Theresa Pstrak of Mount Airy first knew something was wrong in 2008 when her right breast started bleeding.
Her paternal grandmother had breast cancer, and she had suffered from breast health problems — mostly cysts — for about 15 years. But Pstrak had never experienced anything like the bleeding before.
“I bled enough that it soaked through my bra,” she said. “I had to get gauze that had a vinyl backing on it so that it wouldn’t bleed through.”
Six weeks after a mammogram examination, Pstrak went to her doctor for answers. A few weeks later, she underwent surgery at Frederick Memorial Hospital to remove an intraductal papilloma — a noncancerous tumor — that was growing in her milk duct. A small part of her breast was also removed.
Two days later she would get a call that would change her life.
“After the surgery the doctors was very confident that it was not cancer,” Pstrak said. “It was a great sense of relief and then when [my doctor] called, and I heard her voice, I knew that something was wrong.”
Pstrak’s doctor found atypical mutating cancerous cells in the tumor.
“It was very overwhelming, very scary,” she said.
Luckily, Pstrak’s doctor is confident that all of the cancer was removed during the surgery.
“They knew that they got it all because the surrounding tissue was clear,” she said.
It was because doctors were able to catch it early that Pstrak was able to bypass radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
She had reconstructive breast surgery in 2009 at Howard County General Hospital to make her breast equal in size. Although Pstrak still has a 25 percent chance of the cancer returning, which she takes medication to prevent, she is now cancer free.
Since being diagnosed, Pstrak has worked to make the lives of breast cancer survivors and patients better.
In November 2011, she opened Beautiful Faces Permanent Makeup Salon at 228 S. Main St., where she emphasizes helping those limited by health issues like breast cancer.
Among other services, Pstrak is trained to do areola repigmentation for women who have had breast reconstruction. The procedure involves applying pigmentation to recreate the areola sometimes lost during the surgery.
“Its very satisfying to be able to help women heal themselves,” she said.
Continuing her efforts to find a cure for breast cancer and help others, she will join the more than 650 people expected to participate in the second Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in Mount Airy.
Participants will have the option of walking either a three-mile or 1.25-mile course at Watkins Park at 615 Center St. on Oct. 21. Proceeds from the event, which starts at 10 a.m., go to the American Cancer Society to help them fund breast cancer research.
Pstrak will be walking with her team, The Faces of Courage!, during the event.
“It’s very large team,” she said. “I’m very fortunate.”
The event will feature musical performances as well as fitness demonstrations, such as yoga.
Last year, more than 600 people attended the walk, raising more than $51,000.
“We are shooting for at least $55,000 this year,” said Jen Burdette, a community manager for the American Cancer Society.
As part of the event, the town will also host Paint Mount Airy Pink.
Starting Oct. 1, participating local businesses will be decorating their stores pink for the contest, which will be judged by Mount Airy Mayor Patrick Rockinberg. The winner will be announced during the Making Strides walk and will receive a plaque.
Burdette attributes the success of Making Strides in Mount Airy to the dedication of its community members.
“I think that the community has just embraced this in such a huge way,” she said. “There are so many people who we are meeting that have been affected by the event.”
In addition to the contest and walk, community members, including Pstrak, are hosting a fundraiser for Making Strides from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Oct. 12 at Firehouse Pottery and Arts at 233 South Main St.
Participants will be able to buy commemorative Making Strides plates, cups, and other dishware, as well as make pottery themselves.
“[Going through breast cancer] makes me feel like I need to pay it forward,” Pstrak said.
For more information about Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Mount Airy, go to www.stridesmountairy.org