On Sept. 30, 2016, Corena “Corey” Brock had no idea what the future held for her when she and her new boyfriend confirmed their relationship status.
The bubbly, buxomly woman with her dark and thick “hair-to-there” saw Ralph Smith as a part of a new chapter in her life.
Cancer was far from their vocabulary and vision as their romance blossomed.
Calling the events “a whirlwind,” Brock and Smith explained how their journey with cancer has made them closer than ever.
FORMERLY OF St. Ignatius, Brock, 48, a Salish Tribal decendent, moved to Missoula, moving her life from Lake County to live with Smith in January of 2017.
In February, Brock felt what she thought was a lump in her left breast.
Asking Smith his opinion, he confirmed he also felt something “hard.”
Deciding to go to the foctor, Brock traveled for an appointment with her primary physicians in St. Ignatius.
Discussing previous mammograms, Brock told her doctor that the screenings always came back “clean.”
The dcotor, not immediately concerned, suggested that the lump was caused by a plugged duct, but still urged her for further testing.
While she waited for insurance approval, Brock began a new job in April in Missoula with AWARE, a nonprofit that works with individuals and families with mental health, emotional and physical disabilities .
The following month, she received word that she got approved for diagnostic procedures for the lump, still in her left breast.
“Because I had started a new job, I didn’t want to take time off,” Brock recalled, reminding herself that the odd-feeling object could still possibly be a plugged duct.
July of 2017 came and the still-new couple decided to go on a vacation together.
It wasn’t until August that Brock said she began to notice changes in the lump.
“It was bigger and I was starting to feel pain,” she said, adding that she finally made a mammogram appointment.
Venturing back to Lake County, Brock had her mammogram done at St. Luke Community Healthcare in Ronan, surrounded by staff who through the years had become friends, as she worked there prior to her move to Missoula.
The doctor at the appointment “did not beat around the bush” and told her she needed a biopsy as soon as possible: that day.
In shock, Brock explained that she first thought to call her new job and tell them she needed the rest of the day off, as she initially scheduled to be back in the office in the afternoon.
Next, she called her firend Manuel because Smith was at work and could not be immediately reached.
Manuel, who called Brock’s brother, went to the hospital and the men sat with Brock before her biospy.
Having a support system from the first moments helped, she said, but it didn’t make the process any easier.
“I didn’t want to go through it, but I had to.”
Her friend, Dian Hicketheir, head mammographer at St. Luke’s, held Brock’s hand during the biopsy procedure, Brock recalled.
Once the procedure was over, Brock ventured back home to Missoula.
She was finally able to tell Smith, who initially got angry at the doctors.
“I was upset because” the lump could have been a plugged duct, he said.
As she drove back to work from lunch a couple of days after the biopsy, Brock received a call from the doctor at St. Luke’s.
Pulling over to take the call, Brock was told she had stage 3 triple negative breast cancer.
Once she arrived back at work, Brock told her supervisor who insisted she go home.
Next, Brock wanted, needed, to tell her boyfriend of nearly one year the diagnosis.
Smith said he was at work when he received the news, and once his boss realized a family emergency was unfolding, Smith was told to go home.
TO HELP process the news, Brock and Smith decided to go camping.
Hours into their mini-vacation, Brock got stung on her left arm and the couple ended up back home, eventually headed to the emergency room.
Several days later still at the hospital after experiencing an infection, Brock learned that the cancer she had recently been diagnosed with was in her lymph nodes which caused the allergic reaction to the sting.
SINCE THE beginning, Brock said that people have asked her what they can do for her, to which she’s replied to send positivity and prayers her way.
“I choose to stay positive. Enough people feel sorry for you,” she said, smiling.
Smith, Brock’s primary caregiver, helped her cut her hair when it began falling out from the 20 weeks of chemotherapy.
“It was my decision to cut my hair. It was something I could be in control of,” Brock said.
Completing more than 30 rounds of radiation and having a double mastectomy, Brock balanced work and family life.
Adding to the stress of fighting cancer, Brock received word that due to budget cuts, she would be losing her job and benefits.
Taking her to nearly every appointment, Smith insisted that Brock not go back to work and instead focus on taking time to heal.
“He was right by my side and has been, taking care of me,” Brock said, as the couple smiled at one another.
THE COUPLE said that patients who are newly diagnosed with cancer should find a hobby, “something to focus on.”
“Once it all starts, it’s all a whirlwind, then it stops,” Brock said. “When you end radiation, it’s like, ‘what now?’”
Depression can set in for patients once the treatments are over. That’s when Brock and Smith both agree patients and caregivers should try to “focus on something else” while the patient starts their recovery.
Smith said he encourages patients and caregivers to utilize social workers at hospitals, as well as the American Cancer Society, to see what resources and support groups are available.
Looking back, Brock said that due to her positivity, faith, family (which includes but is not limited to her three children, her mother and Smith’s mother), all helped her fight cancer.
Her daughter, Courtney Brock, took two weeks off work to help after surgery.
Brock noted that her “mini-me” event went without pay for one week to take care of her.
Next to Courtney, Brock said her biggest source of support comes from Smith, who added that while an event like cancer “makes or breaks” a relationship so early on, it has made their bond stronger.