by Mary Lou
First of all I would like to say that I had always had my Mammograms, my Paps..everything by the book. I was 40 years old at the time I first encountered my problem that would lead to many more.
My journey with Breast Cancer started like any other day, it was a beautiful day in October of 1986. I had a hectic work schedule and worked hard outside that weekend raking leaves and preparing my flower for the long Illinois winter that lay ahead. At the end of the day I felt like so much had been accomplished and I drag myself upstairs for my shower and settle in for the evening. But the shock I received when I undressed for that shower is one that I will never forget. When I took my clothing off to shower I found blood in my bra...I was so frightened and confused and here it was a weekend and I had to wait until Monday morning to call my family Doctor.
I thought Monday would never come, I called as soon as my Doctor came in, he took my call and directed me to a surgeon, he knew that was where I would need to go, he got me in that same day. The Surgeon reviewed all of my past records, and scheduled me for surgery right away. He found that the bleeding was coming from my milk gland, it was not a “full scale Cancer” at the time they did the Lumpectomy, it was Severe Atypical was the description on the Pathology report, he felt that the Lumpectomy would fix the problem. It was a very deep and difficult surgery; remember that many years ago it was much more evasive. I went home thinking it was over, but it was just beginning.
Exactly one month later I started bleeding again, I was so frightened when it happened again. This time my surgeon sent me to a Chicago hospital and I had more surgery ... taking more of the breast. I did not feel comfortable and was so frightened that they were just following protocol and guessing at what point this would turn, I felt they were thinking Liability Insurance and covering their butts and I was so afraid that they would guess wrong. I came out of surgery the 2nd time wrapped like a mummy, not knowing what they had even done. Rush is a teaching hospital and everyone that came around would tell me I would have to ask my Doctor, this continued all day. I finally found out that they found the same thing with the milk gland being ate into and described it as a Severe Atypical Cell. For the next few months I saw the surgeon almost monthly having repeated mammograms and biopsies. In Sept of 1987 when I had my (almost monthly) mammogram, they kept asking me to come back in for more views and sent me upstairs to my surgeon. He told me I needed a Double Mastectomy and he scheduled it in 10 days. I remember leaving his office feeling numb, that was before cell phones were so widely used, I wondered how I would tell Milton, my Husband and my Children, my Mom, my 6 Sisters, my coworkers, family and friends … my mind was spinning. I thought I wanted to be strong when I told Milt, I didn’t want to cry. I stopped in the lobby of the clinic and called him, I thought I would be stronger on the phone than I would face to face … but I wasn’t strong, the fear came out. But he assured me that it would not change his Love for me and was so supportive of me and he still is!
I recall the calls to my children and family, trying to stay strong but being scared to death. We were so far from home and Milt was alone during my long surgery and that bothered me, I just wanted it over with so I could open my eyes and see him again. The Plastic Surgeon came in as soon as the Surgeon finished to put the expanders in to start my reconstruction. I came out of surgery feeling like a “time bomb” had been removed from me.
Milt got me pillows and made me a comfy bed in the back seat of the car and we returned home. I did wonderful, my Sister lived in the same town and came to stay with me and I know that it was hard on her and it was hard for me when I saw her and her girls that first day. I knew I had to be strong for so many people. I had a very positive attitude and I got through all of my reconstruction surgery with flying colors. But after facing something of that magnitude Milt and I decided that life and quality of life was more important than our careers. We wrote out resignations, scouted the country for our new home.
We ended up moving to Lake Cumberland KY, Somerset was home the day we first set eyes on it, we bought our home in October 1987, one month after my mastectomy. We have never regretted that decision. Immediately after moving here I got involved with the American Cancer Society and that was exactly what I needed to heal, to me it was a huge part of my recovery. I met so many people that became like family to us, I served on the Board of Directors for 10 years, as President for 3 terms. I became a Community Activist for ACS and obtaining Ambulance Service for our Lake Locked Community and Chairman of the Ambulance District for 16 years.
After 5 years I had problems with my implants and had to have them removed, I was named Hero for Hope for 2012-13 by the ACS for the South Eastern Division, an honor beyond word for me. I am a trained Reach to Recovery Volunteer with the ACS. My goal is to help families going through this as we that have been there can be a source of strength and inspiration to those that have yet to travel down that road.
I have never felt anger for what has happened as I feel I have had the chance to grow and experience things in a different light than if I had not traveled this journey. I also have had the most supportive husband and he is behind me in all I do, encouraging me all the way. I also feel my faith in God is so much stronger. I hope to be able to reach many more ladies in years to come and each day is a gift.