Hardin used to be one of those women who didn't check herself for lumps or get mammograms. She said there were no cases of breast cancer in her family, and she didn't think she'd get cancer.
Then, one night her youngest son was playing with Play-Doh on the floor, begging her to play with him.
Hardin said she remembers being tired and busy that evening, but finally agreed to play with him for a few minutes. While the two were playing, Hardin got hit in breast with Play-Doh. She said it hurt more than she thought it should have, and after a couple days of continuous pain, she went to the Boyle County Health Department.
Vikki Vernon, nursing supervisor at the Boyle County Health Department, recommended Hardin get a mammogram.
Vernon said the health department recommends yearly mammograms for any woman 40 and older.
A mammogram and biopsy later, Hardin's doctor confirmed what she had already suspected — that she had cancer.
"The worse thing for me was losing my hair," Hardin said.
Hardin had always had long hair, and she said she would wake up in the morning with hair on her pillow, or see hair fall on the floor behind her.
"It was pretty devastating," she said.
Her brother got her a wig, which helped get normalcy back in her life. The wig was made of human hair, and Hardin said she was able to wash and style it just like she had done with her own hair.
"It's nothing to lose my hair to save my life," she said she remembers thinking.
Hardin said she decided early to have a positive attitude and get on the road to recovery. The mother of two children, now 19 and 14 years old, Hardin said she needed to remain strong for her sons.
Her sons never saw her without her wig, and Hardin said she tried not to let them see her when she was weak. She still made it to most of their activities, including a skateboard competition in Louisville the same day she had chemotherapy — even though it meant being extremely sick the next day.
Dealing with the pain
Hardin said she doesn't know if her children know what she went through. She said her son Brandon, who was about 9 at the time, asked her if she was going to die. Hardin said she told him that she hoped not, and that doctors caught it early.
"In my heart, I felt like I was going to be OK," she said.
Even though Hardin put up a strong front to her family and friends, she said there were times when she would lay in her bed at night and cry.
She said she would think about how she might never see her family again.
"You do worry," she said.
Hardin said she talked to other breast cancer survivors — women who had been where she was and could offer her support, understanding and answer any questions she had.
"You start feeling better and better," she said.
Why self-exams are important
Vernon said it's important for women to get mammograms and do self breast exams for the very reason that Hardin mentioned — women think they're "safe" from breast cancer when they aren't. Regular checks will allow for earlier detection and an increased survival rate.
For women who have mothers who were diagnosed with breast cancer, Vernon said it's important for them to get regular mammograms starting 10 years before the age their mother was when she was diagnosed.
A women's health fair will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Boyle County Health Department. The fair is sponsored by the health department, the Brenda Cowan Foundation and the Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center.
The fair is open to any woman, and Vernon said women who are interested in getting a mammogram or pap smear should call in advance to make appointments. Other services also will be available, such as checking cholesterol and blood glucose.
Monthly self-breast exams are important. Hardin said she recommends that young women get familiar with their bodies so that if something is different, they can notice it. Early detection is what saved Hardin, and she said it's the difference between life and death.
Now, almost four years cancer-free, Hardin said breast cancer taught her not to take things for granted. She said she looks at the world differently and is committed to helping educate women on the importance of early detection.
Hardin said that if someone had talked to her about self breast exams, she might have listened — she just never knew she was at risk.
"If you can help someone, you need to help," she said.