In the year 2000, at the beginning of a new century, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had skipped a routinely scheduled mammogram because I was "busy". But I think that was a blessing in disguise. I found a lump..it felt hard, but I really couldn't tell what had changed in my breast, if anything. At any rate, I called Dr. Stallings and was referred for a mammogram - it had been 18 months since my last one.
The wonderful mammographers and medical staff at the Women's Diagnostic Center at St. Bernards found my tumor. They called me back to discuss what they had seen on my films and allowed me to look at that spidery white mass. One week later, I was back at St. Bernards for a punch biopsy that was sent to pathology. As I have said before, it is wonderful when your father is a pathologist...helps to get lab results fast.
I had gone on about my life as usual, trying to ignore the obvious, and came home from work a little late one day to find my husband's car already parked in the driveway. My wonderful husband was the one who gave me my diagnosis. He said, "Well, you didn't good news." Then he let me cry. This is hard for us because we both love to laugh. I will forever appreciate the fact that Mike let me react. My entire family gave me this privilege. No false assurances...just support for whatever I needed to say or do.
What followed was a whirlwind of visiting doctors and discussing options. This is something they do not make clear in the rule book...you have options and "they" will leave the choice in your hands. Frankly, I didn't want to make the choice. Luckily, Mike and I found a breast oncologist in Little Rock who was doing sentinel node biopsies. This technology was lymph node sparing and not available in Jonesboro at the time. I underwent a lumpectomy and then visited with Dr. Caroll Scroggin, a beloved friend and fellow Episcopalian. He directed my chemotherapy which was followed by radiation at St. Bernards as prescribed by Dr. John Lynch. I continue to see Dr. Scroggin and have followed his prescribed regimen for Tamoxifen and Aromasin. Come next February, I will be able to stop all medications. Oddly, I think I am going to miss the reassurance of those little white pills.
Every year of my survivorship is celebrated during the Race for the Cure. There are times I have not walked, my daughter got married one year in October, and a grandson was born in another...but I am always at the Race at least in spirit. I am grateful for the family and friends who have shared the Race with me. I am also grateful for the support that St. Bernard's and its breast care team offers all women like me in the community. Breast diagnosis, treatment and support have come a long way and St. Bernard's has made the difference in Northeast Arkansas.
With the loving support of family, friends, doctors, nurses and radiation technologists -- life not only goes on, it gets better.
When I had breast cancer I learned to appreciate the following things:
- My husband's hair will never grow back and mine did.
- When your father is a pathologist you will get your lab reports back much faster.
- When your mother is really a nurse at heart she will take care of you even when you are vomiting.
- Your best friends at work become your counselors. Nurses will let you talk and talk and talk because they are trained to listen and to care.
- Your children will not really tell you that they are worried but they will do things that say they are like leaving one college to come home and be nearby or taking you to the Bobbie Brown make-up counter in Dallas to get you some eyebrows.
- Your brothers and sisters and nieces will help you to laugh and be normal. They will complement you on the beauty of your bald head.
- When people in your church ask you "How are you doing?" they really mean it.
- Time is precious, even the Delta farm country is beautiful, work is vital, and most importantly, people are God's gift to a person undergoing cancer treatment.