Heartland Cancer Foundation Patient Spotlight:
I am blessed to be living because I have plenty of my friends that are not. From my former student to a colleague and others, and that’s hard.
In June of 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I self-diagnosed that in March, but I thought it was scar tissue from a breast reduction. I left it at that and had my annual.
The PA at the office said, “have you felt this lump before in your right breast?”
“Well, yeah but I think it’s just scar tissue.”
She asked if I had a mammogram scheduled, which I had for later that day.
After the mammogram they scheduled a biopsy. I started to get nervous. I did the biopsy. And sure enough, at 2:07 in the afternoon they called me and said, “your test came back, you have breast cancer, the doctor would like to see you tomorrow morning.”
I called back to get more details about the appointment and the nurse asked me if I had someone to bring with me, and how I was doing. You know—and I’ve always been single—so I’m standing there at home saying a lot of expletives. I’m thinking that I can’t be here by myself. I hop in my car and drive over to a good friend of mine, she was unloading her car in her garage.
She said, “Charm, what are you doing here—what’s wrong?”
I go, “I have breast cancer.”
Then of course, her expletives. She said we should get a bottle of wine and sit on the patio. I said OK. She was about to leave to go out of town with her husband to Indiana, but then he came home, and we grilled, and they didn’t get going until later. I was so thankful for friends.
I started treatment, and I was teaching school at the time. I’m a shop teacher. So that’s a physical kind of thing. I wondered how it would all work.
The surgery was explained to me, I brought my sister and cousin. The doctor could tell that I am a doer and that I don’t like to be down. He thought I would be OK with a lumpectomy, but he said it was my decision. He explained that if I had the mastectomy it would take me a while and I would have drainage tubes and I was like, well that’s not any fun. I chose the lumpectomy so I could do it and be back to work.
After I healed, we decided I would go into a clinical trial. Because I thought, if I have this disease, I might as well help somebody. Well then, whatever one I landed on, my body didn’t like it. I almost lost my life on that drug. And I understand that we were trying it out, to see if it would work. But it knocked me out, then they got me back. I guess it wasn’t my time.
I gave into having a port which I had feared. And that was a piece of cake. I got what I jokingly call the “red devil cocktail” and got along fine.
My Principle at North Star, where I worked at the time, asked me how much sick-leave I had left. I told her I had a ton. “Good," she said, "I want you to take the month of December off.”
She had to push me to do it-she wanted me back in the shoot in January. I thanked her because I was needing to be told to take a break.
That year, on Christmas Eve, I really felt horrible. My temp was 101. My friend reminded me to call the office. They told me to go the emergency room. My friend came over to take me—it was snowy and cold, and I felt like there was an elephant on my chest. I told the nurses that I appreciated them being there on Christmas Eve. My friend and I rang in Christmas—Santa did not show up. I ended up having an infection, the hospital doctor gave me the choice of staying or going home. I chose home.
My friend sat with me for two hours, rubbing my back. It was just soothing. I really thought that was my last hurrah. But I told my friend after a while that I thought I was going to be OK. You know, when my friend tells the story it’s all about her jumping over the big snow drifts in the driveway—she’s really, funny. She’s a great friend.
After that I started radiation. I got my first “tattoos”, so they can line it all up. I think it’s cool, since I’m a shop teacher, the “x, y, and z”. I did that for thirty-three days. I got done with that and went through two years of maintenance, then I was floating along for a while, for a couple of years.
On what would have been my last oncology appointment, I talked about having low energy. My doctor scheduled a PET scan that showed a little activity going on in my lower abdomen. I had decided to go to Norway as a retirement gift to myself, and he said fine. Though, I felt like I was losing energy and stamina. I also had all these weird blisters on my hands. I thought it was a chemical burn from something I touched from work—now I work part time at the hardware store. We did a biopsy that showed either blood cancer or skin cancer.
I now have follicular lymphoma, but it is treatable. I told my doctor that I was thankful for him saving my life the first time, but that I was sorry to be back at it—he would have been able to get rid of me! He joked that next time instead of the bottle of red wine I got him, I can get him whiskey. I got a kick out that.
I did treatment and now I’m on the maintenance plan, immune therapy. Every month now I have that, and a blood cleaner every other month- until June of next year.
I’ve learned that it’s important to give back and help people going through this stuff. I always did the Relay for Life, and I liked participating in that. But then my doctor told me about Heartland Cancer Foundation, and how money raised stays local. My friend and I talked about it too, since she does a lot of giving back. And you know, it’s not always about money—but I did call a national cancer group recently for help and they said they couldn’t help me- and I thought that was weird. So, that’s another reason I support the Foundation.
And I just have to say thank God for friends. Recently my friend asked me if I had heard of the Norwegian Warrior woman, and I’m Norwegian, but I hadn’t. So, she brought me a little statue. I posted it on Facebook and got four hundred comments. What a blessing. I’ve got this army behind me and I’ve got my dear God up there, and my family. It’s a damn battle every day, and I’ve got a new normal to adjust to—I hate being tired—I’m a doer. But I’m alive. I’m blessed to be alive at sixty-six.