My story begins with a routine mammogram on July 6, 1999. I was 48 years old and thought I was in perfect health. I was always called back to have more films taken, due to a problem with small cysts. This year was the same as before. I went back to have more films done, but this time the radiologist came in to talk with me. She told me there was something showing that she did not like the looks of and she felt that I should see my primary care physician. The radiologist even tried to call my doctor, but it was lunch time and he wasn’t in the office.
I was so upset. I worked 20 miles away from my hometown, and I really didn’t know if I had the power of concentration to drive myself home. My daughter’s future mother-in-law worked in the radiology clinic. She sat with me, offered to call my husband or daughter so they could come for me and drive me home, but I did not want to have either of them learn that I might have a serious health problem in that manner. With her help I was able to pull myself together. I drove back to my workplace, called my doctor’s office and was told he did not have any appointments open that day. I’m usually a very passive person, but that day I asserted myself and insisted they work me in. I drove myself to the office, after I had a good cry. My doctor checked me and assured me he couldn’t feel anything, but he agreed with the radiologist that I should see a surgeon.
My appointment with the surgeon was pretty much a repeat of my other doctor visit. Dr. Tate (my surgeon) couldn’t feel anything either, so a needle biopsy was scheduled for the last week of July. Those were the two most miserable weeks of my life. I couldn’t eat, sleep or concentrate on anything. I knew in my heart that I would be diagnosed with cancer, I just didn’t know how bad it would be. My needle biopsy did show cancer cells, so surgery was suggested. My surgeon thought that a lumpectomy would be all that was necessary. He even assured me that I would not need chemo treatments. This was a life altering situation for me, so I requested that he set up an appointment with an oncologist.
My first visit to the oncologist was mind boggling. I had so much information given to me, but the main thing that stuck in my mind was I would have to have 4 chemo treatments and at least 25 radiation treatments, and I would lose my hair. But before any of this could be started I had to have all the other scans and ultrasounds to see if I had any cancer showing in my bones, brain, lungs or any other vital organs. Thanks be to God all these tests were negative.
My oncologist informed me that there was no hurry to do the surgery. I could take a cruise or an extended vacation if I wanted, but I felt that I needed to confront this head on and get on with the surgery and treatment plan. My chemo — Adriamycin & Cytoxan — would be taken every three weeks. I desperately wanted to be finished before Christmas. I did get them all in before Christmas, then started my radiation on January 2, 2000.
My surgery was scheduled for August 31st. Thirteen lymph nodes were removed from my right arm and all were negative. My tumor was estrogen receptive positive (I had been on hormone replacement therapy for 4 years) so that meant that I would be on tamoxifin for five years. I came through the surgery fine, drainage tubes were bummers, but you do what you have to do. I also have terrible hot flashes, but I take Bellamine which does help some. I also took some extensive physical therapy to help get my arm back in shape, since I am right-handed.
I started my chemo the first of October, this treatment was my worst. The anti-nausea medication caused a migraine, so I was so sick all night long. The next morning I was admitted to the hospital because I had gotten so dehydrated. By the end of October, I could sit on my front porch and watch my hair blow away in the breeze. My great nephew would have a birthday on October 30th and I did want to have my hair for that family gathering. I had told my husband that I wanted him to shave my head on Halloween. He had a really hard time doing that for me, but I convinced him that shaving my head was about the only thing in my life, at that time, that I had control over.
My husband was so supportive, he offered to shave his head, so we’d be a matching pair. Of course, I wouldn’t ask that of anyone. So after Halloween, my husband had a totally bald wife. I had a beautiful wig that I had ordered long before my treatments even began, but I hated it. It was so HOT… I only wore it to church. My daughter is a Mickey Mouse collector and she had lots of Mickey hats, so I usually wore a hat when I went out and wore a bandana around our home. I really had to be careful because if someone came to the door, I didn’t want to scare them away by opening the door without something covering my head. Without eyelashes and brows, you really are a little frightening.
The only good thing about chemo is that you don’t have to shave your legs… The cancer center where I took my treatments also furnished me with sleep caps made by volunteers. You don’t know how cold your body can get when you don’t have any hair to hold in your body heat.
I think a cancer diagnosis is really hard on the patient’s family. All my family were so protective of me.
My husband, daughter, mom, dad and sister were so good to me. I never had to worry about someone to take me for my treatments, if my husband was scheduled to work, my mom and dad were always there to drive me the 20 miles to the Gibbs Cancer Center. My husband took pictures of me without hair at Christmas time and even now he will cry if we look through those pictures. My mom cooked so many meals for us, even though I couldn’t eat much, she did keep my husband fed. I had offers to clean our home, buy our groceries and all the other things it takes to run a home. My employer was wonderful, they let me set up my office at home, so that I could work when I felt well enough. Many times I couldn’t sleep, so I’d work half the night and sleep during the day.
I now participate in Relay for Life in Cherokee County, South Carolina and the Susan Komen Walk. I have a family team and we do most of our fundraising by selling food. I have donut and hot dog sales all through the year. This year our team raised $3,500 which helped our county surpass it goal by $6,000. I’m passionate about Relay for Life because the research to develop tamoxifin was funded by the American Cancer Society. Many breast cancer survivors might not be here today if this medicine had not been developed.
I hope I will live to see a cure for this dreaded disease. I would never want anyone to have to go through what we’ve all been through. I thank God each and every day for his many blessings and for letting me see another beautiful sunrise or sunset, or to even be alive to look upon the faces of my loved ones. We all worry about a reoccurrence, but after a major health crisis like ours, I think we all appreciate what we have and revel in the second chance we have been given. I also believe we are stronger women after going through all the things we have had to do to save our lives.
Please pray for me and all other survivors of this dreaded disease. I hope my story can help to save one life by encouraging someone to go for their yearly mammogram or making an appointment with their doctor to check out a lump.
Medicare is not covering the cost of routine mammograms for senior ladies. Please write your congressman/woman to help get this coverage reinstated for senior women through Medicare…