Andrea Andreadis: Strong, beautiful, fierce

Andrea Andreadis: Strong, beautiful, fierce

Lauren Adamski

“I’m sorry but you have cancer.” A million thoughts run through your head. Am I going to survive? What will treatment be like? How will my family take it? 

   In May of 2020, Instructor Andrea Andreadis noticed an abnormality and went to the doctor to get it checked out.

   “A few days later I received the call nobody ever wants to get. Cancer. From there, it was a whirlwind of more mammograms, more biopsies, and more meetings with doctors. Treatment began August 19. Twenty weeks of three different kinds of chemotherapy, followed by surgery, then radiation, then maybe more chemo,” Andreadis said. 

   She is battling triple-negative breast cancer, a rare and highly aggressive type of breast cancer. 

WO Strong  

   Due to her diagnosis and treatments, Andreadis has been on medical leave this semester. Not being able to teach has been difficult for her. She says, “Being a teacher is part of my identity. I miss my students, I miss our conversations, I miss my colleagues, I miss the stories and discussions.”

   Andreadis is able to connect with some students and colleagues through email and social media, which has helped her feel part of the West Ottawa community. 

   As for her colleagues, Andreadis has been able to keep in contact with them. Instructor Traci Howard gathered the West Ottawa women teachers together to support Andreadis. “From the start of her diagnosis, I just wanted to do whatever I could to make her days better and easier. We have sign-ups for food, transportation, kid activities. But because of COVID, it’s mainly been having pick-me-ups. Everything from text messages, memes, cards, and little surprises to tell her how strong, brave, and beautiful she is.” 

   The West Ottawa community has provided a great support network for Andreadis. “I regularly get cards of encouragement, emails, messages of social media, etc. from colleagues, students, parents, administrators, former students. It’s overwhelming in the best way possible,” Andreadis said. 

   The people that have stepped up and shared their stories have inspired Andreadis to keep fighting. She has reconnected with several former students who have beat cancer, and they have been a great support as well. 

   Many people battling cancer do not have a support network; Andreadis’ heart breaks for those people. Her support network means the world to her and is a contributing factor to her perseverance. 

Physical Changes

   As many people are aware, hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy treatments. For Andreadis, she has come to embrace her baldness. While she misses her hair, she appreciates the perspective it gives her, “If the chemo can do that to my hair, imagine what it can do to the cancer.” 

   Another physical change she has experienced is fatigue. “Before my diagnosis, I was taking 60-minute hikes through sand dunes and doing strength exercises, so it’s very defeating to get out of breath from a flight of stairs or just 20-minutes on the treadmill.” 

   Despite the extreme fatigue she experiences, Andreadis tries her best to stay active. She finds that by engaging in physical activity she is able to reduce other side effects of the chemo. One way Andreadis gets in her physical activity is by exploring local trails with her children. “My favorite place to walk is in Duncan Woods in Grand Haven. It’s tiny, so I don’t have to worry about getting lost, but I still feel away from everything.” 

Lifestyle Changes

   “In a weird way, the cancer has been a blessing in disguise.” While Andreadis has not been teaching, this deficit gives her the opportunity to spend more time with her children. Andreadis is grateful in a way for her diagnosis as it has allowed her to be able to be home with her children as they are doing remote learning until at least the end of January.

   Andreadis is a wonderful English teacher and avid reader. One side effect of her chemo treatments is that it gives her wicked headaches. Because of this, Andreadis’ vision becomes blurry and prevents her from reading as much as she would like. 

   However, when Andreadis does not have headaches, she copes with her diagnosis through books. “Mrs. Lee gave me a copy of The Book of Awesome which was probably my best book gift. It helps you find joy in the little things, which is exactly what people like me need right now.”

Giving Advice 

   Even though Andreadis has been on medical leave this semester, she has not lost her ability to be a great teacher. 

   She shared what she feels is the most common misconception about her type of cancer. “A common misconception with my cancer is that people hear breast cancer and assume it’s easily cured, and I can move on with my life. I’m in a danger zone for recurrence the first two years after treatment. After five years I can say I’m a survivor.” While the odds may be against her, Andreadis’ optimism is key. 

   Andreadis encourages people to be patient and compassionate towards someone who is battling cancer. Taking from her own experience, Andreadis says, “I’m a different person than I was six months ago. People shouldn’t get offended if their loved one doesn’t want to do the same things or rejects any ideas.”

   “I don’t want people to forget about me. As someone said, my journey is a marathon, not a race. So I appreciate the cards, the check-ins, the social media comments. I keep all the cards and gifts people send, and on my bad days I go through them again. It gives me strength knowing that others think I’m strong.”