Beth Pendergrass of Rio Rancho recreates a well-known image, this time of “Rosie the Riveter,” to document her cancer journey.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I took that step in May 2018 as I began my journey with breast cancer.

As I stared out over the horizon of what was to come, I knew it would not be easy. There was fear and doubt. And tears. They gathered at the corners of my eyes and slid down my cheeks as I contemplated that first step.

I closed my eyes and tried to muster every ounce of courage I had.

Then, I felt it. The slight brush of someone standing to my left. I heard it. The slow and steady breathing of someone standing to my right.

I opened my eyes, and I saw it. Lined up on my right and on my left were my family, my friends, my doctors, my co-workers and my community, standing next to me ready to take that first step with me.

I was diagnosed with high-grade ductal carcinoma (HER2+) on May 11, 2018, and received my first chemotherapy treatment less than two weeks later. It was certainly a shock to the system.

The human body, while a remarkable machine, is not quite prepared for the toxins used to fight cancer. Every part of it screamed at me in anger.

Yet, because of those standing by my side, I was determined to get through it with grit, grace and a little humor.

I wanted those around me to feel comfortable asking me questions. I wanted them to know it was still OK to laugh and have fun, and I wanted a clever way to document my journey.

I decided that each week, I would choose a picture from popular culture — a scene from a movie, a musician, etc. — to recreate. Along with the picture, I would use a quote from the character or figure, and tie it to my experiences during the week.

I wanted to share my very real and personal experiences with cancer while offering messages of strength and hope. It was an outlet for me.

I started posting them to my personal social media accounts, and before I knew it, I had gained local, national and international attention. I had people from all over the world reaching out to me to share their experiences with cancer, to provide words of support and to thank me for helping them get through their own challenges.

But here’s the secret.

It was not me helping them. It was you. My community. You inspired my words.

I wanted to show you that I was tough. That I would not let cancer diminish my spirit. That even in my darkest and most challenging times, I could keep a smile on my face.

I wanted to show you that when times are tough, you get out of bed every morning and put one foot in front of the other. That you go to work and still do your best work.

I wanted to show you that tough times don’t give you an excuse to be ugly and mean to others. That every challenge in life presents an opportunity to grow and become a better person.

I wanted you to be proud of me, because when I needed you, you were there. To my left and to my right. You were there.

The Rio Rancho Observer has followed my cancer journey and asked that I write this final guest column announcing that as of Aug. 24, 2020, I accomplished the final major hurdle in my cancer journey.

After over two years of chemo treatments, surgeries, radiation, a recurrence, multiple doctor appointments, tests, poking and prodding, I am happy to report there is currently no evidence of disease.

Thank you for standing by me. Thank you to my friends and my family. Thank you to Dr. Sue Cleveland and Rio Rancho Public Schools.

Thank you to all the health-care professionals and receptionists at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center, the Ted and Margaret Jorgensen Cancer Center, Rio Rancho Southern Physical Therapy and TriCore.

Thank you to Dr. Usha Venkatraj, Dr. Jennifer Bishop, Dr. Amit Garg and Dr. Jean Shimanek. Thank you to Angela Ward.

And finally, thank you to my community. It has certainly been a journey of a thousand miles, but I didn’t do it alone.

(Beth Pendergrass is the chief communications, strategy and engagement officer for RRPS. Her two-plus-year battle vs. cancer has been documented internationally.)