My father is great to help out selling tickets at our home matches,” Thomas said.
Beating cancer is something that does not define Thomas. Having cancer was just one of life’s setbacks, a challenge to be met and overcome.
“I also think of those I’ve known and loved who had their lives cut short,” she said. “So in their honor, I will put my humility aside and ask that every woman on my friends list take the time to take care of yourselves by doing self exams and getting mammograms. If not for yourself, do it for those you love.”
Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. Follow him on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner or email him at email@example.com.