“I was just shocked, total shock. At my age, I really had convinced myself that it was nothing,” said Carbon Hill High School teacher Kelly Tittle, who was diagnosed with breast cancer Dec. 23, 2013.
“None of the things that you think about as being indicators of somebody being in danger of having breast cancer, I don’t meet any of those,” Tittle said. “I’m 36; I’m underage. Breast cancer does not run in my family. Age and having it run in the family are the main factors, and I don’t have either one of those.”
While at home, Tittle said she found a lump on her left side that she noticed had never been there before. She had gone to her regular gynecologist about the issue, who had her go for a mammogram.
“While I was in there for the mammogram, they came back in and said, ‘Don’t get dressed yet. We’re going to send you for an ultrasound,’” Tittle said. “Then, when I went for the ultrasound, they got the radiologist, brought him in, and he told me it looked bad, that it looked like cancer. So, then they set me up with a surgeon.”
After a biopsy was performed two days before Christmas, five of the eight samples doctors had taken tested positive for cancer. Once doctors found the cancer, she was already in Stage 2.
Thankfully, the cancer did not spread. Doctors performed a lumpectomy, removing the cancerous lump. From there, she started receiving treatments at Lewis and Faye Manderson Cancer Center in Tuscaloosa, which is where the students, faculty and staff at Carbon Hill stepped in.
“The very first day that I walked in to get my chemo treatment, I was scared to death and when I got in my chair, the senior class had the most beautiful flower arrangement sitting there waiting on me,” Tittle said. “Since then, every time I go, a different group from the school has something there.”
The high school faculty, junior high faculty, the junior class, the sophomore class, numerous students and community residents have supported Tittle by purchasing or creating different items from flowers to gift baskets to hand-written letters sent from elementary students.
“They have spoiled me rotten,” Tittle said. “ ... When I came back to school after my first treatment in January, all the halls were decorated with all these signs, and my classroom door was decorated.”
Walking down the hallways and sitting in the different classrooms, students and members of the faculty and staff at the school were draped in pink T-shirts that read, “Team Tittle” on the front and “In It 2 Win It” on the back Wednesday morning. The student body, teachers and residents of the community participated in selling more than 300 T-shirts and “Team Tittle” bracelets, clearing more than $3,000 in support of breast cancer awareness.
Brooke Wright, a Carbon Hill Elementary School teacher, was one of a group of women, which includes Martha Richardson Pare and Brandi Busby Richardson, who spearheaded the fundraiser. Wright, along with her students, supported Tittle Wednesday by wearing pink. She also added that Tittle gets half the profit off the T-shirt sales.
“All of the students and the faculty and staff have decided to wear Team Tittle shirts in support of Kelly Tittle. They’re also posting pictures and different comments on the #TEAMTITTLE Facebook page,” Wright said. “We are doing this to show her support and love during a time that we know she’s going to need it the most.”
One of Tittle’s senior students, 17-year-old Nick Grace, spoke very highly of Tittle, noting that he has been a pupil of hers since his sophomore year at Carbon Hill.
“When we found out about Mrs. Tittle, it was kind of one of those things where it came as a shock because she’s one of the strongest people I know. I knew she had to be strong for her kids because they’re young. It really broke my heart,” Grace said. “I wanted to show all the support I could for her. ... Every year I’ve had English, she was my teacher. I’m going to miss her, and I really hope everything turns out positive for her.”
Tittle is rounding out her last couple of sessions of chemotherapy treatments. But, because of her young age, she will have radiation therapy for five to seven weeks, five days a week, at the Walker Cancer Care Center. Even though she has been given tough rounds of chemotherapy and medicines, Tittle has still pressed on teaching her classes and taking care of her family.
Tittle and her husband, Jason, decided to tell their children, Clay, 9, and Reese, 7, about her cancer the week after Christmas. Both of the kids responded to the news differently, but Tittle said the tension was somewhat broken when she started to lose her hair and allowed Clay and Reese to shave her head.
“When I knew my hair was about to start coming out, I let Clay and Reese just shave my head. Clay shaved one side, and Reese shaved the other side. Then I started wearing a wig right then,” Tittle said. “ ... As far as [the hair loss] being traumatic for me, it was not traumatic, but I think one reason that it was not traumatic was because I let my kids do it. We just laughed through it, all three of us.”
As far as the importance of making people more aware of breast cancer, and cancer in general, Tittle says, “People need to be aware of the fact that everybody that gets cancer does not fit this specific mold that you think they do. When you think of somebody with breast cancer, you think of an older person who has a family history of it, and I don’t fit either one of those.”
For now, Tittle says she is doing well and that she “feels good.” She also said she couldn’t have faced the battle of cancer as well as she has without the love and support of her family, friends, students and the faculty and staff of Carbon Hill. “I am so thankful to be from Carbon Hill and to live in Carbon Hill while I’m going through this,” Tittle said. “I could not imagine going through it without the support that I’ve gotten here.”