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My turn: From cancer caregiver to cancer patient

My cancer story doesn’t begin with me — it begins with my family. I am a 68-year-old woman and out of eight children, I was the second youngest. My two oldest sisters were breast cancer survivors but have since become angels for the Lord following unrelated medical challenges. Two of my brothers are cancer survivors. 

My younger sister was also diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, eight months after I moved to Texas from Bermuda to be closer to my daughter and family. Unfortunately, my husband of 26 years also became an angel following a diagnosis of lung cancer that had spread to his brain. 

Recent tests have confirmed a negative genetic connection with no identifiable mutations — none of these family cancers were genetically related. 

Although cancer has clearly left its mark on my family, it was through my younger sister’s cancer experience that I got a real taste of what life with cancer looks like. Little did I know, supporting her through her journey was also preparing me for my own.

Taking turns with breast cancer

My sister, being the procrastinator she is, was overdue for a mammogram when she noticed changes to her breast. After doctors discovered she had a large tumor, she was referred for treatment for breast cancer. Due to the tumor size, she was immediately put into a clinical trial to reduce the size of the tumor for six months before she had a double mastectomy and spacers put in for future breast reconstruction.

My job throughout her cancer journey was to be a chauffeur, cook, housekeeper and nurse. 

I didn’t even know what a drain was until after the first surgery, but suddenly my older sister and I were emptying and charting them numerous times a day for over a month! My sister then had four rounds of chemotherapy followed by 10 radiation treatments, as well as periodic injections of saline to stretch the breast tissue before reconstruction. A year after her first surgery, the doctor reconstructed new breasts from my sister’s own tissue and again, we had six drains for another month to monitor! 

“Explore."

Throughout this entire journey, my sister never lost her zest and joy for life, which she continued to share with others along the way. Mission accomplished: she was now cancer-free after 18 months.  

Then came my turn. 

My journey began in August of 2020 during my annual 3D breast mammogram at The Breast Center at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine. I had been going there for five years and was very impressed with the privacy, care and professionalism of their staff. This year, the radiologist found a very tiny spot that was worth further review. I had a mammogram on Wednesday, an MRI the following Monday, a needle biopsy on Tuesday and a cancer diagnosis on Wednesday. 

The MRI and needle biopsy were performed by Dr. Scott Woomer and his expert staff. They were kind, caring, extremely efficient and knowledgeable in their care. I was advised of every step prior to the start and was never in a single second of pain. 

Plan of attack

A week later, I met with my surgeon, Dr. Edward Clifford, and the following week with my oncologist, Dr. Vikas Aurora. The team decided my best plan of attack was to have a lumpectomy first to remove the small remaining piece of the tumor, test a few lymph nodes and install a port. This was done mid-September. I was cared for by another tremendous team of nurses and doctors, and I am proud to say I have healed completely! 

I then met with Dr. Aurora the first week of October to discuss the treatment plan following results from the biopsy and surgery — I had an aggressive form of cancer and was HER2-positive. These cancers tend to grow and spread faster but are much more likely to respond to treatment targeted drugs.

The type and size of my tumor determined my options. Fortunately, we chose the least toxic of the three chemo “cocktails” available. Radiation was also part of the plan after the first 12 weeks due to my lumpectomy. 

Before any treatment began, the team educated me on what to expect and how to be prepared for what was ahead with a binder of information and a shopping list of everything I would need along the way. They check on me by text several days after each treatment and I have access to a 24/7 call line if needed. 

I look at each treatment as a step closer to the end and bring a positive attitude with me every day. 

What I’ve learned from breast cancer

What have I learned so far? God has a plan. 

Since my diagnosis, we bought a house less than 10 minutes from my daughter in Arlington with a pool in the backyard, which is perfect for exercising during the summer months. Family members, my church family, my Euless mermaids and my Bermuda girlfriends are now my support system providing flowers, a prayer shawl, blankets, chemo socks, meals, phone calls, zoom calls and FaceTime visits, as well as numerous cards and prayers. 

My Bermuda friends even sent me a package with 30 small gifts for me to open when I need a boost or smile! These are my prayer warriors. “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

If I have taken anything away from this, it is to take care of yourself. My physical therapist advised how important exercise is throughout your cancer journey, as it is good for your body, helps you feel better and helps eliminate some of the chemicals from treatment. I also try to eat plenty of organic, healthy foods to keep my body strong and able to fight off any challenges. 

The Lord has put together a fabulous team of doctors and nurses for me. He has drawn me closer to him, his word and so many resources to nourish and grow my soul. I’ve learned to let go and let God. I have a newfound peace every step of this journey as I know he has got this! My job is to let his light and joy shine. 

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

A friend recently gave me a tea towel that sums it all up. It says: “Good morning! This is God. I will handle your problems today. I don’t need your help. Have a good day. However, you are on your own with the dishes!”

How reassuring is that? Now, if you will excuse me, my journey continues one day at a time — but first, I need to wash the dishes!  

This story was contributed by Debra Flood.

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My turn: From cancer caregiver to cancer patient