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Breast Cancer Awareness

Around June of 2006 I went in for a mammogram. I had missed a couple mammograms, which was out of character because I had always told people “don’t miss your mammogram, you owe it to your family.” What prompted me to go in was that not only had I missed a few mammograms, but through a routine self-exam I found a lump. My gynecologist always told me to do them, and I said “I always find 100 lumps...” But he said “it is that 101st lump that we worry about, and you will know when you find it.”

I had a benign lump back in ’77 so I thought maybe this was just scar tissue, but I better mention it. When I went in, my family doctor found the same lump. He said he really didn’t think it would be anything, but he still wanted to expedite my mammogram. So I went in within the next couple of days and actually got the mammogram done. My doctor said that within two weeks I should hear results, and that I would probably get them before he did. Well, after two weeks I hadn’t heard anything, so I called his office. The nurse answered and said that they didn’t have the results either but that she would get the lab to fax it over to her.

I went in to meet with my doctor so he could evaluate my results. As I sat there, he came in the room and he was all jolly and “hey, how are you doing” and “let’s see what we got.” As he started shuffling through the papers I could see his countenance change and I thought “this can’t be good…” And then he said “well, there is something there, it’s probably nothing, but we need to check it out. You need to have an ultrasound.” I told him that I was going out of town for a week on business, and asked if I needed to cancel, but he didn’t seem too concerned and told me “no, because if it is anything we have caught it early, but get it done as soon as you get back.” I listened, and got my ultrasound. The result from that suggested that I get a biopsy, so [my husband] Tess and I went to the doctor all geared up for a biopsy. So we get there and the surgeon came in talking about a lumpectomy. He said he wasn’t comfortable with a biopsy because I have a history of fibroid cystic disease. He said he was afraid that he would get some of that tissue and we might have to wait too long to take a chunk out of the cancer. I think he knew what was best and I trusted his decision. I told Tess that he should ask the doctor what he thinks after the lumpectomy because I will be asleep and I thought the surgeon would have a pretty good idea what it was after taking it out… Of course Tess asked him but the surgeon said “well, we better wait for the results to come back.” So that was kind of the first red flag. The surgeon and I ended up playing phone tag that Wednesday, and he informed me that he was going out of town but that he gave his assistant permission to tell me what I need to know. So I talked to her on the phone, she said “you know what, I think your doctor is almost through and should call you back.” So Tess and I looked at each other, and we knew what was coming.

We thought we were geared up to hear what we had already decided the news would be… But when the doctor called back, he said “I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that it is cancer.” Hearing that word is like getting kicked in the stomach. It is like cold water being poured over you. “But the good news is we got it all, everything around it is clear.” So I took a deep breath and said “ok, what do we do next?” He told me that we are going to do a sentinel node biopsy where we will go in and put dye in the incision and massage it so the dye will hit the first lymph node, and if it’s clear we know 99% sure the cancer didn’t go anywhere else. During that time people were saying “it’s going to be ok, it’s going to be ok.” I said “I know it is. I know what I want, I want to grow old, my daughter is pregnant with her second child, I know I want to spend time with my family, and I know that God sees the big picture.” He knows what He is doing. If I didn’t believe that, I had nothing to hang on to. If I got bent out of shape, that essentially would have been me saying that God can take care of everyone else but He can’t take care of me. So after that we got the results back and the nurse was happy to share that with me. The lymph nodes were clear and in October we started 33 treatments of radiation. We went every day for 5 days a week, and I still worked every day. Tess would pick me up, we’d go, and I would usually sleep on the way back.

Other than a diagnosis of no cancer, I had the best diagnosis I could have. It was early detection, stage 1, and they got it all. By the time I knew I had cancer it was completely gone. But I’m not minimizing the fact that there were times that I was scared to death. There are times that I’m still scared to death, but I am always thankful for early detection and taking action because so many women think that if they ignore what they felt it will go away. You owe it to yourself and to your family to do something about it. As of today, I have lived 9 years cancer free.

My sister also had breast cancer four years before I did. Her results were really bad, she had to have a mastectomy. She is now a 13 year survivor. We say that we are in a club that we don’t want anyone else to be in, but if you are in that club you have a sisterhood that connects you with other women on a completely different level.

