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Local teacher shares her battle against breast cancer amid a pandemic

Teresa Neimann and husband, Lindsey, soon after they had had their heads shaved – her to lose her hair on her own terms and him as a way to support her. Photos by Jill Penley

Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

After graduating from East Tennessee State University six years ago, Teresa Niemann started teaching English, a job she had aspired to while raising a family. In April, the mom of four and “Grammy” to two precious grandchildren, said she was just adjusting to school being dismissed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic when she found something odd while completing a self-breast exam.

“I found a lump on April 13,” Niemann recalls. “I called my primary care physician and she set up a mammogram.” From that point, everything changed as the mammogram led to a biopsy which confirmed the diagnosis of the most aggressive type of breast cancer – triple negative, stage 2. “That means my cancer is not fueled by hormones and it spreads quickly,” she said.

“My surgeon got me in pretty quick,” said Neimann. “On May 15, I got my port put in for chemo and had lymph nodes removed.” Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to one of the three that were removed.”

She began a very aggressive chemotherapy regimen in early June. “Chemo has had its ups and downs,” she said, “but it is working.”

The oncologist even reports the tumor can no longer be felt. Neimann advises once completing treatments, she will face a double mastectomy, a round of radiation and hopefully reconstruction surgery. “There will be six more months of chemo after surgery and radiation,” she reports.

Lindsey, her husband of almost eighteen years, was not able to be by her side during treatments due to COVID restrictions, but she states his encouragement has been inspirational. He even shaved his head to support her in her cancer battle. “When her hair started falling out, we cut it off on her terms,” said Lindsey. “So now, her fight is my fight.”

Despite all the diagnosis and the challenges she endured, Neimann remains optimistic. While she’s a fighter and it determined to beat this, she wishes she had been more proactive with her health.

“If I had been doing regular breast exams,” she said, I would have been able to catch this sooner and perhaps reduced the treatments.”

Breast cancer that is found early, when it’s small and has not spread, is easier to treat successfully. Doing self-examinations and getting regular screenings are the most reliable ways to find breast cancer early.

Niemann is so thankful for the support received. “The school has been supportive with giving me time off,” she said, “and all the encouragement I receive from both the high school and middle school coworkers.”