Donna Hopkins: Triumph Through the Victory
Two-Time Breast Cancer Survivor and Amputee Encourages Women to Seek Ultimate Victory
As the saying goes “a river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” Calling a woman like Donna Hopkins persistent may be somewhat of an understatement.
A two-time breast cancer survivor, Hopkins had an unexpected medical tragedy that caused her to lose one of her legs. However, she says those struggles did not stop her from living her best life. In her new book, “Getting to the Other Side of Victory,” Donna talks about her incredible journey of perseverance and positivity.
Hopkins remembers the day in 2010 she calls her “unforeseeable medical disaster because it came out of nowhere.” This day was her emergency amputation procedure. “The process was so long, especially just being in the hospital,” she recalls. “It was a lot of emotion going through my head at that moment because I had been sick so long. I tried not to think so much about the process because my emotions would have been spilling all over the place.”
She said she worked constantly to keep emotions at bay for the sake of her family. Many family members came from Detroit, West Virginia and Maryland to show their support. “A lot of me was trying to comprehend what was getting ready to take place and also be strong not only for myself but for my family. So, I tried to not focus on that this was going to happen.’’
Going through the surgery was difficult but not the first time Hopkins faced medical uncertainty. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 1997, and the second breast cancer diagnosis came in 1999. “I thought that confronting cancer twice was the most challenging thing I would have to overcome,” she said.
With the emergency amputation, she had to shift emotional gears again, but this time, she would have to believe she could win despite continual losses. “I don’t even know how to really put into words how flabbergasted I was by this ordeal because what was supposed to be a short hospital stay turned into 2 ½ months in the hospital, three hospitals and six surgeries and almost losing my life twice.”
To get through this difficult time, Hopkins pulled inspiration from her athletic background. This inspiration helped her remain focused and strengthen her determination. “I am very athletic and I hate to lose!” she exclaimed proudly. “So, I applied this to my life. Everything I went through with breast cancer and the amputation made me say, ‘I am not going to lose. The fight is on!’”
Once Hopkins left the hospital, a family member encouraged her to enter a contest by Under Armour that raises awareness for breast health. In 2011, Under Armour launched a national search to find three breast cancer survivors to represent its “Power in Pink” national campaign, which celebrates women who use exercise to stay healthy. Hopkins had only one day to write her story in hopes of it being chosen and appearing on the contest website. Inspired by her story, Under Armour chose Donna, and she represented the company for a year. This victory came at the “most important time,” she said. This also encouraged Hopkins to compete in athletic competitions, such as water rowing.
She says her recovery came through persistent work and her faith in God. “Sometimes we go through the tragedy of what has happened to us, and we get stuck there. We’re not able to push forward,” said Hopkins. “I told someone it would have been a tragedy to have survived my amputation, to survive the blood clots, to survive death almost in that situation in 2010, and then get out of the hospital to die emotionally, spiritually and physically. I had already won the first battle. The most important one was I was still alive.”
Not only focusing on her recovery, she vowed to help others get to their other side of victory. She is the founder/ CEO of non-profit organization, Hopkins Breast Cancer Inc., and is an advocate for breast cancer awareness programs. In her book, Donna emphasizes key concepts that she says will help people reset their lives after tragedy. “What I try to relay in the book is how I got to the other side of victory, which may not be how you get to the other side in your life, but you have to tap into what gets you there. What makes you happy in life? What makes your spirit jump and soar? Laughter is the medicine that cures so many things if we can learn how to just laugh. I’m this happy-go-lucky person anyway, so try to get with people who don’t bring you down.”
While many people struggling with trauma in their life may understand the end goal of getting to the other side, Hopkins attempts to provide steps and concepts in order to provide a little nudge and show readers the mile markers to victory. “I talk about the process [in the book], and I believe you take the time to cry about your situation, but you shouldn’t be crying every day. Healing comes through taking the time to process what you been through, and then move through it step-by-step.”
Even moving through step-by-step, the road to healing and recovery is often long and difficult. It can be tempting to give up, according to Hopkins. “Whatever you go through, there’s hope, joy, and peace after you go through things. It’s just learning how to go through them and helping others to go through them. Sometimes when you go through adversity, you don’t know why God is taking you through that. But you don’t know how He’s cultivating you through that process of what you went through to put meaning in it. And sometimes, it’s not just for you to go through something, but also for the onlookers that’s looking at you.”
Donna’s passion for reconnecting lives does not stop at her book. Her non-profit organization, Hopkins Breast Cancer Inc., provides financial assistance to eligible men and women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. “My foundation helps breast cancer survivors who do not have the financial means. Insurance only covers certain things. I want to be able to cover everything you can possibly imagine. It is tough enough going through the emotional part, and they tell you not to worry. How can you not worry? You don’t know if you are going to lose your job because you cannot work or if you are able to pay rent and food. You also have all those bills coming at you. These are the last things you need to worry about. I also want to be that person who people can come to and ask questions, like what to ask your doctor.”
She also strives to educate the community on the value of early detection. She added, “Going through everything that I went through, God put a fight in me that was greater than all that I’d been through. That’s the key thing that I think we have to realize, that’s its some fight in us. We just have to tap into it.”