Richardson Discusses Battle With Breast Cancer


Jill Stone

October is thought of as a month for orange and black, but for Aprile Richardson, it is a month for pink.

Richardson was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2015 after a mammogram in October. Her first chemo treatment was on December 28, 2015. Chemotherapy is a powerful drug treatment, administered through the veins, that is used for different types of cancer.

The first four weeks of her treatments were extremely intense and caused her hair to start to fall out. “With the last little glimpse of control that I had left, I went to my hairdresser and said, ‘Shave it off,’” she said. Women are expected to uphold a beauty standard that society places on them.

Hair is an incredibly important part of someone’s identity and cancer taking that part of you away can negatively impact that person’s self-esteem.

While she went through radiation, she lived in Little Rock. She explained, “I did radiation five days a week and then I would come home every weekend and be with the family. And then I’d do it all over again.” Having cancer tremendously altered her life. “It changed everything. I was a person of control. I liked being in control of every area of my life,” she explained.

Richardson believes that having breast cancer strengthened her relationship with God and gave her a deeper appreciation of what she has. “Cancer was God’s way of saying, ‘It ain’t happening.’ I know you’ve heard the expression before that God won’t give us more than we can handle, but he will. If I can handle it I won’t call out for him. I won’t reach out to him,” she said.

This lack of power over her circumstances made Richardson reevaluate how she approached her faith. She said, “I had zero control over cancer. I recognized very early that I was going to have to put my hand in his and walk this journey and endure and trust that there was gonna be something beautiful on the other side.”

Breast cancer reshaped Richarson’s entire perspective on life. “It changed how I approach my relationships with my students, with my own kids, and with my friends even. There was just so much more urgency about life. Like you only get this amount of time. However long ‘X’ amount of time is. You’ve got this amount of time to be able to love people and to show them your true self,” she said.

Richardson claims that having cancer allowed her to learn what joy really means. She said, “True joy is when bad things happen, you have a bad day, yet you can still feel joy. I might not be happy at the moment, but I still have that joy within me. It took cancer to really make me feel where each day I wake and I’m excited that I have another day instead of taking them for granted and rolling with the punches.”

When tragic events happen to us, explained Richardson, it’s easy to be consumed by the negative that comes with them. “On where we’re not good enough or where we slip and faceplant. Or just what’s not good in the world instead of being able to stop and find something good,” said Richardson. Cancer changed Richardon’s perspective on relationships and taking things for granted.

Richardson believes that when people go through hard times in their lives, they need a support system to help them process their pain. “My husband and kids, most definitely [supported me]. They saw all the really ugly. The days when [I] woke up and [I] wanted so badly to be able to lift [my] head off the pillow and go and [I] couldn’t. They saw all the bad,” she said. Richardson was also supported by her friends, church family, and her students. “My students were absolutely phenomenal. They were just constantly uplifting me.

I tried not to miss much school at all. I came to school some days just barely holding my head up but I thought it was better for me to be there barely holding my head up than a sub in my classroom,” she said. When Richardson went for chemo treatments, she would receive emails from her students with encouraging messages and come back to letters on her desk about how much they missed her in class.

“You couldn’t help but find joy. God just used those people in my life. When I was at my weakest physically, God used those people just to completely support me and fortify me. I felt like even though I was a walking mess, I was strong because I had a support group,” she explained.

Richardson elaborated on how the experience of cancer gives people, who would otherwise share nothing in life, a shared experience that unites them and gives them all a sense of community. “It was a beautiful time. I would never go back and undo that time. I don’t want it again, but I would never undo that part because I grew so much,” said Richardson. She feels that an event like cancer can make people slow down in their day-to-day routine and appreciate small things that they didn’t before.

She said, “It took [cancer]. I think there were times before when God tried to get my attention and I was just so busy running my rat race because I was going 100 miles per hour all the time. It took that to get my attention when he would say, ‘Aprile, slow down. Aprile, notice me. Notice what I’m trying to do in your life instead of you trying to be in control.’ So, I wouldn’t change it.”

Most people think that bad things like cancer will never happen to them, explained Richardson. They never think that cancer will touch their life. Richardson said, “It did a lot of damage to [my family] as well. It was probably tougher on them than it was on me.” She went on to say that all that children can do when their parents have cancer is support them. Just being supportive can give their parents the strength to keep going and fighting. “I can’t tell you how many times it was just a hug or one of my kids would come in and ask, ‘Can I get you anything,’ that made the difference in my day,” explained Richardson.

The charity run “Paint the Town Pink” was held on October 1, in El Dorado. Richardson participated in the run just as she does every year. “I’ve lost friends to cancer…There’s healing here on this earth, that’s what I received, and there’s healing, that perfect healing beyond. Some of them have gone on and weren’t as fortunate as I’ve been,” said Richardson. Cancer is something that doesn’t necessarily end when it is eradicated from the body, she explained. It also has to be eradicated from the mind.

“It’s a constant psychological battle. Because it’s been six years now and with every pain that [I] feel in [my] body, [I] wonder if it’s back. [I] wonder if it’s found another spot in the body. [I] don’t want to be paranoid by any means but if [I] have recurring pains and it lasts for a couple of days, that’s just where [my] mind goes,” Richardson explained. Cancer is a battle of the body but it is also a battle of the spirit. “I don’t know if that ever goes away because I have found that it just always looms over your head,” Richardson elaborated.

Richardson had breast cancer from November 2015 to August 2016 and in that time went through 16 chemo treatments. Breast Cancer Awareness month is meant to raise money for medical research into the disease but also to raise awareness for women to get screened for breast cancer. “I never thought about it before I had cancer, but now I still feel like I have these ‘cheerleaders’ around me. You’ve got people that are focusing on the problem itself and calling attention to it,” explained Richardson. She believes that making women aware of the risks of cancer helps them prevent its spread through the body.

It’s important for cancer survivors to remember that there will always be people in their corner. Richardson believes, “It’s just a chance, even for me, to kind of remember where I’ve come from, and not that I don’t recognize that often but with all the pink and the fundraisers, it makes [me] step back and makes [me] proud even that I’ve been part of the fight. It’s affected me in a personal way, yeah, but just being able to realize that I’m not alone and that there’s a community of people who have been affected, is amazing.”

Aprile Richardson is a 10th-grade English teacher at EHS. She has taught in El Dorado for three years, but she has been teaching for 27 years in total. She’s originally from Smackover and is married with two children. Richardson expressed that her life revolves around the people she loves. “My life is about school, church, and my kids,” she said.

Richardson is beloved by her students and the faculty of EHS. She is known for her positive classroom environment. She explained how she wants her classroom to be a change of pace for her students, “ I want them to feel encouraged and feel like they matter. My classroom is a safe place. I love them like I would my own kids.”

Breast Cancer Awareness month was established by the American Cancer Society in 1985. October 23 is a day designated specifically for wearing pink called, “Wear It Pink Day.”

The pink ribbon that is recognized as representing breast cancer awareness was created by the cosmetics company Estée Lauder for a 1992 campaign. Although only about 13% of women will develop breast cancer, 1 out of every 3 cancer diagnoses of females will be breast cancer.