Waxahachie resident Brenda Stringer-Bishop has quite a story. She’s lived and loved Waxahachie for the past 48 years, and just recently, she was recognized as a hometown hero by a Dallas-Fort Worth news station.
But it’s not just the news station that sees her continuous 12-year fight against breast cancer and her perseverance to never give up and inspire others as heroic. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation do as well. Each year for breast cancer awareness, Bishop makes hundreds of decorated pink ribbons to give to those willing to support the fight and donate anything from $1 to $20 to Komen Dallas County.
“I’m not curable, but I am treatable,” Bishop said, adding she knows just how short life can be and how precious it is.
Her fight started in 2004, but four months prior she lost her husband to a heart attack, she said. Her daughter-in-law Shana Vaughn noticed the lump.
“I told her to feel and she said you need to have something done, because I was dealing with enough,” she said.
“She told me not to tell anybody and the first thing I did was I went and told her mother,” Vaughn said with a chuckle.
Bishop wasn’t ready to deal with anything at all like that, she said. But she was referred to a specialist in Dallas, who completed a biopsy and told Bishop the cancer was State II. Bishop had lumpectomy surgery and about eight lymph nodes were also removed at the same time.
“Then, I had to do chemo, really hard chemo. We called it the Red Devil, because it’s probably the most powerful they had,” she said. “So, I was just kind of lost, you know? I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it because I was just already so down. But my kids, my son and my grandson, and these two (Shana and her daughter Ashley Vaughn), and my mom, they were like, ‘You can’t give up.’ So, I went through the chemo. I lost my hair, which is probably one of the worst things for a woman to face. You think, oh my gosh, I’m going to lose my hair. But I got some really cute wigs and it only took me 15 minutes to get dressed, you know?”
She underwent chemo for six weeks, with radiation five days a week, she said, adding she’d do radiation at 6 a.m. and head to work straight from there. A little more than a year later, she went to Whitney with her sister and friends, and met a nice-looking cowboy.
“I loved the way he danced, because I loved to dance, and we met and started seeing each other,” she said. “We were together 10 years almost, and he died last February from a heart attack. He was right there with me. He fought the cancer with me and he would go with me for treatments. It was pretty devastating when I lost him, but once again, I have them. Ashley’s never left me since he’s passed away.”
In 2010, the cancer returned. She thought she had pneumonia, and went to a doctor, who said something looked wrong with her back. The cancer, she said, had spread to her spine and she went under the knife again. Doctors could only remove half of a tumor because the other portion was wrapped too tight around her spine and the removal might paralyze her, she said.
“Once again, I had to do radiation on that, and I still take chemo every day,” she said. “I take pills now. Every day is a blessing, and I thank God every day when I wake up. I still work every day in Dallas at a law firm. I’ve been there 26 years.”
It’s been hard for Shana and Ashley to watch Bishop go through it for 12 years, they said. With everything she’s been through, she gives them strength, Shana said, adding her mother-in-law is a blessing and she looks up to Bishop’s ability to stay positive.
“They have the strength they don’t realize they have,” Bishop said. “Ashley, she would let me cry when I wanted to. She would let me laugh when I wanted to and they’ve always been right there, no matter what. I don’t like for anybody to think there’s anything wrong with me. I don’t like for people to look at me and feel sorry for me and think, ‘Oh, she’s sick.’ I don’t like that and I don’t want that.”
“It’s a real blessing to be apart of it and to be by her side every day,” Ashley added. “I give her strength and she gives me strength and we have this wonderful love.”
So, about four years ago, she started becoming involved in Komen. She had gone to the hospital for treatment and spotted a tree with tiny pink ribbons hanging on it in a gift shop. That’s when she began wondering how she could do more, how could she be involved more.
“It got to where I was going in there so much they were saying, ‘Oh, so you need more pink ribbons already, huh?’” Bishop said. “So, I’ve kind of picked up the name as the Pink Ribbon Lady, and everyone is so supportive and great. They all wear my ribbons and I have made a little over 150 in a month, getting ready for this. ”
She was even recognized by the Komen organization as July’s Hero for Komen last year after a fellow friend and survivor shared Bishop’s story with the organization. And on the weekend of Komen’s Race for the Cure event on Oct. 17, Bishop was recognized by a few other radio stations for her efforts to never give up the fight and raising more than $3,000 this year for Komen by creating her ribbons and hosting other fundraisers at the law firm she works at.
“It’s hard to say what makes the ribbons special to me. I think I’ve improved them every year. They get a little more blingy every year,” she said,adding she decided to keep making them after she saw an interest during a doughnut fundraiser.
The ribbons have spread beyond the law firm to family friends and even to the oncology department where she still receives treatment, she said.
“There’s this one special nurse. She gave me my very first chemo and throughout the years, she’s been there with me. She’ll have a new patient or something and she’ll ask ‘Do you have a few minutes to talk to this person because the way you’re dealing with it, maybe it’ll help them,’” Bishop said. “And I don’t mind at all. I know the battle I’ve gone through, and if I can make one person feel better and keep up the fight — you know, don’t give in. That’s the worst thing you can do is stop. I give them a ribbon and some of them cry, and if it makes them feel that good, it makes me feel great just to know somebody else can feel something from a little ribbon to help them fight this battle and maybe one of these days we’ll win it.”