Lindsay’s story of hope: Terminal breast cancer at 29

Published 7:05 am Friday, October 22, 2021

A young Farmville woman had her life turned upside down when only a few months ago she was suddenly diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. But with the community and God rallying around her, she hopes her story will inspire others and touch those who need it most.

Lindsay Worrell, age 29, came to Farmville after graduating from Manchester High School in order to pursue a career in nursing. It was in Farmville she would meet the love of her life, Clayton Worrell.

Lindsay and Clayton married in May of 2019, and shortly after, they found out they were expecting. In December of 2019, they celebrated the birth of their son, Atlee. Only a month later, Lindsay was hospitalized and went into emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix. Looking back now, she says, God was trying to get her attention.

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It was in early 2020 that Lindsay first noticed a small lump on her right breast. The lump was pea-sized and didn’t hurt, and although she was nervous, a specialist quickly ruled out anything dangerous, noting the bump was probably a fibroid or a clogged milk duct.

“It was a huge relief,” she recalled.

Fast forward to March of 2021. Lindsay was getting ready for her annual checkup when seemingly overnight a lump showed up again on her right breast.

At first, she brushed it off as another fibroid. An obstetrician recommended she see another specialist, but Lindsay, like many, found herself preoccupied with other big life events. With a young son, two jobs and a new home to think of, getting checked out was easy to put off.

“I still never took it seriously because it was small and it never hurt,” she said.

In June, the lump on Lindsay’s breast once again seemed to triple in size overnight. She didn’t give it a second thought until the Friday before the July 4 holiday when she woke up that morning with extreme fatigue. Her chest and underarms were painful. Alarmed, she called her specialist and made an appointment for July 13.

“That was the day my life drastically changed,” she said.

On the morning of July 13, Lindsay couldn’t help but stare at herself in the mirror. “I remember my mind just yelling at me, ‘Lindsay, you have cancer,” she said, remembering the day.

Lindsay prayed to God to send her a sign; to tell her that morning if she did indeed have cancer.

When she went in for her appointment, her doctor immediately appeared concerned and called for a biopsy. Her diagnosis? Stage 2 breast cancer.

Lindsay couldn’t believe it. She was only 29 and healthy. Didn’t smoke, rarely drank. The news was heartbreaking.

Her doctor immediately worked to schedule an appointment with an oncologist the following Monday. By Thursday, she received a call notifying her that the cancer had progressed further than originally thought. She was now considered stage 3.

Upon meeting with her oncologist, Lindsay learned she had triple-negative breast cancer; a type of breast cancer that does not have any of the receptors that are commonly found in breast cancer. The cancer was not known to be prevalent in her age group. It’s a very aggressive form of cancer and is very difficult to treat.

Despite the news, Lindsay’s oncologist was hopeful they could help her and gave Lindsay three weeks to save her eggs should she want more children after chemotherapy.

After some scans that Friday, she got a call to follow up with her oncologist. She assumed it was just to discuss more treatment options and the procedure to save her eggs. She had no idea the most devastating news was still to come.

“I remember him coming into that appointment very quiet and serious,” she recalled.

Through the doctor, Lindsay learned she had a tumor on her breast measuring five-and-a-half inches. Another tumor measuring three centimeters was on her right-sided lymph node, and a one-and-a-half inch mass had been detected on her liver, a sign the cancer cells had spread through her bloodstream.

She was now considered to have stage 4 terminal breast cancer and would be fighting the disease for the rest of her life. Her eggs couldn’t be saved, and chemo would need to start immediately.

The news was devastating to Lindsay and her family.

“To be honest, we were just scared and sad and angry. All of it,” she recalled.

Information was flying in all directions. A whirlwind of treatment plans and tough choices came barreling through like a train. As doctors talked about chemotherapy and surgeries, Lindsay was left wondering what her chances were and if the battle was worth it.

“Am I going to die?” she found herself wondering. “Am I doing this for nothing?”

Some people, Lindsay was told, can survive a very long time with triple-negative breast cancer provided it hasn’t spread to other areas of the body, but the mass in her liver confirmed the disease had already spread through her blood. Usually, the life expectancy of terminal triple-negative breast cancer is 13-18 months.

With this rare type of cancer hardly ever heard of in Lindsay’s age group, the statistics surrounding the prognosis for this disease are just that — statistics. With a treatment plan now in order, Lindsay knows she cannot be cured of her cancer, but she’s ready to fight.

