Meridian Star

October 13, 2013

In their own words ...

Breast cancer survivors, family members share stories of courage

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — In observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, The Star has asked our readers to share their stories – be it a personal testimony or someone's observation of a loved one.

    Following are their stories:

Kathy’s hope and faith

By Suzy Byrd Nelson

    In 1996, a 38-year-old wife and mother found a suspicious lump in her breast.  

    She went to a doctor and was dismissed with a “come back in six months and I will check you then” laissez-faire attitude. Her woman’s intuition told this young mom that something wasn’t right.  

    She came to Meridian to see another doctor who immediately biopsied her.  The results came back and yes, she had cancer. That young mom was my sister, Kathy Byrd Nealey.  

    In a matter of days, she had a mastectomy and was told, "You have Stage IV cancer." She was given less than two years to live. However, she never gave up hope and faith because she believed miracles happened every day.

    Kathy went through a year of chemo and radiation treatments. Soon after she finished her last treatment, on Valentine’s Day 1997, her door bell rang. She was told her husband had been in a horrific wreck a few miles away. She was taken to the wreck site, where she was told he didn’t make it.  Now this young wife, mother and cancer survivor had to tell her only child her dad was dead.   

     After the funeral a few days later, Kathy looked at me and said, “I will live to raise my child. She will not become a young orphan. I know what the medical odds say, but I will survive and raise my child." Hope and faith were renewed again for her and our family.

    Yes, Kathy did live to raise her child. She also lived to see her child graduate from college and become a strong independent young lady. She enjoyed many happy times throughout the years with her daughter and our entire family. She was an inspiration to many and gave hope to numerous cancer patients. She was a kind and quiet hero to all cancer survivors.

    However, in October 2007, the malignant cells showed their anger again. They came back with a fury. But her faith and hope were as strong as ever too! She continued to teach school while taking treatments. Her quiet demeanor and appearance on the outside hid the pain she was feeling as she was aggressively trying to defeat the maddening cancer cells growing inside.  

    In July 2008, she realized that the evil cancer cells were going to win the war. But always remember, her hope and faith had won many battles for her before!

    On Aug. 23, 2008, she went to join our Savior and her husband in heaven. Before she died she told me that she was so thankful for the 12 years she had been given and that no matter how bad things seem, always have hope and faith.

    When my daughters and I were in Orlando at the Susan Komen Race for the Cure, among all the beautiful pink ribbons of hope, my precious sister was with me in my heart. I looked at the survivors and knew that they, too, all have a story.

    I looked at the survivors and knew how far cancer treatments have advanced since my sister was diagnosed. I looked at the survivors and prayed that they, too, have the hope and faith that my beloved sister had. In any case, I looked at them and whispered, “Have hope and faith, and never, ever give up!”

A survivor through the evolvement of breast cancer treatment

By Betty Conell

    In spring 1974, I found a lump in my left breast and went to have it checked out within a few days.

    I was 32 years old, had been widowed at the age of 29, and remarried to a fellow in the Air Force. We were living in the very small town of Crescent City, Calif., and I had three sons, ages 9, 8 and 4, and a stepson, age 11.

    I went to a family doctor who reminded me of “Marcus Welby,” a popular television doctor at the time. After he tried to puncture the lump with no success, he set up a biopsy for the next week. Back then, it was regular procedure to sign a consent form that gave permission to perform a radical mastectomy if the doctor found cancer. I signed and when I woke up bandaged from neck to waist, I was pretty sure that was what happened.

    Because I had to have radiation therapy due to “cancer beyond the site of surgery,” I would have had to go to Medford, Ore., for six weeks, and that was impossible because we didn’t have anyone to take care of our four boys. My husband put in for a transfer and we got one to Panama City, Fla., where I had six weeks of radiation at Bay County Hospital and they had just installed a linear accelerator. That was perfect, since treatments were scheduled at noon and my husband could come home and watch the boys on his lunch hour.  

    Treatment went well – my only problem was bad burns on my chest, which healed in a short time.  

