Oprah Winfrey most likely saved Krista Leighton’s life.In December 2008, Leighton, Randolph’s director of career development, happened to see an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show featuring Christina Applegate. Cancer ran in Applegate’s family, and she had been having regular mammograms for years. However, a doctor encouraged Applegate to have an MRI as a precaution, and the star was ultimately diagnosed with breast cancer.
After watching the show, Leighton, who had been having pain and the general sense that something was not right, talked to her doctor and scheduled an MRI.
In May 2009, she was at one of her favorite vacation spots in Nags Head, North Carolina, when she got the phone call that would change everything; the doctor told her she had breast cancer. “I couldn’t believe it was real,” Leighton said. “I think at that exact time it became more of an outer body experience. It was like I was looking at myself from the outside in.”
From that moment on, 45-year-old Leighton became caught up in a whirlwind of doctor visits, research, testing, and decision-making. She chose to have a double mastectomy with an immediate breast reconstruction. After the surgery, Leighton remembers being in the recovery room and thinking, “Thank goodness this is over, and it’s gone.”
Unfortunately, that was far from the truth. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, requiring chemotherapy. Her recovery lasted longer than anticipated, and exactly one year from the day she was diagnosed with cancer, Leighton developed a blood clot that eventually led to an embolism. Today, she is still undergoing restoration surgeries and struggling with the physical limitations caused by the mastectomy, but is grateful for the support of the Randolph community. “It’s worth the fight,” she said. “Attitude is everything.”
Leighton is proud to be a survivor but has learned that healing takes longer than most people realize. “It’s never over,” Leighton said. “It’s always there. There are days that without question I would rather just stay in bed. ”
But day by day, she has gotten stronger—physically and emotionally. “I’m different than I was before. I worry more, and I’m more cautious. But I also don’t take things for granted. I know you have to believe in yourself and in the power of hope.”
That hope and faith were sometimes in short supply during the tougher moments of her battle with cancer. But Leighton is determined to keep looking forward.
“I haven’t been back to Nags Head since the year I was diagnosed,” Leighton said. “It reminded me of a very negative time in my life. But I was looking at pictures the other day and thought that it was time that I went back. I need to make it a fun place again.”