KENNESAW — Agnus Berenato is a lot like many of us.
She’s busy. As the women’s basketball coach at Kennesaw State, she has practices, recruiting visits, meetings, games and a hundred other things on her plate at any one time.
For her, putting off a doctor’s appointment because of her schedule isn’t an uncommon practice — with one exception. She always goes for her scheduled mammograms, and the one she had earlier this summer likely saved her life.
“My mom died of breast cancer,” Berenato said recently. “My sister (Mary) had breast cancer, and my brother died of cancer. I don’t miss my mammograms.”
Berenato always had traditional mammograms, but this time she listened to her sister. In a not so subtle way, Mary implored Berenato to get a 3D mammogram — something she had never heard of.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a traditional two-dimensional mammogram only gets about four images from the top and the side of the breast. A three-dimensional mammogram allows doctors to be more accurate in the detection and diagnoses of cancer. It provides nearly 300 images and allows the radiologist to see breast tissue in greater detail.
Following the procedure and follow-up ultrasounds, the 61-year-old Berenato was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. It meant the disease was caught early, and the cancer cells were contained to a single area.
She said the diagnosis did not faze her. Having dealt with the disease in the family before, she knew she wanted to handle it head-on with an aggressive schedule — surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Berenato underwent surgery in September and, when she went in for a follow-up appointment, the detail-oriented coach in her took over.
She had her radiation schedule all mapped out — five days a week for 6½ weeks. She knew what day she wanted to start, when the treatments would end and how many basketball games she may need to miss.
However, Berenato’s plan didn’t go the way she wanted.
“When they told me they found more cancer and I needed a second surgery, you could have knocked me over with a feather,” Berenato said.
That was only half of the issue.
“The worst part of the whole thing was the genetic testing,” she said.
Berenato had to be tested to find out if she could have passed on a gene that would have given her three daughters and two sons an approximately 50-percent chance of contracting breast cancer.
“When I got the phone call, I broke down and cried,” Berenato said. “It was negative. It took me 30 minutes to control myself so I could let my family know. It was as if the weight of the world was taken off my shoulders.”
In October, Berenato underwent the second surgery, which eliminated the remainder of the cancer. She said the players and coaches were at her house the following day after each surgery, preparing meals and making sure Berenato had what she needed.
Berenato will likely begin radiation treatments in December, but, as the true teacher she is, she gave her 13 players and four-member coaching staff an education on the disease.
“I promised to educate them so they don’t have to be afraid of cancer,” she said.
Berenato started the class by hitting the players with some eye-opening details based on the information she had been given by her doctors.
“Four of you are going to get this disease,” Berenato told them.
She said the best way for them to understand was to show them exactly what had taken place, so Berenato bared all. She showed the scars, including the points of entry where the doctors went in, and she explained what they did.
Berenato said this started a dialogue and brought many questions, but she feels like not only do the players and coaches have a better understanding of what is going on with her, but it has brought the group closer in their day-to-day relationships.
For the most part, the diagnosis, surgery, treatment and fight have not kept Berenato from doing what she loves the best -- coaching basketball -- although she has had to throttle down the accelerator a little bit.
The team recently took a trip to New Jersey to play in the Seton Hall Tip-Off tournament. Instead of accompanying her team to dinner or movies, Berenato instead spent that time at the hotel sleeping and getting the extra rest she needs.
“I’ve never been so tired in my whole life,” Berenato said, “and I’m one of those people, the first thing when I wake up is say, ‘When can I go to bed?’
“It’s a different fatigue. I don’t know what it is, because I’m not sick.”
Throughout the ordeal, Berenato said her staff of associate head coach Khadija Head, assistants Sherill Baker and Lanay Montgomery and director of basketball operations Chelby Coley has been outstanding.
“I’m totally confident in them,” Berenato said. “They could take (over for) the whole season if necessary.”
For Berenato, it is nice to know her staff and players have her back. For the staff and players, Berenato couldn’t prove she had their back in a bigger, or better, way. She also hopes that by talking with them and by letting everyone know about what happened, it can help other people along the way.
“It was huge catching this early at Stage 1. Had I not gotten this mammogram …,” Berenato said, tailing off and wondering what could have happened.
“Why wouldn’t you go and get it done so you can get the report that, ‘Yep, you’re good,’ or, ‘We have an issue.’ It’s a little blip if you find it and get it done quickly, but, if left unattended, that blip can cost you your life.”