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Life after breast cancer

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Barbara Hansen

In 2003, my yearly mammogram found a shadow in my left breast, and a needle biopsy confirmed it was cancer. A lumpectomy was done with no further treatment needed. In 2006, a repeat, this time in my right breast. Worse news this time — extremely malignant stage 3. This meant removal of the breast. Four days after coming home, my daughter had me over for dinner, and to my surprise it turned out to be a "Bye, Bye Booby Party" with several of our horseback riding girlfriends.

My daughter said, "Mom, you're 73, no longer nursing babies, what do you need with your boobs?" It will take too many words to tell you of the outrageous gifts I received. I had been a widow of 11 years, and my children were my rock through six months of extreme chemotherapy. I am now 83, and so far a survivor.

A couple of years after my treatment, I went to a book reading at the Smullin Center here in Medford. The book was "The Hat that Saved my Life." The author came out with a red boa around her neck. She asked whether anyone ever had a red boa, so I raised my hand and told her my story of what my daughter did for me with my Bye, Bye Booby Party, where a red boa was one of my gifts. She was so touched by this, she asked if she could use this story in her future lectures. Of course, I said yes.

Mary Savage James

Cancer is a strange animal. It evokes so many emotions — shock and trepidation upon hearing the diagnosis, steadfastness in going through treatment and/or reconstruction, and fear that the cancer could return. On the flip side, having breast cancer strengthened my already strong faith and gave me an increased appreciation of the beauty around me.

Humorous things happened along the way, and there was plenty to laugh about. I’m grateful for my mom and other positive role models.

At diagnosis, cancer is a very big deal. Now, 29 years later, I forget that it was even a part of my life.

Carolyn Jost

In August of 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, it was caught early, so my outlook was always quite positive. However, it was still scary!

My treatment included surgery to remove a tumor, followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

It was a bit of a journey, but I’m so grateful for early detection and the excellent care I received all along the way, as well as support from family and friends.

It has also led me to discover a wonderful group here in the Rogue Valley called Riding Beyond, which involves healing encounters with horses for people with breast cancer.

Today, I am cancer-free, and so grateful for the people I’ve met through this whole experience.

Diana Deregnier

At 68 years old, a year and a half into a new relationship, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the year-long struggle since, personal connections have been more therapeutic than surgery or chemo. I gained strength and stamina from the caring encouragement and concern of those surrounding me. My smile reflects what I feel from the hearts of my dear Mike, close friends, family and my new Oregon playmates. I will not sugar-coat the experience. I thrive in spite of cancer’s toll. I am changed. I strive ever harder to live my integrity, asking, "Am I the person I want to be remembered?”

Mary Trask

In September of 1976, at the young age of 32, I had gone to visit my mom and I showed her a small lump on my right breast that I thought was nothing. My mom advised me to see my doctor and have it checked out. I waited for a while, and then one day after my shower I noticed it had an indentation. Well, I thought, that looks weird, and so I went to the doc, who then ordered an X-ray. Mammograms were not a big thing back then. After my X-ray, he noted that we should remove the small lump, so off to the hospital I went. I ended up having breast cancer that had moved into my lymph nodes, of which he removed seven. He told my husband that if I lived five years, it would be a miracle. Here it is almost 40 years, and I am still here —  a miracle at that! So please all don’t hesitate to have those boobs checked out once a year! You just never know. I have worked with the American Cancer Society since 1977, and am an avid relayer.

Linda Smith

Wife and mother Linda Smith won a battle with Hodgkins in the 1970s. She contracted breast cancer in 2004 — a fight she also won.

Yet, in 2008, she was diagnosed with leukemia and, in 2009, she passed. The experts had said previous chemotherapy drugs should not disrupt blood cells after a 2-3 years had passed. They were wrong.

— submitted by Hubert Smith

Mary Carver

In April of 2011 I was diagnosed with late stage, inflammatory breast cancer.

I thought for sure all was lost, but god had plenty of other plans for me, which included getting well, following chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation. I learned so much that year! More recently, my husband, Dan, and I were privileged to partake in a book by Ashland author Katelyn Carey and photographer Joseph Linaschke, called "Beauty After Breast Cancer." A wonderful book, designed to help newly diagnosed patients, it is available at beautyafterbreastcancer.com. You cannot have a testimony without a test, and I am so grateful for each day the Lord has given me!

