Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 8, 2001

The story of an eight-year breast cancer survivor


October is breast cancer awareness month, and I would like to take this opportunity to make you aware. I realize this is an extremely personal subject, but it's necessary to talk about.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer death rates in women between the ages of 20 and 69 have declined by 25 percent since 1990. This is great news for people, like me, who have a family history.

You will find very few people that do not get weak in the knees when thinking that it could happen to them. Cancer is scary, and for good reason, since we all know someone who has died from it.

My own mother, at the age of 52, went to the doctor because of an unusual mole on her breast. While there, her doctor suggested that she schedule a mammogram.

She received her mammogram, and waited for the results.

Her results came back, but it wasn't the results she expected or hoped for. She was told that she had cancer.

Breast cancer.

She was surprised, especially since she hadn't noticed anything unusual aside from the mole, and didn't know of a single woman in her family that had breast cancer.

She was given two options: she could have a mastectomy and remove the breast that contained the cancer, or she could have a lumpectomy, which removes the cancer and leaves as much tissue as possible.

Her doctor further explained her options, and she decided to go for a mastectomy, and went through the surgery to completely remove one of her breasts.

Her experience was less emotional right then than one would think. At the time, the cosmetic aspect paled in comparison to dying.

No one likes to lose a body part, but we as women have been taught from childhood that breasts are an important part of womanhood.

The cosmetic aspect wasn't much of a consideration in helping to making her decision. However, there was a weight distribution issue (do I really need to expand on this?) and also the fact that with a lumpectomy, there is the possibility of not removing all of the cancer.

By opting to have the breast removed, she eliminated the possibility of the cancer returning.

To this day, she feels so fortunate that her doctor suggested she have a mammogram. She may not have had one had he not.

This is how I understand breast cancer it to work: breast cancer is confined to the breast tissue. What can happen, though, because the breast tissue is so close to the lymph nodes under the arm, the cancer can spread to the lymph nodes.

The lymph nodes are kind of a path through the entire body. Once cancer is found in the lymph nodes, it is more difficult to treat, and usually requires radiation and/or chemotherapy.

The lucky ones, like my mom, are fortunate enough to have caught the cancer before it spread. This is a good thing, because she and I went around and around about chemo and radiation.

She insisted upon not receiving it, because she felt that if God called her, it was her time to go. I can respect that to some degree, but I wasn't willing to lose my mother and friend so early in life if there was a possiblity of treatment.

The decision was, ultimately, hers and hers alone, as much as I blatantly tried to influence her.

She is a stubborn woman, which proved to be a good thing, because that cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes, and she did not require chemo and radiation.

I say this hoping that I am accurate, because she did say to me once that I will never know for sure if she really needed the chemo and radiation. I don't know if that means that her doctor recommended it and she refused, or if she is reminding me that it was her body to decide about.

She has a theory as to why she ended up with breast cancer, although her oncologist says there is no proof attached to it. About two years prior to being diagnosed, she was involved in a bad car accident, with a lot of blunt trauma to the body.

Shortly after the accident, she noticed a golf ball-size lump in one breast.

They did a mammogram and found no cancer, just a bruise from the trauma. The odd part of it was that the breast cancer, two years later, was found the exact same spot as the lump/bruise had been.

Her theory is that the trauma from the accident weakened her body in that spot, allowing the cancer to move in. One never knows.

As it turned out, she has been cancer-free for eight years. On one of her anniversaries from being cancer-free, we even made her a cake that said "No more cancer."

That was reason to celebrate.

The scariest part of it all had to be the period of time between her diagnosis until she had her surgery, which was three long weeks. Once the biopsy came back negative on her lymph nodes, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

I can honestly say one thing, though. I was as scared as I have ever been in my life. My mom has always been an important part of my life and the prospect of losing her was terrifying.

Cancer is a family affair. She had to feel the physical and emotional tolls all too well. We had it much easier, and only had to feel the emotional aspect of it.

My mom celebrated her 60th birthday Aug. 26 of this year, and it's hard to imagine that there was a three week time period where we didn't know if we were going to have to give her up.

She is healthy today, thank goodness, and expects to remain cancer-free for the rest of her life, which I hope to be a long, long time.

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