Senior project memorializes mother, who died of breast cancer
Some senior projects hit a little closer to home than others. For Troi Francis, her project came straight from her heart.
“A bunch of people just do random things for their senior project, but I wanted to do something I was passionate about,” says Troi, a 17-year-old senior at Southwest Guilford High School.
She chose to do her project on breast cancer, the disease that killed her mother at age 38, when Troi was only 5.
Another family member died from breast cancer at age 46. Yet another has had two lumpectomies. And at the time Troi was deciding on a topic for her senior project, her sister had a worrisome breast cyst.
“So the timing seemed perfect for me to do my project on breast cancer and breast cancer awareness,” Troi says.
The project included a research paper and PowerPoint presentation — as well as breast-cancer fundraisers that generated more than $500 — but the most poignant part of Troi’s project was probably the relationship she established with a local breast-cancer survivor, Nadine Hill Rubin.
Too young to remember much about her late mother, Donna Francis, and her battle against breast cancer, Troi gained a wealth of knowledge and understanding from the 47-year-old Rubin, who was more than willing to share the story of her cancer journey with the teenager.
“My story is a testimony for any woman,” says Rubin, of High Point. “I would’ve done this for any woman, whether it was for a senior project or just a conversation, because women need to understand about breast cancer.”
Troi learned about Rubin through her aunt, Christie Hardin, who went to T. Wingate Andrews High School with Rubin in the mid-1980s and had stayed in touch with her. Hardin asked her friend if she would allow Troi to interview her, and Rubin readily agreed.
“I want women to listen to my story, because a lot of women — a lot of black women especially — are afraid to have mammograms done,” Rubin says.
“I tell them not to be afraid, because that’s your life. Cancer is a monster and it does take a lot of us women out, so I tell women all the time to go to the doctor and get your mammogram. I’m not afraid to tell my story.”
Rubin was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2011, after experiencing pain — and subsequently discovering a knot — in her right breast. She underwent a mammogram, which led to an ultrasound, which led to a biopsy, which confirmed what she already suspected: She had breast cancer.
The tumor disappeared after 3½ months of chemotherapy, but when genetic testing revealed she was at high risk of a recurrence, she opted to undergo a double mastectomy just to be precautious.
“They said I had an 83-percent chance of the cancer coming back within a six-month period, so I made the decision to have my breasts removed,” she explained.
That was followed by about three months of radiation therapy, and Rubin was declared cancer-free in August 2011.
Troi remembers how deeply Rubin’s story touched her, so she took Rubin to dinner one evening to express her gratitude. Rubin thought they were just going to dinner, but then Troi gave her a card, and inside the card was a money order for $500 — the money Troi had raised through a bake sale, yard sale and collection jar at the Arby’s restaurant where she works.
Rubin gasped and began to cry.
“I can’t take your money,” she told Troi.
“Yes, you can,” Troi replied. “You went through a lot, and you’re still standing strong.”
Troi had planned to give the money to a local breast-cancer foundation, but decided instead to give it to a patient — in this case, Rubin — who could put the money toward medical expenses.
“I could not believe it — I was so thankful,” Rubin says.
Troi — who plans to study social work at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro — says her project was not only meaningful, but educational, too.
“I learned so much that I didn’t know about breast cancer,” she says.
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