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My name is Sheila Taylor-Clark. I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, and friend. I am also a breast cancer survivor. Twice. My first diagnosis was somewhat of a blur. In 2005, I was still reeling from losing my beautiful, vibrant mother-in-law to breast cancer in February of 2004. She was 46 years old.
When I received my own diagnosis in May of 2005, the day before my 3rd wedding anniversary, I was stunned, scared, and angry. I remember getting the call with the results of my tests. The doctor said "unfortunately...." and nothing good ever comes after unfortunately. I then heard a bunch of words that didn't make sense and I couldn't connect the dots. Cancer. Staging. Lumpectomy. Mastectomy. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Surgery. I would later have to call back once I could listen coherently.
My husband took the news badly. I honestly thought about not telling him because he was still grieving the loss of his mother. I reassured him I would be just fine, but the truth is I wasn't sure, and I was afraid. Our only personal exposure to this dreaded disease had ended in death. Why would my battle be any different?
Fast forward through a lumpectomy (two since the first one didn't leave me with clear margins), removal of several lymph nodes, 8 weeks of daily radiation and a couple of years on Tamoxifen, I was doing well. So well, I'd had a baby (2009). McKenzie was a preemie, born 10 weeks early and at 2 lbs and 9 oz but was healthy otherwise (thank GOD). I had turned my test into a testimony, joining the Board of Directors for The Bridge Breast Network in 2006 and got actively involved in Susan G. Komen's Race for The Cure. I'd also participated in the nationally televised Circle of Promise/TVONE special "Breast Cancer Revealed" documentary.
In May of 2013, I started feeling like my breast cancer had returned. I was led to ask my doctor to refer me for a mammogram. That self-diagnosis was confirmed June 1, 2013. I was on my way to the NABA National Convention (I was actively serving on the National Board of Directors as Treasurer and CFO) in Nashville. I was waiting at the shuttle parking center, to be picked up and dropped off at my gate when I got the call. I'd missed the call on Friday and this was Monday. I knew it was not going to be good news because no message was left on that Friday.
The nurse began "I wish I had better news...." I knew the drill, since this was the second time. I wasn't shocked this time because I believed in my heart that my breast cancer had reoccurred. I called my husband, and then I did something really shocking. I only told a few people in Nashville and operated 'business as usual' for that week, even giving the invocation at the closing gala.
In the Nashville airport on my way back to Dallas, I posted that I was headed into my second battle with breast cancer on my Facebook page. And then it became real. I broke down. In the airport.
I met with the surgeon shortly after arriving home to Dallas and was told that the cancer was small (almost the same size as the first time) so I breathed a sigh of relief. I met with the oncologist (my same one from before) who advised that chemo would not be likely given the size unless it was discovered that the cancer was much larger during surgery.
My surgeon talked to me about another lumpectomy, but I was ready for a mastectomy. The same breast was trying to kill me again, and it was time for it to go. My surgeon seemed relieved when I asked for a mastectomy, and then I told her I wanted both breasts gone because I did not want to be in this position again 8 years later for the other breast.
My mastectomy went well, and my expanders were placed as a part of my reconstruction on the same day. I recovered well and was told I could go home 2 days after surgery.
The day I was to be released, my surgeon came by and gave me the news - my cancer was actually 13 cms and not the 2 cm that was thought. It was mucusy and from end to end in the breast. I was so blessed to have made the decision to remove both breasts.
Of course, this brought up the issue of chemotherapy which frightened me to death. I had seen the effects on my mother-in-law and was not looking forward to it as a part of treatment. My surgeon would later give me a series of tests - the BRCA test (for the breast cancer gene - I was negative), the Oncotype test (to see if chemotherapy would be helpful since I was still considered early stage - no lymph node involvement praise GOD) and the Mammaprint (since my intermediate risk results from the Onco test led me to say no to chemo). I thank GOD for such a good surgeon who wanted to make sure I could sleep at night with my decision NOT to have chemo. My Mammaprint came back with a high risk result which meant without chemo, I'd have a 29% risk of my breast cancer returning within 5-10 years somewhere 'distant' (brain, bones, etc.). I chose to lower that risk to 10% by accepting chemotherapy.
I did six rounds of chemo - TAC (taxotere, adriamycin, and cyclophosphamide). My oncologist wanted to be pretty aggressive, but I was able to have a 21 day cycle, giving my body some time to recover. Chemo was HARD, especially the first one (being a vegetarian and not being able to eat raw fruits and veggies took a toll on me along with the diarrhea, constipation and dehydration). Losing my hair was hard. I had gone natural a year or so prior and my hair was so thick and long. It was gone before my second chemo.
