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GRIFFITH — Diane Parker has had an eventful year.

She ran an entire 5K for the first time. She has been traveling the United States. And, oh yeah, she beat breast cancer.

Parker, 61, got the diagnosis in May 2016 after noticing a thickening of her breast tissue. It was a day she long suspected might be coming — both her mother and grandmother had breast cancer — but an emotional one nonetheless.

"It was still pretty shocking," she said.

She had eight sessions of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, a few dozen rounds of radiation.

"My friends and family were all so supportive," she said, tearing up on a recent evening at her home in Griffith, where she, her kids and their spouses, and her grandchildren were celebrating her husband's 62nd birthday. "It was the most humbling time of my life. People were so giving. They brought dinners. They sent gifts for me."

"It's more a testament to who you are," said daughter Amy Monesmith, of Griffith. "You get what you give."

Though Parker is retired from her job as a special education teacher with Lake Central School Corp., that hasn't slowed her down. She watches her grandkids at least once a week, taking them to parks, making crafts with them, teaching them how to cook and bake. She works out at the Y in Griffith, weight trains with a neighbor who's a personal trainer and does yoga. She has also been traveling to Florida, Minnesota, the Grand Canyon.

"I'm trying to enjoy life a little bit and be a little selfish," she said.

Her family says she deserves it, after a lifetime of taking care of kids — other people's and her own.

"She's a wonderful teacher, educator, mom, wife, grandma, friend," said daughter Elaine Reyna, of Munster.

Parker started training for the 5K about two months ago. She was determined the run the whole way.

She did it, finishing in 45 minutes. The Unite & Fight 5K Walk/Run in Munster benefitted the Cancer Resource Centre, where Parker has gone for yoga, Reiki and massage.

"We've gone through this pretty tragic event," said her husband, Tim. "When you come out the other side, you feel lucky. We feel very, very fortunate."

A year after her surgery, Parker, 61, gets a cancer screening every six months and has to take a hormone inhibitor for the next five to 10 years.

Parker's radiologist, Dr. Alpa Chandarana of Northwestern Medicine, said Parker's story illustrates the importance of self-examination. She went in for her screening because she felt one of her breasts getting harder and smaller. She was eventually diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma, which makes about 10 percent of breast cancer cases and is hard to detect because it resembles breast tissue.

"She did play a big role in helping me diagnose her cancer," Chandarana said. "When women experience any sort of change in the breast, they should go their physicians first then us for imaging."

Parker's family is in awe of all she's been able to accomplish — from the way she advocated for herself in the doctor's office to her recent fitness accomplishments.

"She is just wonderful," Reyna said. "At the 5K, I had this overwhelming sense of pride: That's my mom. She had cancer. She just did a 5K!"

"I just enjoy life," Parker said, surrounded by her family on a recent evening. "I feel very blessed. Both my parents died when they were pretty young, so I feel like every year ... God just gave me another year to be with these guys."


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.