A car crash saved Estrelita Rogers' life.
She was driving to the post office when the vehicle she was driving was struck near the intersection of Seventh and Madison Streets.
“I’ll never forget the date — July 19, 2011,” Rogers said.
She had noticed the lump before, but it was high up enough on her chest that she paid it no mind; it couldn't be breast cancer, she thought. So Rogers ignored it, even when, over the course of five to six months, it began growing. The lump grew so large it stuck out through her clothes, she recalls. It made Rogers nervous, but she wasn’t comfortable going to the doctor.
For one thing, she had lost her job and no longer had insurance and she had no family here to help care for her in the event she needed surgery.
But during the course of the wreck, Rogers’ seatbelt was crushed up against the lump, causing a pain she said felt like fire.
“I knew I had to go to the hospital but I didn’t want to go,” she said.
Rogers declined transport at the scene.
“I wasn’t totaled, but I was beat up — scared to death,” she said. “(I’ve) always been afraid of ambulances, so I didn’t want to ride in it.”
However, Rogers let the pastor of Flint Hills Church — which her car had come to rest in front of — help her out of her vehicle.
Eventually, she worked up the nerve to go to the hospital, where a doctor looked her over.
The doctor — a woman — knew something was wrong and ordered Rogers undergo testing for breast cancer.
“The very next day, they called me and told me to come in,” Rogers said. “They wanted to let me know that I did (have cancer) — they didn’t hold it back.”
Doctors wanted to perform surgery immediately.
“I told them, ‘don’t do it now,’” Rogers said. “They said, ‘why?’ I said, ‘I need to go find somewhere to die.’ It scared me so bad.”
She had no one to go to after the surgery — none of her three children lived in Kansas much less Junction City.
But Rogers had a church — First Southern Baptist Church — where she had many people who cared about her.
“They all kind of took me under their wing,” she said.
The church members, she said, took care of Rogers during her surgery and her subsequent cancer treatments.
Rogers endured radiation treatments and then chemotherapy, which she received in Manhattan.
“Not once did I have to worry about a ride,” she said, because of her fellow churchgoers.
The chemotherapy left her mentally addled.
“I couldn’t even think straight,” Rogers said.
But she persevered as well as she knew how, with help from community members who cared about her.
“I’m so thankful for Junction City,” Rogers said.
Rogers benefitted from fundraising by the St. Xavier Catholic School volleyball team and from churches in town. Staff members at Geary Community Hospital helped her as well, she said.
Her faith has helped her through everything and even intensified it, Rogers said.
“I never go into a church seeking help big,” she said. “(I’m) going in for prayer. God has always provided. But I just love different venues of just worshipping and praising."
And so Rogers stayed, having fallen in love with the community and believing she had a purpose here — to talk to others with experiences similar to her own.
Rogers enjoys telling others the story of her fight against cancer in the hopes it will inspire them and convince them to take good care of their health.
She still recalls what a doctor told her — that cancer strikes more white people than people of color, but that people of color are more likely to die of it than white people because they don’t seek help.
“He said, ‘a lot of y’all are doing it because you think there’s no help,’ but I found out there is,” Rogers said. “So that’s what I like to tell people — there is help."
She has, since 2011, occasionally volunteered in nursing homes, helped distribute food at the Geary County Food Pantry, and helped out at First Southern Baptist Church. She spoke briefly as a survivor during the community breast cancer awareness celebration Oct. 19.
“I just want to encourage people and tell the truth,” Rogers said. “I don’t try to sugar coat anything. It didn’t get sugar coated to me."
Rogers' health precludes her doing as much as she would like. At the age of 65, she has suffered several mini strokes along with a host of other problems. Rogers said she still takes medication regularly to keep the cancer from returning.
To the newly-diagnosed, she wants to offer a message of hope and a reminder that breast cancer is nothing to be ashamed of.
“I would like to let them know that there is help, you’re not alone, you’re not by yourself, you don’t have to carry it around,” Rogers said. “Even if you feel like you are by yourself.”
She encourages everyone who has been touched by breast cancer not to allow themselves to become bitter.
Often during her fight, Rogers worried about what treatments — surgery and chemotherapy — would do to her appearance. However, she said, it doesn’t have to be that way.
“I want to be beautiful — and not the word pretty — but I tell them this can be beautiful,” Rogers said, gesturing at her bald head. “Because there’s a season where this happens to us. If it’s our season, we can be beautiful. And so I classify myself as a beautiful young lady and I tell others that they are beautiful."