Another thing that made chemo so hard was having to go through it with a 4 year old. It is hard for children that age to understand a parent being sick and not being able to do those things they used to do. I had to struggle on many days to try to bring a sense of normalcy to my baby's life by doing things I was really unable to do. I did have a lot of support from my friends from all over - from meal trains, to watching McKenzie, to gifts, cards, money. It was so overwhelming to be loved and thought of in such a way. I will never forget their generosity, kindness and prayers. I found myself feeling sad for those who have to go through such a battle alone or without the support I received.
I completed chemotherapy December 26, 2013 after 3 1/2 months of low blood counts, neuropathy and other side effects. I am feeling pretty good these days, but still have two reconstruction surgeries to complete. I ended up with 'radiation recall dermatitis' from the chemo, and it caused my breast to become darkened, cracked, scabby and oozy. Once it clears up, I can begin my reconstruction process again.
I am really blessed to be alive after going two rounds with breast cancer. I have learned to listen to GOD when it comes to your health. If you feel something isn't right, it probably isn't. Be proactive instead of reactive. I have also learned to live life to the fullest, because when it is over...it's over. No regrets.
Thank GOD my story isn’t over. My latest chapter will be my GREATEST chapter! Spending more quality time with my family (my husband Nate and my daughter)……treasuring my friendships….traveling…..and making memories. I am also going to write that book. I hope my story will inspire someone – I’ve been struggling all my life from being given up for adoption by my birth mother…to my adoptive mother dying when I was 6….to living in an abusive foster care situation….to this second bout with cancer. But, I’m still here. By the grace of GOD, I’m here. SURVIVOR. That’s me.
My name is Meg Miller. My mom was my best friend, and we lost her in late 2011 after her breast cancer recurred. A little over a year later, my gynecologist sent me for my very first mammogram. I was 35. There were some "abnormalities" on the mammogram, so they called me back for another one. On that second visit, I had another mammogram followed by an ultrasound. The doctors were still concerned with what they saw, so they sent me for a biopsy. A few days later, on what would have been my mother's 68th birthday, I was diagnosed with Stage 0 Ductal Carcinoma in Situ.
The cancer cells were only present in my right side, but given my family history, I decided to go ahead with a bilateral mastectomy. During that surgery, my doctor put in tissue expanders, and he has slowly been filling them over the last couple of months. In June, I will have my second surgery to complete my reconstruction. I did do genetic testing and found that I do not carry the BRCA mutation. I also visited with an oncologist who determined that I didn’t need any follow-up treatment (chemo or radiation) since I had elected to do a double mastectomy.
It was because of my mom that I got my first mammogram, and I know she was watching over me throughout my diagnosis, surgery and recovery. My goal right now is to honor her and all the doctors who took such good care of me by encouraging all the women I know to do their self-exams and get regular mammograms. Three of my friends have already gone to get their first mammograms, something they had been putting off and dreading but because I asked them to, they did it (and their results were all normal!). I hope to continue to be a reason the women I know take care of their health.
My Next Chapter will officially begin this summer, after my reconstruction surgery, when I feel this journey will officially be over. My husband has been such an incredible support to me during this time and I wouldn't have been able to get through it without him. We are going to renew our vows in July, after 13 years of marriage. We'll have our family there to celebrate with us. I can't wait to re-commit to him with a new lease on life. I'm so very lucky to have the opportunity to do that!
After my regular mammogram on September 25, 2012 I was called back for a secondary mammogram. The results showed an "area of concern." A biopsy of the site was taken and on October 8, 2012 the results came back positive. The search for a breast surgeon was on and we found Dr. David Hampe. He’s a great man. He’s patient, kind and has a wonderful bedside manner. We also searched and found Dr. Landon Perry to perform the reconstruction.
I never REALLY gave a thought to not having my breasts. While it didn't define me, I still felt it was a part that made me feel like a woman. So there was never a thought about NOT having them. We opted for a double mastectomy on November 29, 2012. It was diagnosed as stage 2 Breast Cancer with two lymph nodes involved. Thankfully I was triple positive for estrogen, progesterone and Her2. That's when chemotherapy was prescribed.
My chemo sessions are every 3 weeks for 6 sessions and include Taxotere, Carboplatin, a research drug and a Herceptin. This is followed by 5 weeks of radiation therapy. I'll continue the research drug and Herceptin every 3 weeks until the end of 2012.
