When Dolly Stringer was diagnosed with breast cancer in April, she decided to take control and shave her head before she began chemotherapy.
Now, the Moultrie, Ga., woman believes she got cancer for a reason: to save her husband’s life.
To show solidarity with Stringer, her husband, Bud, decided to shave his head. His family members were curious about the black patch on his newly-shaved pate.
“And I said ‘you know, I’m sure that’s a birthmark,’ but I didn’t realize I had one so I called my mom and she said ‘no, it’s not a birthmark, you didn’t have one,’” Bud Stringer told ABC News in an interview on Monday.
He decided it was a mole, but a biopsy proved him wrong: it was stage three malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer.
The Stringers, who have a son who’s 12 and another who’s 10, were stunned. They had never had any health problems before.
“I was just really in shock and Bud was, too … and I was just devastated, because it’s one thing to have it yourself, that I could handle, but to know that Bud was going to have to go through what I was going through, and worse?” Dolly, 47, said.
Dolly had had several surgeries since her stage three breast cancer diagnosis, and completed her eighth – and final round – of chemotherapy last week. She is preparing to start six and a half weeks of radiation treatment.
Bud’s treatment will be more intense. Since his cancer is so aggressive, his treatment will have to be as well. Diagnosed in August, he’s already had two extensive surgeries, and is preparing to start a year of chemotherapy. Bud said he’ll have chemotherapy five days a week for the first month, and will do self-injections of chemo for 11 months after that.
Despite their troubles, the two – married for nearly 20 years — are upbeat.
“The surgeons down at Moffitt (Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.), they all feel very positive about the eventual outcome, that it will be very good,” Bud said.
Dolly’s prognosis is also good. She said her doctor told her she had a “garden-variety” type of cancer. She believes her illness has a greater purpose.
“I now know that I had to have that to save Bud’s life, because he would have been – the doctor told me that I would have been burying him probably by Christmas” if the melanoma hadn’t been diagnosed and treated, she said, adding, “We just have so, so much to be thankful for.”
Bud, 48, agreed.
“I’m not a Bible-thumper, I am a Christian, but I really feel like God’s hand shaved my head. I really do … If Dolly had not lost her hair – or chosen to shave her head – I never would have found this … ,” he said.
Dolly said when Bud was initially diagnosed she grew very worried. He runs a small business, Rose City Glass in Thomasville, Ga., and since she was sick, he was the primary breadwinner for the family. Dolly is a therapist for an addiction hospital, and although she has health insurance through her job, she has had to work less because of her treatment.
But the Stringers were not without support.
After Bud’s diagnosis, “People started coming out of the woodwork,” Dolly said.
Those supporters have done the couple’s lawn, helped clothe their children, and even sent food for their dogs.
Over the weekend, members of the pair’s church organized a 5K run, expecting to raise about $5,000. They took in more than $40,000, Dolly said. The church, First Presbyterian of Moultrie, continues to accept donations for the Stringers.
The generosity has been overwhelming, and Dolly said it has brought her some peace.
“I could see very quickly that our needs were going to be provided for … We’re going to be okay, the children are going to be okay,” she said. “It’s just been amazing. I mean every day we just we just find ourselves going ‘thank you,’ and it just doesn’t feel like enough.”
The Stringers want to raise awareness about cancer, particularly about melanoma. Prior to his diagnosis, Bud’s head had been itching, Dolly said. She checked his head, but he had very dark hair, so she didn’t see anything, she said.
“What we love … is that people are saying ‘I went and got a mammogram because of this and ‘I went to get a head-to-toe check with my dermatologist.’
“We even had a man that shaved his head just because he wanted to make sure,” she said.