BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the wife of a UAB assistant football coach is opening up about her battle against breast cancer.

Lexie Appleby, 28, has a long history with the game of football as a college and NFL cheerleader; It even brought Appleby to her husband, Austin Appleby.

Lexie said it was an act of God that the game played a role in not only advancing her husband’s coaching career, but in saving her life.

In June 2022, just before her wedding, Lexie noticed a lump in her breast after a self-examination.

Breast cancer runs in her family, and she has dealt with non-cancerous tumors in her breasts for years. Self-exams are routine for her, but after noticing the lump’s unusual growth, Lexie said she prepared herself for the worst.

Lexie was officially diagnosed with stage 1B breast cancer in December 2022, right around the time her husband got the call from UAB head coach Trent Dilfer to join their staff.

According to the CDC, Lexie is among the 9 percent of breast cancer patients diagnosed under the age of 45.

Typically, mammograms are not recommended until the age of 40. So, the self-exam she conducted was crucial for her early diagnosis.

“Having had that recognition of what normal looked like for me, helped me to be able to determine when there was something wrong,” said Lexie. “And that was something that I faced for years in my own health having had fibroadenomas younger and earlier on. These are all things I was able to catch on my own during my self-examinations that I could then bring to my doctor.”

From that point, Lexie said she was able to determine with her doctor what the best steps were for a treatment plan moving forward.

After getting a mastectomy, Lexie and her husband made the cross-country move to Birmingham where she underwent lifesaving treatment – 25 total radiation treatments in 5 weeks at Hazelrig-Salter Radiation Oncology Center at UAB.

According to the university, their O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of the nation’s leading cancer research and treatment centers. They treat about 5,000 new patients a year.

Lexie said it was eye opening to go through treatment with other cancer patients, many who told her she was too young to be there. It showed her cancer does not discriminate.

“It doesn’t matter what your upbringing was,” said Lexie. “It doesn’t matter your age. It doesn’t matter. You could also be doing everything textbook the right way and, at the end of the day, cancer is still something that could be on the table.”

Instead of letting devastation and fear from the diagnosis get the best of her, Lexie said fight mode kicked in and she took on the journey to remission with her husband and the UAB football team supporting her every step of the way.

She hopes her story inspires others to use their voice and take action in their own health. 

“Look out for yourself,” said Lexie. “Look out for your body. Look out for whatever it is that you need to be a spokesperson for yourself on. Pay attention to those warning signs, and rather than be alarmed by those, be empowered to move forward into the next best step to care for your health.”

For the next 5 years, Lexie said she will be in a maintenance phase of treatment. If there is no sign of cancer or cancer cells after that time, she will officially be declared cancer free.