JOB: Registered nurse at Columbus Regional Hospital Emergency Department.
CHILDREN: Erika Burton, Nathan Perry, Lillian Vannice, Penny Ahrmann
DISCOVERED BREAST CANCER: Nov. 11, 2008.
TREATMENT: Double mastectomy on Jan. 23, 2009.
For Paula Rothrock, inspiration springs forth onto cotton and in bright colors.
It comes with catchy sayings and fun designs.
This year it’s tie-dyed and football themed.
But always, it serves one purpose.
Rothrock wants women to take breast cancer seriously but have fun doing so.
That’s why she and her husband, Paul, design and sell T-shirts every year to raise money for breast cancer research and mammograms.
Paula survived breast cancer. She discovered the cancer during its early stages in 2008. Less than three months later, on a January day in 2009, she underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive breast surgery, all in one day.
The two-doctor procedure moved along efficiently. Rothrock went into surgery at 8 a.m. and left by 5 p.m.
Paula’s experience with the disease motivated her and Paul to make T-shirts to raise money and awareness.
“It’s easy, everybody loves a T-shirt, and you get them in cool colors,” Paula, a registered nurse at Columbus Regional Hospital’s Emergency Department, said in mid-September while showing some of their designs.
One design proclaims, “We’ve taken our lumps.”
Another spells out like an old MasterCard commercial: “Mammogram assistance program, $5; Double Mastectomy, $20,000; Finding a cure, Priceless.”
Paula’s favorite came about this spring when she and Paul were designing shirts for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Indianapolis.
It featured a tie-dyed design and a graphic of a heart with a ribbon in it. “Share the love,” it says in 1960s-style lettering.
This fall, the Rothrocks will debut their fourth design.
Paula said they are planning a blue-and-white, football-themed shirt with a pink football on it. The shirt will carry messages that say “Tackling the cure” and “Don’t be blindsided.”
When Paula discovered a lump in her breast while vacationing in Florida on Nov. 11, 2008, she didn’t feel blindsided.
She had mammograms performed regularly since she was 30, and the way the lump felt did not overly concern her.
“I wasn’t anxious about it at all,” she said.
Paul felt differently. He panicked.
“I was almost uncontrollable,” he said.
Doctors initially found no reason to be concerned. But after a biopsy, the Rothrocks learned Paula had cancer.
She attributed her quick turnaround, from finding the lump to the double mastectomy, to early detection, research, knowing her body and the support of her spouse.
“Every day I would sit in front of the computer and read more and more and more,” Paula said. “I don’t know where it came from, but it’s gone now.”
The Rothrocks found out after the mastectomy that there were three other smaller masses growing that weren’t there when they discovered the first lump.
“Then you go, ‘How fast was that thing growing?’” Paula said.
The idea for the shirts first came about after Paula joined the hospital’s “Breast Buddies” Race for the Cure team, which had shirts made for their participation in the race.
After that, the Rothrocks decided to start designing and selling their own shirts.
They design shirts in the spring for the Race for the Cure and in the fall for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The shirts are advertised through word of mouth and emails, and orders keep growing with each new design.
They went from selling about 100 shirts the first time around to 250 this spring.
Paula said they plan to have about 300 printed for the fall.
All the profit from the shirts, which usually amounts to $5 to $7 per shirt, goes to the Susan G. Komen Foundation or the CRH Breast Center mammogram assistance program.
The shirts also make those who wear them a promoter for breast cancer awareness.
“It’s very nice. Some people will become very relaxed and just want to talk,” Paula said. “They’ll have questions. I say, ‘If it doesn’t feel right, get it checked out.’ You’ve got to know your body.”
Rothrock said she never thought she would be marketing T-shirts and be so involved in supporting breast cancer awareness.
“It happened for a reason,” she said.