    At that time, there wasn’t much in the way of prostheses and I ordered one from Sears Roebuck and stitched a “pocket” to my bra and it worked pretty well. I even did the same for the top of a two-piece swim suit and you could hardly tell the difference. Being a beach bum at heart, the boys and I spent many hours enjoying the beautiful beaches there.

    After three years in Panama City, we transferred to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, and what do you know? There was a Major Medical Center there with all kinds of specialists! One day I accompanied my husband to an appointment with a plastic surgeon and somehow the fact that I had had a mastectomy came up. There were two doctors in that department and they both wanted to try a new procedure on which they were working. Since I had scarring on my chest, the skin would have to be replaced with some from my side and the scarred skin discarded. I agreed to do it and after four different surgeries, I had two new silicone breasts (they replaced the right breast so the two would “match.”)

    The best part of my story is yet to come! Because I was advised to avoid getting pregnant due to the hormonal changes that would cause, I was fitted with an IUD. It gave me so much trouble that I asked to have it removed and asked the doctor to give me some statistics on the effect post-mastectomy pregnancy would have on my body and if there would be any harm to the baby in case I happened to get pregnant.      When he got back to me, he said he couldn’t find much data since I was so young when I was diagnosed and had surgery. I took my chances and in 1979, I became pregnant. By that time I had moved back to Meridian. Two different doctors advised me to abort the baby, but I could not do that. I did have aminocentesis to check on Downs Syndrome since I was then 37 years old.

    The tests came back normal and a bonus was that it gave a report that told the sex of the baby. Needless to say, when I was called at work and was told “girl,” you could have heard me shouting all over the office. I always knew God would someday give me a little girl. That little girl is my daughter, Leslie, who has given me my only two grandchildren – two beautiful granddaughters, Holly, 3, and Marilyn, 21 months.

    I feel I am truly blessed to have been given 39 years since I was diagnosed with cancer. My sons are all in their 40s now and if I had not survived, I would have never seen them grow up and they would have lost their mother as well as their father. The added blessing of having my daughter is just icing on the cake.

    All this is to say that having had breast cancer and survived has made me appreciate every day of those 39 years. I thank God that he blessed me then and is still blessing me now. I’m looking forward to the 40-year mark next year – and many more after that.  

Cancer free for more than three decades ... and counting

By Millie Williams

    It began in July 1996, when I was diagnosed from a lump I found in my left breast.

    I had the surgery and it was very successful as I went back to work in five weeks. I was blessed with not having to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.

    After the surgery I went to work for a bank for 20 years. During that time, I took care of the switchboard and other duties on the second floor and always walked the stairs!

    Today, I am 79 years old, enjoying retirement and going strong with my husband of 58 years, Ken. We ride our three-wheel bikes and do other exercises four times a week.

    I am a 37-year cancer survivor. These years have given me many blessings to see our two children, Cindy and Scott, grow into wonderful caring and hard-working adults. We also are blessed with six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. The Lord keeps us in His care. We have our health and happiness.

    My story is told to possibly encourage others to keep trying and praying. And like myself, get a mammogram EVERY year.

Inspired by 'Gobby's' quiet strength as she battled breast cancer

By Amanda Smith

    My grandmother, Doris Evelyn Mears, has always been my hero.

    I will never forget being a teenager, racked with concern over her first surgery for breast cancer, only to visit with her the day after to find her bright as sunshine, sitting in her living room, fresh from having fought and won and her first battle. In that moment, she taught me what strength looked like and how to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with grace and dignity.

    Then, 15 years later, in February 2013, she was faced with her second battle in the war against breast cancer. The ugly foe had returned and once again, she was ready to fight without losing her quiet strength and sweet smile.

     I could write a book about my grandmother, my Gobby as we call her, but her final chapter closed this August as she passed away while having breakfast with the love of her life, Arnold Jack Mears, on the morning of their 67th wedding anniversary. Breast cancer did not take my grandmother’s life, nor did she allow it to interrupt her plans.

     I had a lumpectomy in September 2012, and I know without a doubt that my grandmother’s strength and prayers guided my own healing. My Gobby will always be my hero, the definition of a true survivor, and now, as my broken heart attempts to heal – my guardian angel to watch over me.