I just completed my 5th chemotherapy treatment, with my last to be done April 18th. And I'd have to say, this hasn't been easy. I'd like to think I've attacked this with every part of my being, literally and figuratively. My family and friends have been by my side every step of the way. I’m not going to let breast cancer “define” me, but I am going to let it become a part of who I am. It’s going to help mold me even further on my journey through life.
I have two goals in mind. The first is to get back to my regular routine of eating healthy and maintaining a consistent workout program once my last chemo treatment is done. Before my diagnosis, I worked out 5 days a week and was a runner. And that’s what I want to get back to. It’s my sense of normalcy. My secondary goal is to be ready to run a half marathon in January of 2014. By that point all my sessions will be done, and hopefully breast cancer will be a thing of 2013 and not 2014.
My name is Lynda K. Reuther. In 2006, just before Christmas, I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. My tumor was very small, just .8cm and it had spread to one lymph node. Dr. Barry Brooks told me that had I not found it and been persistent in seeking help, I would have had the fight of my life in about 2 years. Thanks to my team of doctors: Connie Casad, Rosemary McCoy and her tech, Dana; Alison Laidley, Dr. Hodges and Barry Brooks, I survived and enjoy each day of life.
I had a lumpectomy in Jan 2007 but didn't get clear margins so I had a mastectomy in Feb 2007, followed by chemo and then reconstruction in August, 2007 thanks to Dr. Hodges. Today I have Barbie & Ethel. Barbie is my brand new breast and she's a bit perfect while little ol' Ethel has been reduced to match and is now perky and cute! The girls and I are so very grateful.
How am I doing today? I am dazzling! Throughout my treatment I wore a pink sparkly ring so that during my most naked moments in scary, sterile medical offices, I could look down at my pink ring and remind myself that no matter what, I am still dazzling! I may look a little different but I'm still me and I'm still dazzling! My then boyfriend stayed with me through it all and two years after my treatment, we married. I so enjoy speaking to women who are recently diagnosed or are working through their journey with breast cancer. Without the help, support and guidance from my medical team at HCA Medical City, my family and friends, I would not have come through this experience nearly as well. This was MY journey and I am truly grateful for it. Hard as it was, being a single mom and worrying if I would live to see my son grow up, I now know life continues and it's what we make of it. I am blessed with an incredible medical team who continues to care for me. I gave birth at Medical City and I survived one of the most challenging experiences of my life at Medical City. It's part of me and I am forever grateful for the care I received.
I continually ask God to put me in places to help others so I can honor my mother who died of breast cancer and provide a helpful resource for women who are walking in their journey and to the family members, especially the men who support them. I pray for my doctors that they can continue to help others as they helped me. I will see my son grow up, I will love my husband all the days of my life and God has blessed me so. I simply enjoy radiating life...something cancer tried to tarnish. I have scars and sometimes tears but they are simply part of my story now...they are part of me.
My name is Deborah Ann Garner. I was diagnosed with 3C ovarian cancer. I underwent surgery and chemo. I was in the hospital for 90 days.
I just learned I’m no longer in remission. My treatment starts this week (the first week in May, 2013). I’m feeling good so far.
I hope my remission time will be longer, but my doctor says it probably won’t. My next chapter? All things are possible with GOD who gives me strength! Praise God!!
My name is Harriet Gross. I have survived two breast cancer diagnoses, the first in 1984, the second in 1997. Both times, lumpectomies saved my breasts, although I was unfortunate enough to have lost all my lymph nodes. Radiation the first time, and five years of Tamoxifen the second, were treatments of choice; I was lucky to find them easy enough to tolerate, and I credit them with saving my life. Then, in 2008, I saved another life by correctly diagnosing my own husband's breast cancer! Both my second surgery and his operation were at Medical City, where he now continues in treatment.
Through it all, we have been, and still are, each other’s best support systems! Today, I’m doing wonderfully well. My yearly follow-ups have been clear, and in July, when I mark 29 years of survivorship, I’ll turn 79! My next chapter is simple: to continue my rewarding work as a writer, along with my community volunteer activities, for as long as I can. But most of all, I'm "writing" a hopeful next chapter that will let me see my two children and five grandchildren continue to enjoy their happy, healthy productive lives -- and grant me the life and strength to watch my two young great-grandsons grow up to enjoy the same!
My name is Robin Cordry. Three years ago, just after learning I was pregnant, I was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer. I had an immediate mastectomy, but had to wait seven weeks to begin chemotherapy, and the start of my second trimester. I made it through five months of chemo. My baby was born early and tiny, but did not need the NICU. One week later, I started radiation. I finished up with prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction. My most challenging and critical surgery (reconstruction - DIEP flap) was at Medical City under Dr. Duffy. It was a gracious experience. A scare a few months later led to a hysterectomy.
