Photo: La Vernia News
It’s common to throw the word "survivor" thrown around when referring to people who have battled illnesses and diseases. However, a group in San Antonio prefers to refer to themselves as Overcomers.
When Genny Small was diagnosed with breast cancer, she could not believe it. She thought that she was in some crazy dream; after all, she was a mother of seven and she just had a baby - she simply could not have breast cancer.
During her last trimester, she discovered a lump above her right breast. She did not expect that it would be much of anything to worry about, but she did opt to tell her doctor anyway. They agreed that Genny should monitor it for a few weeks, but that it would probably go away. But the firm lump stayed put.
She thinks back to when she first received the diagnosis, and how it was not at all what she had planned. She says, "I was - am - pretty healthy. I eat right and try to take care of myself. I'm active with my kids."
With seven children, she had a fitness regimen of her own. The oldest was only twelve, so she had lots of running around to do. It just did not make sense that she could have breast cancer.
Even after her diagnosis, she remained busy. She continued to homeschool her children, and gave birth to her eighth baby. Only after that would she begin treatment.
The worst part for her was surgery
She recalls the difficulties associated with chemotherapy, but notes that the worst parts for her were actually the double mastectomy and reconstruction. After she had undergone reconstructive surgery, she got a terrible infection. She explains, "2015 was my valley. It was a monster." She had to undergo seven surgeries to rid herself of the infection.
It was very hard for Genny to endure all of this, because she was so used to being constantly lively. It was immensely difficult for her to be resting all the time, despite how necessary it was. She explains, "I was never sick and always so healthy. Chemo just takes you."
Fortunately, she did not have to spend too much time in the hospital. Even though her health struggles spanned a long period of time, she did not remain in the hospital for more than eight days at any point. At home, she was able to be supported, both physically and mentally, by her husband and their children. Being home helped her to feel as if she was still fulfilling some of her duties as a mom, despite what she was going through.
Her recovery was difficult, and she realized that she would not be able to do it alone. She tried to reference her faith, and sought out a support network, all the while still homeschooling her children and taking care of her family like she had before. Unfortunately, she could not find a place of support of encouragement based in faith that she knew she needed.
One day, as she was assisting her children with their schoolwork, she was struck by an idea. She and her husband had taught parenting classes, and maybe she was seeking a support group in the wrong manner. Maybe what she needed was not a group, but a class that she could rely on to get her through her recovery.
Genny went over her homeschooling materials to begin to form a curriculum for what a treatment and recovery class based in faith would look like. Soon enough, she met with other women who were in similar situations as herself, and let them know about her new class - "Overcomers: Daughters of the King of Kings."
Genny's pilot program took place at the Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, and had ten participants. After that, a workshop over the course of nine weeks was started for female breast cancer survivors. Soon after, a nonprofit organization was founded.
Genny says her goal is to offer hope to breast cancer survivors, and it seems to be working. The women involved in the workshops take so much meaning from it that they often return to assist.
Genny says, "God uses everything that we go through for a greater purpose. We want to show other women going through this that there's hope ... Cancer was a bad time. But take a look at your life. Look where God was walking with you. God is using you to be a vessel for somebody else."
The Overcomers website echoes this sentiment, saying, "these classes focus weekly on different topics and address many of the concerns that face breast cancer survivors following active treatment. Our purpose in scheduled workshops is to draw each survivor towards wholeness with God as the center of their healing."
Overcomers: Daughters of the King of Kings shows no signs of stopping, and even hopes to expand so they can impact more breast cancer survivors. Unfortunately, the costs expand as the program and nonprofit do, so they are now looking into ways to fundraise and make this dream a reality.
One of the largest of their fundraisers will be "Overcomers Men in Pink Gala," which will take place this April. It is already sold out, and is set to showcase a style show, which is the Men in Pink. 18 doctors, nutritionists, and other men who are involved in the care of both breast cancer sufferers and survivors will be dressed in pink and be named as honorees. Their pink tie will be designed specifically for the fundraiser by students at the Art Institute of San Antonio who have been given the theme, "what does hope look like?"
Some of the proceeds of the event will be used to fund a survivors' retreat between September 14th and 16th in Port Aransas, and applications will open in April.
Genny says that her goal is constantly to show women that they are valuable and that they will get through what they are dealing with, whether it's in her workshops or at her fundraisers. She says, "everyone needs to get away and heal, to step away and be quiet ... Something to help them in the tough moments, equip them with ways to cope. We want to show women they can rebuild their lives - just as Port Aransas is rebuilding since Hurricane Harvey."
The group not only offers its workshop services, but even adopts families of 10 cancer survivors for Christmas, showering them with gifts and support. Sometimes they offer monetary support to breast cancer sufferers or overcomers who need it. Genny truly looks into any aspect of the community that might need help, and finds a way to overcome.
Her husband is contributing as well
Not only has Genny begun a group for women who have been through breast cancer, but her husband, Paul, is taking on a different workshop that focuses on the needs of another group of people - spouses and caregivers. Often, their needs are left unmet because they do not compare to that of the patient, but it is an ordeal for them as well. Genny explains, "they usually don't have anyone to talk to; they just take it. The class gives them a safe space to talk.