“I’m not able to beat this per se, I just have to live with it, but I can keep it in remission hopefully. That’s the plan,” she noted.

As of Tuesday, Oct. 19, Lindsay has completed 10 rounds of chemotherapy. Through her medical team’s guidance, she is planning to complete six months of chemo and will then go on to have surgery for her lymph node and breast. She hopes to avoid liver surgery and may receive special treatment in order to address her liver mass. Her plan of attack also includes radiation and chemotherapy pills which will hopefully slow down the cancer’s progression. Future scans should show if the disease begins to attack elsewhere.

Currently, Lindsay is going through the motions associated with treatment. Before getting sick, she worked at Centra’s Stroobants Cardiovascular Center, but with her immune system depleted from chemo, she can no longer take the risk.

Lindsay goes for chemo every Tuesday at the Bon Secours Cancer Institute of Midlothian. She receives immunotherapy every third week and sees her doctor 1-2 times a month to measure her tumors.

The treatment leaves her feeling very sick and tired. Usually, she spends the first three days of the week after chemo in bed with little to no energy. She also suffers from a lot of pain and headaches. Towards the weekend, she usually feels better and enjoys spending that time with family. She also enjoys spending time crafting and just writing down her thoughts and feelings.

Thankfully, Lindsay noted, the treatment seems to be working. After 10 rounds of chemo, the tumor on her lymph node is gone, and the tumor on her breast has shrunk down to two-and-a-half inches. A three month scan on Oct. 25 will tell doctors more about the mass on her liver.

Although her days can be tough, Lindsay says her wonderful support system of family and friends and her faith have been there to pick her up each time the going gets tough.

“Honestly, I have a very good support system, and I can’t stay upset for long,” she said.

Recently, members of Lindsay’s support system came together to support the Worrell family in a fundraiser which drew in hundreds of community members.

As Lindsay’s story transpired, she learned her insurance company would not cover the cost of treatment. When Lindsay’s mother-in-law, Angie Hall-Clements, learned of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills now on the young family’s horizon, she gathered together a group of friends to form “Team Lindsay.”

In just a few weeks, Clements and the rest of her team poured hours of work into putting together a fundraiser. Not wanting to burden others with a pressure to donate, Lindsay and Clayton were at first hesitant of the idea, but sensing the community was ready to rally around them, Lindsay knew she needed to share her story.

The special event, held Oct. 10 at the Firemen’s Sports Arena in Farmville, brought together hundreds of community members. Individuals, businesses and organizations from around the area donated items to auction. Tickets were sold, a dinner was held, and the night was a phenomenal success.

“It turned out amazing,” Lindsay said of the fundraiser. “We were very humbled by it.”

Donations poured in the night of the fundraiser, but contributions have continued in the weeks following. According to Hall-Clements, as of Wednesday, Oct. 20, nearly $90,000 has been raised. Team Lindsay hopes to close out the fundraiser Sunday, Oct. 31, with a total of $100,000 raised.

“Our family was overwhelmed with the support that the community came out and showed her,” Hall-Clements, who also owns The Outer You hair salon in Farmville, said. “She’s one of the strongest young women I know.”

Individuals can still make a donation towards the fundraiser by sending a check to The Outer You located at 1811 West Third Street. Checks can be made out to “Team Lindsay.” A bank account has also been set up, and residents can venture to Citizens Bank and ask to contribute funds to Team Lindsay.

Farmville Police Chief Andy Ellington and his wife, Tracey, were among the many individuals who helped to arrange the fundraiser. Ellington, who served as M.C. of the fundraiser, was amazed to see the generosity presented by locals that night.

“She is one of the most genuine, sweet, loving human beings I’ve ever met,” Ellington said.

After all that she’s been through, Lindsay hopes to inspire others and provide comfort and insight to those who may one day find themselves in a similar situation. In the midst of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she shared advice to others battling the difficult disease.

“If you’re optimistic and grateful, you truly have already won the fight.”

She feels thankful to those who helped to make the fundraiser a success and her doctors and nurses at Bon Secours who have helped her every step of the way.

Despite the many difficulties she’s faced, Lindsay says her diagnosis has brought her closer to God who she says has given her the bravery to fight past every obstacle.

“He wants us to be brave. He wants us to be courageous,” she said. “He doesn’t create disease. He heals it.”

It is God’s love and the love over her family and friends which Lindsy says helps guide her through the toughest of days.

“I am truly believing in a miracle, but whatever I face from now on, I am always reminded that God loves me and he has shown me love from every direction.”