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Crucial Catch: The Havensteins' story

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001?

OL Rob Havenstein was a fourth grader in Maryland being evacuated from school instead of getting to visit his mom in the hospital for the first time.

Cheryl Havenstein, a now 18-year breast cancer survivor, had just finished her 10-hour reconstruction surgery.

"They didn't really understand what was going on in the world – let alone this was the day they were going to come see their mom, and they couldn't come do that either," Cheryl explained. "That was just a crazy time in history and a crazy time in our family."

Cheryl found out she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2001 after her doctor couldn't get a hold of her.

In a rush filling out forms earlier that week for her new doctor, Cheryl scribbled down 301-829-55 forgetting to finish the last two digits of her phone number.

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When he finally reached her, she was getting ready to go on a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park for two weeks.

"Are you sure?" Cheryl had pressed on the phone.

Her husband and brother insisted she should stay home from the trip.

Cheryl thought otherwise.

"Because of the kids being so little, I just wanted to keep everything as normal as possible," Cheryl said.

And that was the mentality she carried from that moment on.

When it was time to choose her doctors, people told her she was crazy for not going to Georgetown and instead picking local doctors in Frederick, Maryland with The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland nearby.

Again, she was only thinking of her family.

"If I have to keep going back and forth to the doctor, I don't want to disrupt their life," Cheryl defended.

Also a teacher, school was getting ready to start back up for the fall.

The worst place to be for germs when you're trying to keep your white blood cell count up? Going to church and being in a school, her doctors had told her.

"You could be in the Friday club," her oncologist suggested.

Cheryl had the choice to set up her chemo schedule so she would be sick on weekends, but feel good enough to work on Mondays.

"I want to be part of the Monday club where I can spend time with my family on the weekends and not go to work, how about that one?" she challenged.

So instead, she took off the first half of the school year, wanting to feel better on the weekends for her three kids.

Everyone at Cheryl's school was quick to jump in to help finish setting up her classroom. She then found a long-term sub and chemo began.

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"It was like my chemo weeks were always right around Halloween, Thanksgiving and then Christmas, so I was determined that things were just as usual through those weeks," Cheryl, again, reiterated.

The first Halloween, her day began with chemo.

Cheryl later that day got her three kids, Holly the oldest, Rob and his twin brother Jeff, all ready to go trick-or-treating.

As they went out the door, eager to start ringing doorbells, she saw the neighbors.

"Oh, we'll take them around!" they exclaimed.

Big exhale.

"I just remember turning off the lights the minute they turned the corner and just laid on the floor until they came back," Cheryl confessed.

The moment they returned home, the lights were back on and the buckets were dumped out as they all looked through their candy together as usual.

"That was just my goal to try to stay positive and make it as worry-free for them," she confirmed.

With all three kids involved in various sports, Cheryl also prided herself on never really missing any of their sporting events.

"I wasn't going to let cancer keep me down."

She lived this out so much, Rob couldn't fully comprehend what it meant that his mom was fighting breast cancer.

"She always had a wig on and never really let us see her without hair," Rob explained. "She's a very proud woman and she didn't want to let us know how much she was struggling with it."

Looking back, Cheryl admits this led to quite a funny incident.

"Practice must have gotten canceled or something for whatever sport Rob was in…" she started.

When the kids weren't around, Cheryl would just wear a scarf on her head instead of the wigs.

He came home to his mom sleeping on the couch, but the scarf had fallen off.

"Oh my gosh, Mom! What happened to your hair?" Rob screamed.

"AHHH!" Cheryl startled, jumping up off the couch.

"AHHH!" Rob echoed back.

She hurried off to put her wig back on.

"I hope I haven't scarred you for life," Cheryl laughed.

It wasn't until Rob was a little older that he realized the significance of his mom's diagnosis.

When it was all over, it was Rob who stormed in the house one day, Cheryl recalls.

"MOM," she said mimicking Rob.

"He was so mad at me," Cheryl laughed.

"Mom, you never told me you could have died."

"And I'm like, what?! I was never going to do that."

Rob's first Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society had hit hard.

The event begins with a survivor's walk, usually around a track at a local school. The track is lined with lit candles, inside of white bags, featuring the names of cancer survivors and those who have died from the disease, with messages from loved ones.

"I'm looking around and it was like survivor, deceased, deceased, deceased," Rob said. "It hit me: I could have lost my mom."

After having reconstruction surgery and finishing chemo, Cheryl was on Aricept for five years and has routine check-ups every six months.

"It all turned out really well. I actually went back to work like January 15th that year," Cheryl explained. "I got lucky."

Fast-forward to 14 years later, and a now grown-up Rob is a rookie for the Rams.

"During the 2015 season, I got to go on the field when they had the Crucial Catch game and that was a really fun," Cheryl shared.

Cheryl got the opportunity to be honored as a breast cancer survivor on the field during the team introductions as her son ran out for one of many player introductions to come in his career.

While Crucial Catch in October is a way the NFL raises awareness and helps the fight against cancer, Cheryl now lives this as an everyday purpose.

"I had a really good friend of mine who was a nurse and she was all about if you have a loved one or somebody you know go in the hospital, you have to be in there with them," Cheryl said.

That friend pretty much had stayed every day and night with Cheryl in the hospital when she had her surgery.

"It was a huge relief to my family because my husband all the sudden is home with three small kids trying to get them to where they need to go," she shared.

And the actions of her friend made Cheryl recognize her purpose to be there for others and give back like she had.

"I really feel that was one of the reasons I got breast cancer," Cheryl said.

Many of the young teachers that she worked with would confide that they didn't want to have a mammogram because it was going to hurt.

"Well that lit a fire in me," Cheryl said.

She has people who she makes call or text her when they make their appointment.

"I have three people right now that are going through breast cancer, so I make sure I offer my services," Cheryl explained. "If your husband needs a break when you're in the hospital, I'll come and stay all night with you."

Cheryl makes sure they know that they can simply call her and state what they need and she'll make sure they get it.

"I just let people know just how important it is to get screened and it doesn't hurt half as much if you have to go through the whole breast cancer thing, so I guess that's my purpose," Cheryl said.

The importance of screening has also been instilled in Rob.

"Especially now with my wife and daughter, whenever the time comes to get checked it's going to be pushed pretty hard at my household just to make sure," Rob confirmed. "It's something that can take no time at all and be a big prevention or help your odds."

For the Havenstein family, it was time that they won't forget, but also one they don't dwell on. For them, it showed them how to live a fuller life.

"I think it was just a small, little blip on the radar in our lives," Cheryl said. "It just made us all appreciate life, being a good person…it just made it clear that that's what we need to do."

"It's all about character, just being a good person and helping others."

And that's what Cheryl will continue to do.

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