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Cummins employee Michelle Darnell, third from right, is battling breast cancer and is getting lots of support from coworkers, including Darcy DeLong, left, Leslie Fish, Amanda Arndt, Melodie McDill, Tana Marshall. Andrew Laker|The Republic
From her family history, Michelle Darnell knew that she had an elevated chance for breast cancer.
Her younger sister, a two-time breast cancer survivor, was first diagnosed at age 24. Both Darnell and her older sister tested positive for a hereditary genetic mutation that predisposed them to breast and ovarian cancer.
Darnell decided to take preventive measures and have her breasts removed. A mammogram in August 2012 came back clear, and she began the process of figuring out when to have surgery.
“The cancer got me first,” she said.
Within seven months of that mammogram, the cancer had advanced to Stage 2.
“I about had a meltdown,” said Darnell, who has worked for about two years at Cummins Inc.’s Columbus MidRange Engine Plant.
She and her husband, Kurtis, who works at MACtac, have four children between the ages of 4 and 15.
Darnell was diagnosed March 15, had surgery April 8 and her first chemotherapy treatment May 2.
She receives chemotherapy every two weeks at Community Hospital South in Indianapolis, which she chose because of her oncologist, who also treated her younger sister.
The treatments sapped her strength and left her tired often, she said.
“It’s really frustrating at times,” Darnell said.
At Cummins, she used to paint the engines, which required a lot of time spent on her feet, but because of her treatments and fatigue, Cummins had agreed to move her to a seated task of preparing and putting together bolts.
But more recent chemotherapy side effects, including numbness in her hands and feet, have forced her to take a leave of absence.
“My feet are numb all the time ... and the ends of my fingers,” she said. “I have a tendency to drop things — a lot.”
Her last chemotherapy treatment was Aug. 22, to be followed by another surgery on Sept. 17. Darnell said she hopes to be back at work in mid- to late-October.
Darnell’s blond hair used to fall down the middle of her back, but when it began falling out, her husband cut and shaved it for her.
“That was one of the hardest things for me,” she said.
Darnell has gotten used to her new hairstyle a little bit and does not wear the wig she bought.
Her family and co-workers have served as a source of tremendous strength and encouragement, Darnell said.
Friends and co-workers including Amanda Arndt, Tana Marshall and Melody McDill have helped organize fundraisers for cancer treatment and prevention for Darnell and another co-worker who was battling cancer.
A “Jail to Bail” event allowed CMEP employees to pay $1 to have plant leaders placed in a mock jail on offenses such as wearing black pants with white socks. The jailed co-workers could then serve their time — or raise money to pay for their freedom.
A “Shave to Save” event allowed CMEP employees to raise $300 to have co-workers get a Mohawk haircut and die it in pink and lime green.
Other co-workers, including McDill, had their long hair cut short to donate to Locks of Love. Employees also obtained donations from local businesses for a raffle. The efforts have raised more than $6,500.
As Darnell sat in a meeting room in the MidRange Engine Plant with Marshall and Arndt to talk about her illness and her co-workers’ response, she said, “These two ladies here have been wonderful.”
“Don’t make me cry,” Marshall said.
Before Darnell’s first surgery, a group of about 15 women got together with Darnell to take her mind off the procedure and to provide her with gifts including lotion and books.
“You would do the exact same thing,” Arndt remembers telling her.
Darnell said she has been amazed by all the help she has received.
“There are a lot of people in here that I don’t even know who have supported me,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of people that I work with.”
DIAGNOSIS: Breast cancer, Stage 2.
DATE OF DIAGNOSIS:
FINAL CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENT: Aug. 22
FAMILY: Husband, Kurtis;
WORKS AT: Cummins’ MidRange Engine Plant.
GENETIC PREDISPOSITION: Younger sister is a two-time breast cancer survivor and was first diagnosed at age 24. Both Darnell and her older sister tested positive for a hereditary genetic mutation that predisposed them to breast and ovarian cancer.
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