What’s my Next Chapter? This year, I am hosting a 5/10K fundraiser. This excites me as it is family friendly, my kids can participate with their friends. The local schools will be given a trophy for participation. Local survivors will be honored! I am excited to create something we will do annually that can inspire a community and bring hope to those who need it!
My name is Billie Lair, and I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. I was a candidate for a lumpectomy on my left breast. . And was able to do the new procedure for Radiation Mamisite. After the Lumpectomy a stent with a small balloon was inserted in the location of the removal and filled with water. For 5 days (2 x a day) Radiogist would insert radiation beads into the stent with the balloon . I was never sick and was able to go home every day and return the next morning for another treatment. I had a little scare two years after the first surgery with another spot on the other breast, but with the regular follow-ups, it has not returned. Now 9 years later, Doctor Laidley said I was Cancer Free. With the loving care of my Doctor and my continuing check-ups, I now feel I am Cured.
My Next Chapter is to tell and encourage other women that IT IS possible when you catch it early. I enjoy so much being with my grand Kids and watching them grow. knowing I can still enjoy the little things in Life that I had always took for granted.
My name is Elsa Trevino-Garcia. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today, I am doing great! . I am enjoying Life my family and grandchildren. I really do stop to smell the roses more often. I could not have done this without my Lord Jesus Christ. The help of my surgeon Dr.Laidley and Dr Kerr, my oncologist, and my loving husband. Dr.Laidley and Dr.Kerr were very helpful in educating me so I could make the best decision for my treatment. My husband was so patient and understanding. He could almost pinpoint the hour I would start to feel better after chemo. At this time of my life I didn't want visitors. I felt ugly I had lost my hair and had to wear a wig. I was very fatigue. I did my radiation on Fridays so I would go to work Tuesday afternoon. Today I am doing great following up with my doctors and doing exactly what they say.
My Next Chapter is to tell as many women as I can how important it is to have a mammogram on regular basis. Also to let everyone know how wonderful Medical City of Dallas/ Texas Oncology is and how much they truly care about their patients. Thank You so much for all you do!
My name is Suzanna Davis. I was diagnosed with Stage IIIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I have undergone a double mastectomy, chemo, radiation, a staff infection, vac pump therapy, and numerous surgeries to replace the implant. How am I doing? So far, so good! Still need another surgery to fix the implant. Hopefully, this next surgery will be my last.
I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 28 — when I was 26 weeks into my first pregnancy. I had worried, like so many of us do, about everything that could go wrong in one's life. I never once had imagined this scenario. I guess the six months that followed had to be the hardest that I've gone through, but they were also the most educational.
It was at that point when I started My Next Chapter and started to ask, "Why not?" Every one of us has opportunities in life, and many times we don't explore them to the fullest. For me, when I started to look at things differently and ask, “Why not?” I started to live differently. Quit my job and become a stay-at-home mom ...? Why not! Skydive ...? Why not! Run a 5K …? Why not! I started to give more to everyone I encountered. I was living the moments that had once just filled the day and transported me to the next. I was slowing down and absorbing relationships; something I know that without this brutal education, I wouldn't have done at the age of 29.
Cancer has made me mature, and it has made me see life differently — it has made me a better mom, wife, sister, daughter and friend. My name is Stacey Peterson, and I am looking forward to many more chapters where I can ask "What's next?"
I am a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, and a two-time breast cancer warrior. I was diagnosed December of 2001 with Stage 1 Breast Cancer, with a treatment plan of a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation therapy. I chose Dr. Alison Laidley as my breast surgeon. Dr. Laidley was referred to me by my friend, Mary D. Dr. Laidley is such a warm and caring doctor. I am so fortunate to have a doctor that I completely trust.
Last year, I learned my cancer was back. I was diagnosed in June of 2012 with Stage 3 Breast Cancer, with a treatment plan of a double mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation therapy. I believe Dr. Laidley was just as devastated as I was when she delivered the biopsy results.
As of February, I completed 15 of 29 radiation treatments, and will undergo a hysterectomy and reconstructive surgery in the upcoming summer months.
My faith, family, and friends have surrounded me as I walk through this diagnosis. Through it all, I remember this: Cancer is not my story; it is part of my story. As a woman of Faith, I didn’t ask, “Why me?” I do not believe that God decides who gets this or that. I believe that God provides you strength and hope to walk through each and every journey through your lifetime. I believe that cancer is a result of our environment or genetics. My cancer is genetic.
Don’t get me wrong – there were tears, many tears, but mostly I am in Warrior Mode – Let’s do this with a positive attitude, grace and dignity. My name is Brenda Campagna, and my Next Chapter is learning to play the piano, and traveling to Italy!
My name is Lynn Lentscher. I'm 66 years old, and I'm an ovarian cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in November of 1998 and completed treatments in November of 1999. I was — and continue to be — the picture of health. I work out, eat well, live, laugh and love, and my doctor always told me I would live to be 120.
My journey with cancer was not necessarily unique to me. A mass on my ovary was detected prior to surgery, but the cancer was determined by the pathologist and oncologist within the next few days after surgery. I had six months of Taxol and carboplatin followed by a second look surgery. More cancer was uncovered and was treated with three intraperitoneal infusions of cisplastin followed with one month of abdominal radiation. Although I was cancer-free, the next 12 years were filled with weeklong hospital stays to treat intestinal blockages. I've been in the hospital over 100 days in 12 years, and in 2010 I finally consented to an intestinal resection. These are the cold facts, and although it's important to understand how difficult this was, I believe it's even more important to know that when I look back on this time, I realize how fortunate I was to travel this path, and I do consider my survival a gift.
The most powerful gift was to accept that my choice was not whether I would live or die, but rather how I would live until I died. “Let go, let God” echoed clearly in my ears. I learned to rely on hope and keep my faith no matter what the challenge. I learned to trust in the goodness of people, to allow them to help me when I struggled and to recognize that we all do struggle. I learned to embrace the challenges in life and to accept each step as a new normal. I learned how many people truly loved me and frequently heard how I had changed their lives. I recognized my strength and courage and knew that fear could be overcome. I learned I was a woman of God.
I don't want anyone to have cancer, but I want everyone to have a Dr. Alan Munoz. He is gifted and brilliant. He, together with his caring staff and the amazing ladies on the eighth floor of Medical City, provided the kindness, hope and support I needed in very challenging times.
My Next Chapter? During this year of treatment, I prayed that if I survived, I would know the mission God intended for my life. He made it very apparent that it was simply to help others through similar journeys. I have become a public speaker to inspire, encourage and motivate, and I have walked the path with anyone struggling with cancer. I became a member of NOCC and OCNA's* signature educational program, "Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women's Lives," and speak to third-year residents at UT Southwestern Medical School to create ovarian cancer awareness. I am on the board of a new foundation named "Be the Difference Foundation" to raise hope, target ovarian cancer and be the difference in survival. I've learned that life is a journey, not a destination, and all these hazard bumps, led by God's grace and healing hands. have made me who I am today.
"I am certain your test results will come back positive for cancer.” Those twelve words are forever etched in my memory. They rocked my world and changed my life forevermore. The moment they hit the airwaves, my world came crashing in, suffocating my every breath. A cloak of darkness enveloped my very being.
I had had a routine mammogram. They wanted second views just to be certain everything was okay. The second views instigated a needle biopsy. The dominos began falling. The doctor who performed the biopsy uttered those unforgettable words before the needle pierced my skin. From that point on, the rest of the year was a speeding blur.
The needle biopsy showed ductal carcinoma. The three breast surgeons with whom I consulted all agreed: The calcium deposits were in too large of an area to consider anything but a mastectomy. After meeting three surgeons, there was no question which one I was going to choose to be a part of my team, Dr. Alison Laidley. She is a brilliant doctor and a compassionate person. It's a blessing to find both qualities in a surgeon. When I first met her, her expertise radiated from her. Her attention to detail and perfectionism are both top notch. I live in Fort Worth. Going to see her is more than worth the drive. Dr. Laidley has been a guiding light this year. She has helped me navigate the toughest of decisions. Her wisdom and insight helped me to forge a path of healing.
The night before my first mastectomy, I said to my husband, in the protection of his arms lovingly wrapped around me, crying on his chest, "I don't want to do this." I inhaled and sighed with all the resolve I could muster, "But you know I will." I cannot begin to tell you what I felt that night. I was scared, grabbing onto my breasts, holding on to them as tightly as I could, knowing the left one had to go. I wanted to run away and hide on a warm, beautiful island. When I closed my eyes, I could almost feel the warm, ocean air caressing my skin. Upon opening my eyes, that same air chilled me to my bones. I knew as far as I could run, the stalker, the beast would still be on my heels. I knew I would do whatever it took to get, and stay, cancer-free. When I entered Medical City Dallas on the day of surgery, all the nurses raved about Dr. Laidley and my plastic surgeon, Dr. Patrick Hodges. They exclaimed, “You have the A Team!” Their reassurances about my surgical team helped ease some of my incredible anxiety!
After I had a left breast mastectomy, the post-surgical pathology report showed a surprise cancer (invasive lobular carcinoma) which was not seen on any of the pre-surgery imaging. Since the stealth cancer hid through all imaging, we could not be sure that my right breast was clean. When Dr. Laidley recommended a second mastectomy to me, she said, “This is as difficult for me to say, as it is for you to hear.” Yet we could not leave any stone uncovered. In my mind, there was no other choice. I went forth for a second mastectomy.
Radiation was not suggested by my team. Chemo was suggested by some, but not by others. I cannot begin to tell you how difficult it was to make that decision. I sought out five opinions and got five different treatment recommendations. On the Fourth of July, Dr. Laidley went above and beyond. On a holiday, she made the time to call to help me navigate the risk/benefit ratio of my case and sort through the options. I cannot begin to tell you how much Dr. Laidley’s wisdom and strong resolve helped me to make that decision. After our call, I quieted the outside static and let my inner guide lead me. That was one of the scariest cliffs that has ever loomed before me. My sails opened, and now I soar. While chemo is absolutely the right choice for others, for me it was not.
I had six surgeries in seven months: two mastectomies, reconstruction, and several surgeries to get rid of a nasty infection. During the first surgery, I had contracted Pseudomonas. It took a couple surgeries to find the aggressive infection. Once it was discovered, it already had its hold on me and was staking its claim. To evict it from my body, we needed to remove the expander for a few months and let my body heal. My plastic surgeon, Dr. Hodges, did amazing work in a challenging situation. It was almost like the cancer had to take a backseat to the infection.
The surgeries successfully removed all the cancer from my body! Not to throw water on the celebration, I know from a blood test in Greece (the clinic Integrative and Functional Health Center sends my blood there), there are still higher than desired cancer stem cells in my blood stream, which are the beasts that cause recurrences. I am actively seeking out those monsters. I am on a Crush, Kill, Destroy Mission!
A year after those infamous words, I am a different person. My strength was tested more than conceivable. The journey has been tumultuous, opaque, and surprisingly uplifting. I have grown more than I thought possible, made decisions I never thought I'd have to make, combined mainstream medicine and alternative healing practices for a comprehensive treatment plan, learned enough for a doctorate in health care, became my own team advocate, and changed my lifestyle to promote whole body health and healing.
The challenges that laid before me were insurmountable, yet I prevailed. I climbed, clawed, and burrowed over, around, and through them. While I am still in battle, I stand on the other side of the largest mountain range, a stronger, wiser, happier, and healthier person!
As I look upon that moment, it is like looking through a telescope backwards. So much has happened between Then and Now. The hourglass was stretched beyond its physical dimensions. The enormous milestone somehow looks smaller in the rear view mirror, yet that line drawn in the sand forever changed me. The words, which felt like daggers cutting through my very core, were actually angels flying in to save my life!
I cannot believe all the positive life changes that have come from having had a dreaded disease. At 46 years old, I thought I had my life's work figured out. Now, I realize that's not the case. I am taking classes become a Certified Health Coach. I am meant to share all I’ve learned to educate and inspire others to make healthy life choices. Preventing any ailment is far easier than curing it. If I can help someone avoid this journey or hold her hand while she walks it, my expedition was worthwhile.
My name is Nancy Michlin, and my Next Chapter is writing a book to empower others to prevent disease or triumph and flourish in spite of it!
Nancy L.B. Michlin, M.Ed.
My name is Pat Beacham. I was diagnosed in November of 2011 with stage IV ovarian cancer. I had a radical hysterectomy, and also had my appendix removed. I then underwent six rounds of chemotherapy. I am looking forward to many more years of life. My next chapter is watching my youngest daughter graduate from college next year, and watching my granddaughter grow up.
I expected life to present me with a linear path. I grew up in South Africa, got married and had three beautiful children. Life was good and satisfying — all was going according to plan. Twenty years ago my family and I immigrated to Dallas, Texas. The move was challenging and difficult. The linear path was about to get way off track.
Eighteen months after we moved, my husband passed away suddenly at age 37 from a heart attack. My children were 9, 7 and 4. It was a constant struggle and a challenge to the extreme. Nevertheless, I felt fortunate that my parents had moved here to assist me. Additionally, I had two sisters as my support system, and my community rallied around me.
A scant few years later, in 1997 when I was 37, I received an unimaginable diagnosis —breast cancer! There had never been any cancer in my family, and I was in a state of shock. To follow that up, I had a mastectomy and four chemotherapy treatments. At that time, my main thought was to remove the cancer from my body, so I opted not to have reconstructive surgery.
A year later, while walking to the pool with my kids in their bathing suits, I had an epiphany. I was too self-conscious about my lack of a breast to wear a bathing suit, and I did not want to live that way! Two weeks later, I had reconstructive surgery. Life was taking a strong turn for the better!
In 2000, I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful man from South Africa, and we got married in 2003. For three years my oncologist wanted me to have the BRCA genetic testing, but I was too afraid. What if it revealed information that I did not want to hear?
Finally in 2006, I decided if my insurance would pay for it, I would do it. My insurance company paid for it, and my fears were realized. I tested positive for BRCA2. I sprang into action. In November of 2006, I had an oophorectomy and hysterectomy. There were NO signs of any cancer. I thought I was in the clear.
Unfortunately, the twists and turns of my life were not over. In May 2008, I was diagnosed with stage 3C peritoneal cancer. I was very angry. I thought I had done everything I could to prevent this from happening. I had a huge battle ahead of me. Dr. Alan Munoz did my surgery, which was followed by 10 months of chemo.
Two months after I finished chemo, Dr. Alison Laidley and Dr. Jeffery Krueger did a prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction on the other breast. I wanted to make sure I did not have to deal with cancer anymore.
Today, four years later, I am pleased to tell you that I am, thank God, cancer free. I am making mindful choices about how I want to live my life, and I am doing things I want to do.
Professionally, I had worked for 20 years as a preschool teacher. I decided it was time for a change! Now, I volunteer for different organizations and work part time for Weight Watchers. My life is filled with blessings. All my children have graduated from college, and all have jobs. Six weeks ago, I attended my son's wedding to a wonderful woman, and my daughter will be getting married next year.
I am fitter than I have ever been. I walk an hour every day, and I swim about three times a week. I am embracing the next chapter of my life. I feel grateful to be in a position to make a difference in people's lives by being an inspiration to them. I'm Barbara Kawalsky, and I now live a life filled with gratitude.
My name is Ruth Angelo. I was diagnosed in March of 2011 with stage 3 ovarian cancer. I had major surgery to remove a grapefruit size tumor, and then 16 very aggressive weekly chemo treatments. I am now in my second year of remission! My next chapter is to see all of my grandchildren graduate from school and get married, and to see my great-grandchildren. I don't have a bucket list because kicking cancer’s butt means that I am not "kicking the bucket."
My story is typical of many ovarian cancer patients. In my case, In September 2011 I had abdominal pains which felt like cramps. After several days, I went to my primary care physician. She was not available, so I saw another one in the practice. He took an x-ray, but didn't find anything that stood out. He sent me home with some antibiotics, in case there was some sort of infection brewing. Two days later, the pain got significantly worse, so I called the answering service. My doctor called back and suggested I either go to the emergency room or to a walk in clinic. I chose the ER, which turned out to be the correct decision. I was concerned that if it was "only" constipation and that I would be embarassed to have sounded a false alarm. When the ER doctory asked me where the pain was, I told him it was on my left side where my ovary would be, if I had one. I had a hysterectomy 10 years earlier. They took my symptoms seriously and ordered an MRI. Within an hour, the results showed a large tumor, about the size of a tennis ball, and I was admitted in to the hospital. Over the next couple of days, I was seen by several different surgeons who were trying to determine the nature of this tumor.
Finally, an OB/GYN oncologist gave me a pelvic exam and I screamed in pain. He looked up and said, "Yep, this is my case". I didn't know it then, but I lucked out to have one of the best surgeons, Dr. Alan Munoz. He scheduled surgery for the next week. After surgery came 4 weeks of recovery and then I started chemo. Although I had no ovaries, the tumor was likely a result of cancer cells remaining behind when I did have the hysterectormy. At the time, there was a tumor in my left ovary, but the surgeon was confident it was contained when removed and therefore did not have me undergo chemo or radiation. It tuned out to be a very rare form of cancer - a sarcoma. In fact, the specific kind of cancer is called a leiomyosarcoma. Five year survival rates for this type of cancer are low. The first round of chemo was brutal, coming so soon after my surgery.
