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Breast Cancer Survivor

Leitha

My name is Leitha and I was 36 when I found a knot in my breast. It was huge, and the doctors kept asking me “how could you have not found this earlier?” I’m sure I had noticed it earlier but dismissed it as a swollen fibrous cyst because every breast exam I ever had I asked about lump and bumps in my breast and was told it was normal because I had fibrous cyst that would swell before my cycle. I also had a mammogram in 1997 that showed nothing, and to top off all of this, I had no history of cancer of any kind on my Mom’s side, and two cancers on my Dad’s side, lymphoma and my grandmother had lung cancer. Both were or had been heavy smokers and my Dad was not an “exercise & eat right” kind of man.

I found my lump while getting into the shower. I moved my left arm in a way that caused it to hurt. I mentioned it to my Mom, who mentioned to my sister, who mentioned it to everybody she ever met in her life. As you can imagine my sister came back to me full of information she had gathered. One of the tidbits she learned was “if it hurts, it’s not cancer.” I put off having it checked out for about a month or so, and then when I did go to the clinic the nurse practitioner assured me it felt like a cyst, but she scheduled a mammogram anyway. March 13, 2004, a month later, I’m sitting in a waiting room believing I will go in, have the pics taken, have a cyst drained and go home.

I was called, and as the tech and I walked she mentioned how young I was, asked about my family & medical history. My answers led her to assume (as everyone had) we would probably find a cyst. So for 20 minutes I was twisted and contorted, smushed and flattened, then told to get dressed and wait for the results.

The tech came in, followed by a doctor. This was about the time my heart jumped into my throat and started beating faster. The tech looked shaken as the doctor asked about my family & my medical history, then said “we need you to be here at 7:30 in the morning for a biopsy.” I mustered up the strength to say “okay”, and he left the room.

“Is this just a precautionary biopsy or does he really think I have cancer?” I asked. “Prepare yourself for the worst news and hope for the best.” she answered. I asked if the mammograms are often wrong and isn’t it likely it’s not cancer. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said “honey, it doesn’t look good.”

I got into the car, turned on the radio and the song “Something More” by Kristy Starling came on. The words were like a cool breeze that penetrated my whole body. I drove around Galveston, couldn’t tell you for how long. I finally got a motel room instead of driving four hours round trip to be back at the hospital by 7:30. I called my Mom, and of course she was dumbfounded as I was. I called my son, but got the answering machine (17-year-olds and their busy schedules). I went out, picked up something to eat and a bottle of wine. Me, myself and I had a pity party that night, the first of many.

The next day I got the core biopsy, went home and continued having pity parties until Friday when I was due back at the hospital for the results. The upcoming Friday, March 19, 2004 my son took the day off from school to go with me. They gave me a suite number, so I had to ask the information booth where it was. As we rounded the last quarter, we both stopped at sight of a bid sign that said “Radiation Oncology” and then looked at each other. I said “You know this isn’t going to be the news we had hoped for, don’t you?” He shook his head yes, put his arms around me, kissed the top of my head (he’s taller than me), took my hand in his as we walked through the doors. We ended up having to sit in the waiting room for quite a time, enough time for reality to sink in.

My son is a carbon copy of me in looks, personality and a twisted sense of humor. Were reading magazines, cutting up & laughing. People are looking at us like we’re crazy, but that doesn’t stop us. We were finally put into a room, where the goofy-ness continued until finally, a team of four doctors walked into the room. A hush fell on the room as Dr. Hatch sat at the desk I was sitting beside. She looked at me, as her eyes filled with tears she said “I don’t have good news for you. You have cancer”. I looked at my son sitting across the room who was looking at me as if he couldn’t move. Dr. Hatch asked if we needed a minute or two. I said no, we had pretty much expected this when they directed us to radiation oncology. My next question was “so what do we have to do”. She explained the procedures to me and set a date to get started. Surgery to remove the cancer & cancerous lymph nodes, a second surgery because they didn’t get it all (dirty margins), 12 weekly doses of taxol, 3 months of FAC and 6 weeks of radiation.

Weeks before I had my mammogram I found out that Bill, a friend from my childhood was working as the largest Christian radio station in the country (which happened to be in Houston). I emailed him a friendly note and by the time he was able to reply, I was knee deep in the process of getting me cancer free. Not only did I have the love and support of my Mom & Son, I was blessed with Bill who fell head over heals in love with me in spite of my cancer. They all pitched in and help me, doctored me, cleaned up after me (yuck, I know) but never a complaint. They’ve all driven me many times to and from appointments, a four hour round trip during the highest gas prices ever.

One thing I learned is, cancer had to be harder on those who love me than it was on me. I watched the looks on their faces every time I had a surgery (which was awful), every chemo treatment (which was worse), and radiation that had one square foot of my left side so raw I cried in pain almost constantly, and I’m not a crier. Actually, I am smiling, laughing and positive most of the time. I’m often asked “how can you be so happy all the time with all you’ve been through?” My answer is, I have a family who cares about, the most wonderful son, a man (Bill) who loves and adores me, and a God who has me in his healing hands. I’ve got more reasons to be happy than to be upset. A positive attitude goes a long way.

January 2005 was my last radiation treatment, was growing some hair, happy and in love and waiting to get a new baseline and be called cancer free. Life was looking up, I was gaining strength and looking forward to a beautiful spring. Less than months pass before my appointment with my chemo oncologist. He sets up a gyn appointment for me, A week later I get a call from the gyn doctor. I get light headed and sick to my stomach when she tells me “you have cancer again, we need you to come in tomorrow”. “Okay” I say, still in disbelief. I call Bill and say “I’ve got to go to the hospital tomorrow, I’ve got cancer again”. He was silent for a few second, probably trying to decided if I said what it sounded like I said. I told him it’s cervical cancer and that was all I really knew.

It’s been another year of fighting another cancer and I’m still in a lot of pain. Between Mar 2005 and Oct 2005, I literally almost died due to complications from the treatments. God didn’t take me out of this world so I’m guessing he’s still got work for me to do. The radiation on my lower abdomen, they think may be causing the tremendous pain I’m having in my back. I’ve had a CT scan & MRI in the last three weeks and am having another bone scan. We’re praying it’s not more cancer. All prayers are welcomed.

If you have cancer, keep your spirits up. I know that sounds cliché, but really, don’t stop laughing, don’t stop living, you can win this fight. Remember, and remind your family & friends that every day is a gift from God.

Bill, the love of my life bought me a wall plaque that reads:

WHAT CANCER CAN’T DO

It cannot cripple love

It cannot shatter hope

It cannot corrode faith

It cannot destroy peace

It cannot kill friendship

It cannot suppress memories

It cannot silence courage

It cannot invade the soul

It cannot steal eternal life

It cannot conquer the spirit

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