Jane Henry

I have had breast cancer twice. Each time the fear factor would totally take over my entire being. I would hide in my Louis L'Amour books and play with my chihuahua Princess Boo. My husband was my mainstay through the whole procedure. As to affecting the rest of my life, it didn't! I have wiped it from my memory and do not think about it, read about it or go to help groups. I have a yearly mammogram and that is it. I do not consider myself in remission, but cancer free!

Sally Ackley

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of this year. I became a member of a club I never wanted to join.

After breast surgery, a port implant, chemo and now radiation, I find my story is not that important. The stories that are important are the stories of all the other members of this club. I remember my first chemo infusion. I think I looked like a deer in the headlights. The woman sitting beside me looked over and said, "First time?" I said yes. She proceeded to talk about her bone marrow cancer. How her life was going. She told me to keep a journal. She said I would be fine. And to tell the truth, it really helped. From that day on, I spoke to everyone. I learned what foods help when your mouth tastes like a salt lick. I spoke to others who had drama and hard times along with their disease. We talked about hair loss and how the family is holding up. We laughed and found great compassion and kindness among each other. But most of all, I felt humbled.

Janice Rakestraw

It has been four years since my double mastectomy. My radiation and lymph treatments seemed mild compared to other women's treatments for breast cancer. I have been lucky, as I had a rare type of cancer, “secretory carcinoma.” In the last five to 10 years, treatments have become more precise, and people can have less and chemo and radiation and more accurate care.

In 2009, the National Institute of Health founded the “Genome Atlas” by Dr. Charles Perou and Matthew Ellis. They lead studies of cancers similar to mine and help find more accurate types of diagnosis and early detection. Because of their study, 95 percent of the cancers have been eradicated, and there are survivors.

My type of cancer was found to be nonresponsive to chemo, and responded only to radiation and complete removal. By injecting me with radioactive isotopes ... a CT scan showed every single tumor and cancerous tissue. The surgeon was then able to get a map of each one ... and cut them out.

I have had no reoccurrence since surgery. I feel so blessed that the crew that took care of me was so able.

As a former distance runner and coach, I gave myself workouts, mapped out with my surgeons. Gradually I got to one mile, then two. I added lifting weights, two to five pounds three times a week to strengthen muscles weakened by surgery.

Today I do 4 miles and add the weights and farm work.

I just had reconstruction surgery to have my chest look womanly again. I am dating, loving life and doing my best ever. I am truly blessed!

Judy Fitzsimmons

Each of the 12 years we lived in Palm Beach County, Florida, I participated in the Race for the Cure, and at the end of the awards ceremony, a group of very courageous survivors in pink would march together onto the stage prompting a tearful standing ovation. I never anticipated being one of them. Who would?

Two years ago this month, I was diagnosed with phase 2 cancer in my left breast. Even though I have usually preferred "natural" treatments for most situations, I knew this would need traditional medical attention. And even though I am somewhat of a private person, I knew that I would want to openly share it with as many family and friends as possible.

Today, two years later, after chemotherapy, a left mastectomy and reconstruction, I feel a huge sense of gratitude for being alive and for all those who assisted me through the process — my surgeon, oncologist, chemotherapy nurses, plastic surgeon and nurse navigator. Also for my collaborative team sharing acupuncture, nutritional tips, massage and energy work, all with the approval of my oncologist. For all of my sweet family and friends near and far (some who had also been through this). My great co-workers who are like family — each of whom knew exactly what was happening with me — supported me in every way possible and kept my sense of humor intact.

Huge gratitude to my wonderful husband of 28 years, Pat, who was right by my side at every appointment, chemo session, at the wig bank to help me choose my new hair. He cooked and cleaned and shopped and did laundry and stayed home with me every evening when my immune system was too low to go out (new for us, as we had been known as "the event people"). During this time, our loving relationship went to a new and deeper place. I hope that every woman going through this situation has someone to support her, be it husband, partner, sister, friend, neighbor. Someone to be there to assist in unconditional love.

I went through the year of treatment, surgery and reconstruction one step at a time and one day at a time. Yes, there were ups and downs physically and emotionally, but I was able to keep my spirits up and give thanks for each day, trust and do my best. My husband and I felt that the phenomenal outpouring of love and support, evidenced by prayers, flowers, food, cards, calls, quilts, hats, care packages, gems and jewelry generated something so beautiful in the world beyond just us. Now an almost two-year survivor, I am in position to support and encourage others going through through this journey, and that in itself is a gift.

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Sally Ackley
Life after breast cancer
Mary Savage James