LENA MITCHELL: Friend's loss brings home need to guard health

On Oct. 23, I lost a dear friend to breast cancer. Donna Marie Hamilton Grogan, of Silver Spring, Md., was my tennis doubles partner when our tennis team won the Washington, D.C., citywide championship for our level in the late 1980s.
Donna’s life ended after her second battle with breast cancer, a disease that she fought to a standstill in the mid-1990s. She was a great support and inspiration to me when I had my own breast cancer challenge in 2007.
I last saw Donna and her husband Bradley at a formal dinner-dance during the Christmas holidays of 2008. They were a glowing couple, full of life and enthusiasm. They had both trimmed down through exercise and better eating and were enjoying life in retirement.
Donna had worked for more than three decades as a fourth-grade teacher in D.C. public schools, and Bradley was retired from the faculty at the University of the District of Columbia, where he taught piano and organ.
We all met in 1980 at our church, which sponsored our tennis club. We reminisced about our tennis-playing addiction, and the winter seasons when we drove an hour to the indoor courts where they, my partner and I played every weekend. Donna’s love of the game led her to help initiate Tennis in Our Schools programs for the District of Columbia school district.
Donna’s other passion was the work she did with National Geographic as a teacher training consultant. Though she never made it to Northeast Mississippi, a few years ago Donna’s work with National Geographic brought her to Florence, Ala., on a brief tour, and we were able to catch up with each other there and have lunch together.
Having seen Donna and Bradley so recently, and them looking so well, I never could have anticipated that less than six months later Bradley would die after suffering a massive heart attack. Nor that it would only be a few short months until Donna began to experience new symptoms that led to her death last month.
One of the lessons I want to draw from what has been this tragic loss in my life is to treasure dear people like these while you can. I treasure the memories we shared more than I can say. Many years ago Donna gave me a letter opener with a tennis racquet for a handle, so I think of her every day when I open my mail.
Another lesson I gleaned from Donna and Bradley’s story is to remain vigilant in caring for your health. Through the years both of them had maintained active lifestyles and been conscious of good eating habits, and they gave those matters more attention as they got older.
However, as my doctor once said to me, even though I may have medical complaints after taking steps to age gracefully and in good health, think how much worse it might have been had I done nothing at all to work toward a healthy lifestyle.
And finally, in the aftermath of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and as November is highlighted as Diabetes Awareness Month, do your part to assure a longer and healthier life:
• Get your breast cancer screening mammogram. They’re often available free or at low cost if you don’t have the resources – ask.
• Men, take the PSA screening test for prostate cancer.
• If you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure, be faithful in taking your medications.
• Take cholesterol-lowering medicine if your doctor prescribes it to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke.
And for all the people who continue to smoke despite what anyone says, find a reason you can buy into that will propel you to quit.
We’ll all be better off for it.
Lena Mitchell is Corinth bureau reporter for the Daily Journal. Contact her at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.

LENA MITCHELL / NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau