JTG Daugherty Racing is raising breast cancer awareness by turning AJ Allmendinger’s No. 47 Kroger/SCOTT Products Chevrolet SS pink at Talladega Superspeedway during the Alabama 500 on Sunday, October 23rd to compliment The Kroger Co. Family of Stores Sharing Courage campaign, which has donated over $33 million directly to local breast cancer organizations.
“Our car is pink this weekend for breast cancer awareness and we have Sharing Courage on our TV panel, which is a wonderful program Kroger has in place,” Allmendinger said. “You can go to www.sharingcourage.com and read stories of courage shared by Kroger associates and breast cancer survivors. It’s a great site to visit for support, awareness, research and prevention. We’re fortunate to be partnered with The Kroger Company because of all the wonderful things they do in the community.”
In addition to a pink car, JTG Daugherty Racing has invited Kroger associate Linda O’Connell to Talladega Superspeedway to share her inspirational story of being one-year cancer-free. Her story is humbling, one of triumph and one that is close to the hearts of JTG Daugherty Racing employees, who will display family member’s names on the No. 47 car that have battled or are battling breast cancer.
“I remember the first time Cancer Care called my home and I almost wanted to hang up the phone because it’s like you are in denial and you are like I don’t want to be a part of that,” said O’Connell, who had a bilateral mastectomy. “I fought it and my hardest hurdle was I didn’t want to be a statistic. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it because that wasn’t part of my life. Yeah, you are just devastated and you think this can’t be me. Then you go to these appointments and you hear it and then again you are really like ‘No, no, no.’ It’s not going to be anything major and I’ll be fine. I was the girl in denial. I had two lumps. You go through and you think what am I going to do. I had the surgery.”
When O’Connell began her journey, she was brave and scared all at the same time.
“I remember a quote that I read and it stayed with me, ‘It brings you to your knees, but then it brings you to your feet,’” O’Connell said. “I was really scared of having surgery and afraid I wasn’t going to wake up. There’s so many fragments. I had never even had a stitch in my lifetime even after my three daughters. I had never broken a bone and I’m 57. Even to be put under (for an eight-hour surgery), I was like what if I don’t ever wake up.”
O’Connell was fortunate a Kroger customer kept encouraging her to get checked out.
“There was a lady by the name of Marty that I had met at the grocery store that I was just helping as a customer and I didn’t know her from Adam,” O’Connell said. “Our paths kept crossing. She went to have a mammogram and asked if I had one recently and at that time I knew I had a lump. I had them before and I’m the personality type that’s like, ‘Oh it’s nothing.’ I don’t overact. I’m more nonchalant and I thought I’ll get to it. Then when I crossed her path a second time at the store and she asked me that again. It was something poking at me to get this taken care of. It took a while to get in, but when I had the appointment and an ultrasound, the doctor said, ‘I think it’s cancer.’”
Her husband and daughter’s little one on the way were driving forces for O’Connell’s motivation and inspiration.
“Thanks to Marty I got check out and my husband (John) was just a rock through it all,” O’Connell said. “We didn’t know anything. It’s like when you bring home a puppy and your like, ‘Oh my god what have I done.’ I came home and had three drain tubes on my chest, I was wrapped up like a pork tenderloin, I couldn’t get out of the car and then I couldn’t get out of a chair. You lose mobility of your arms. It’s just overwhelming.
“It was also close to a time when one of my daughters (Lauren) was having her first baby,” O’Connell continued. “Just the thought of Harper being born, I knew I just had to be here for her. I thought I can’t not be the grandmother. It gave me determination that ‘Yes, I’m going to go to therapy. We are going to learn to raise our arms and stretch and do what we need to do.’ Harper’s a year old now. Every time I see her, I think she was just that driving force to bring me along. She will always be my inspiration. I remember sitting there waiting for her to be born at the hospital that night knowing I was a month out from having surgery and not knowing what my outcome was going to be. I just gave it everything I could because I knew that this little girl was coming into the world and I was just going to be here for her and all of my grandchildren.”