On December 23,, I had a blood transfusion, I was too weak to walk, so used a wheelchair. At the end of the transfusion, which took all day, I walked out. I felt good again, for the first time in months. After the first round of chemo, the original plan was to have radiation and then more chemo. However, the PET scan looked clean, so we took a 5 week break and then started on the second round of chemo, finishing up in mid-March. The second round went so much better that I asked the nurse if she was sure I was getting the drugs and not a placebo. As I write this, I am currently in remission and have picked up the pace in my life. I had been forced in to taking early retirement in September 2010 and spent the next 8 months caring for my elderly dog, who died in July 2011. Two months later I ws diagnosed with ovarian cancer. For the first time since my retirement, I was able to start thinking about the future in terms of what I would do to stay active. I started building up my small pet sitting business, and kept attending my support group meetings at Medical City. I also started volunteering at the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) offices in Dallas twice a week. My deep love of animals and many years of previously being actively involved in rescue and a large no-kill animal organization led me to start volunteering for Feral Friends, which is an organization that focuses on supporting those who oversee feral cat colonies by providing trainig on Trapping/Neutering/Returning (TNR) those cats to the colonies and by rescuing the kittens and abandoned pet cats from the colonies and finding permanent homes for them. I volunteer on Fridays at their low cost spay/neuter/vaccination clinic monitoring the animals as they come out of surgery. I love giving back to the community, and my efforts have a new sense of urgency. While I know the five year survival rate statistics are lousy, I have met women who have surpassed them and are living full, active lives. I tell friends I'm living my life in 3 month increments now - in between the 3 month check ups I'll need to have for the foreseeable future. My husband and large network of friends have been there to support me when I was feeling my worst, and they are here now supporting me during my remission. I've made many new friends as a result of this journey whose own stories of battling this disease, beating it and resuming their lives have been an inspiration. I will be volunteering at the NOCC Run/Walk later this month (September 2012) and am looking forward to meeting many more courageous women.
My name is Sherri Vavra, and I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, stage 3b. I had no family history of cancer. I had seven rounds of chemo, surgery (lumpectomy and hysterectomy) and radiation. Following all treatments, I have been told that I am cured : ) My Next Chapter is getting my cancer bills paid off!
My name is Amy Pfeffer. I was diagnosed with Hormone Positive Breast Cancer on February 7, 2012 at the age of 27. At this time I was helping my Mom battle ovarian cancer. A relationship made even stronger by an unfortunate diagnoses. We fought together for the next several months. I had a bilateral mastectomy and hysterectomy, as well as seven months of chemotherapy, and seven weeks of radiation. We are both now in remission and loving every minute of life. My Next Chapter is to live life to the fullest, making every day count. I want to help anyone where I can, regardless of how big or small the need. I want to show people that the little things in life are what make it so great!
My name is Jamie Herrington. I was diagnosed at 30 (9/29/2011) with triple negative 3 breast cancer, and had 2 little girls ages 2 and 4 at the time. I have made it through chemotherapy, radiation, and a bi-lateral mastectomy. I work at a church preschool in Dallas and couldn\'t have made it through as easily as I did without the support of staff and the loving, generous parents of our department!! My wonderful husband and family were amazing support as well!! My next chapter is to make it to the three year mark with no recurrence – almost there!
On September 14, 2011, my life changed forever when I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. I completed 6 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation and went through surgery in January 2012 to remove the tumor. I then began a 24-week cycle of every-other-week chemotherapy.
I thought things were finally looking up, as most of the tumor was gone, and my lymph nodes were clear. The chemotherapy was to make sure that the cancer did not return.
Wow, was I wrong! The chemo was much harder the second time around, and on April 2 I was admitted to the hospital for severe dehydration and an extremely low blood count. On April 3, I suffered a heart attack, and the journey really began. I was CareFlited to St. Paul University Hospital on April 5 because there was nothing more that the doctors could do for me at Presbyterian Plano.
On April 6, I underwent open-heart surgery with a single bypass. I was then placed on an RVAD* until the following Wednesday. I was in the coronary intensive care unit until April 18, and I was moved to rehab on April 26.
When I woke up in the hospital, I had no memory of the traumatic experiences I had gone through. I had to learn to walk again and to refine my fine motor skills.
I was in rehab until May 12, when I was finally released to return home. I had gone 6 weeks without seeing my children, who are 9, 6 and 5.
I have been told by multiple people that I am truly a walking miracle. But the doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center are, in my opinion, the miracle workers. Had it not been for them, I don't think I would be here today to write my story. I have learned that life is a blessing, and I thank God every day that I am still able to receive that blessing. I truly believe that if it had not been for my family, my friends and my medical providers, I would not be experiencing this blessing today.
*A right ventricular assist device is a mechanical pump that helps people who have weakened hearts. The RVAD supports the heart’s function and ensures the needed flow of blood.