-Barb Lipps, Breast Cancer Survivor

"I was teaching second grade, and we were out on Christmas break. I was doing my routine self-exam, and found a small lump. This was in Dec. of 2007. It was small, but it felt different to me. I tried to put it out of my mind during the holidays but it just kept bothering me to think about. In Jan. it was still there in the exact same spot, so the next month I called my gynecologist and told her that I found a lump. The first thing she did was schedule a mammogram. I wasn’t due for the mammogram for another 2 months, and my past mammogram was clear. She assured me it was probably nothing, so I didn’t worry. The afternoon I went in and got my mammogram, they sent me into the waiting room after the screening. Shortly after, they called me back from the waiting room for an ultrasound, which to me was strange because I had never gotten one before... When I went back, the tech made a comment during the exam like “this looks very busy...” and then got up and walked out. At this point I felt as if something wasn’t right. When she returned, she explained that something appeared on the ultrasound and they would have to do a core biopsy to determine what it is. By the time I got done with the biopsy and back to my mom in the waiting room, the nurse came out and told me to go home and relax. She said that the results would be in Monday. That very Monday afternoon my gynecologist called to inform me that I had breast cancer.

At that point I felt like every breath I had was knocked out of me. My husband and I were together and we couldn’t help but break down and cry. I acknowledged immediately that I would do whatever I had to get rid of this. Subsequently, I was set up for every exam you could imagine. Based on the results of my exams, the doctor scheduled me to go in for a lumpectomy. I felt as though, before going any further, I needed a second opinion since this happened so quick- me finding a lump in less than a year and it being cancerous. My cousin was a doctor at UK, so she referred me to the team there and orchestrated them taking a second look. When I went to have this new team of doctors take a look at my images, they were not satisfied with what they saw. That resulted in them scheduling a few more tests. The results of those tests brought to light another spot located in the same breast. After that finding, they pretty much ruled out a lumpectomy and moved to a mastectomy. That was fine with me, really. I just wanted to get rid of the cancer. I even said, “Take them both!” But there was no reason for them to remove my other breast. Before going through surgery, my doctor questioned if I had any family history of breast cancer, and I informed him that I did not. He went on to say that having the cancer that I did at 43 was a fairly young age to not have any history.

A few weeks after surgery I started chemotherapy. After my first three weeks, my hair came out. I told myself from the beginning that I wouldn’t let it bother me, however when it came out I was pretty upset. The advantage, I found, was not having to wake up and do my hair. I could just throw a wig on and walk out the door. After finishing chemotherapy, I started work again with a new job. It took five or six months before I really felt like myself, and my hair started to really grow back.

After reflecting on this period in my life I learned what was truly important to me, especially going through breast cancer. Throughout the entire diagnosis, surgery and treatment, I had wonderful support from my husband, son, mother, friends, and complete strangers… There were a lot of open ears and shoulders to cry on. I think every church from here to Timbuctoo sent their prayers, support, and faith. For that I could not be more thankful to God. My own prayer and faith in God could not have been stronger as He led me through everything. Everything I have today is thanks to Him.

Early detection was an absolute blessing for me. The best advice I can give to women is that they should do self-exams every month, and be aware of what their body feels like. You know your body more than anyone else, so be aware of changes and don’t be afraid to schedule your mammogram.

After five years of doctors’ visits, I have been moved to the ‘survivor’s list’ and will now be seeing a nurse practitioner in the survivor’s clinic."

- Nadine Couch, Breast Cancer Survivor

“When you’re 40 you think that’s a really young age to be diagnosed, so naturally I was really scared. Luckily I had a good doctor and knew that no matter what the Lord was going to take care of me. I ended up having a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. A few weeks after chemo, my hair fell out. At first it was kind of devastating, you know, because girls love their hair… But after 10 minutes I was over it. I just put a hat on my head- it didn’t bother me. I honestly didn’t feel well enough to wash and curl and fix my hair anyway.

Throughout my diagnosis and treatment I had a lot of support from my husband, children, and church family. But most importantly the Lord was on my side and He have me strength and carried me through this.

I think one of the most important things a woman can do is a self-examination. It is a scary thing if you do find a lump, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have cancer. There are a lot of things that it can be. It is important to take care of it and not wait to see what happens or be too scared to see what happens. Do a self-exam every month, and if you find something that maybe doesn’t feel right or has grown, just have it checked out. That doesn’t mean that its cancer, but if it is, it is always good to catch it in the early stages.”

-Carol Bolin, breast cancer survivor