Survivor Stories 2013:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
In 2002, I went for my regular mammogram. Because the radiologist found something suspicious on the X-ray, he requested that I return for a diagnostic mammogram. When he showed me the results, he said, “There is a suspicious microcalcification in the milk duct.” When I asked him what I should do, he replied, “You can wait to see if it grows or go see a surgeon.”
Immediately, I replied, “I’m not waiting.”
After having a lumpectomy, the surgeon told me he was 99% sure it was not cancer. However, three days later, he phoned me and said, “It’s cancer.”
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I am a take-charge, no-nonsense, do-your-homework type of person. I asked the doctor, “What kind is it and what do I need to do?”
He replied, “It was caught early. It is ductal carcinoma in situ.”
I made three appointments for the next week: one to see the surgeon, one to see the radiologist, and one to see the oncologist.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
After doing my research, I learned about a treatment called brachytherapy, which is a type of internal radiation therapy that delivers high doses of radiation from implants placed close to, or inside, the tumor(s) in the body. I knew that with my stage breast cancer, which was “0,” or what they called “very early stage,” I was a good candidate for it—if I needed it.
When I met with my surgeon the next week, he told me that only three of the tumor margins were clear and the fourth was too close to call. However, he did not feel I needed a re-excision but he said he would let the radiologist make that decision.
When I met with the radiologist, she suggested a re-excision and seven weeks of external radiation. I had no problem with the re-excision, but when I asked her about brachytherapy, she replied, “That is just experimental.”
My response did not earn me any brownie points with her. I said, “I am sorry, but it is FDA approved for my stage of breast cancer and I don’t intend to let you bombard my body with radiation that can kill healthy cells and tissue.” She was indignant that I would question her recommendation.
When I left her office, I went to my next appointment with the oncologist. When I entered his office, I had already made up my mind to find another doctor. When I spoke with the oncologist and shared my concerns with him, he suggested I get a second opinion. I told him I had already made that decision.
To make a long story short, I did seek another opinion and had a second lumpectomy at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, OK. I did not need brachytherapy because the fourth margin was clear.
Although my oncologist recommended I take the drug Tamoxifen, I refused. I was pre-menopausal, and at the time, it had only been tested on post-menopausal women. In addition, one of the possible side effects I discovered while doing my research was the possibility of stroke. My mother had suffered a small stroke in her 60s.
After the second lumpectomy, I had no further treatment but I do return yearly to CTCA for a mammogram and check-up.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America, one of the free offerings to patients is access to mind-body therapists. In the Mind-Body Medicine Department, I learned the powerful connection that exists among the mind, body, and spirit, between stress and illness, and between health and hope. Working with Dr. Ellison, I learned how to use meditation and imagery to promote health, wholeness, and quality of life.
About nine months before my cancer diagnosis, my 28-year marriage ended. I had not gone through counseling. However, during my sessions with Dr. Ellison, I was able to forgive and let go of the anger and stress I had experienced during my marriage. While discussing my issues at one of my sessions, Dr. Ellison asked me the following: “Carol, stop, where are you feeling it in your body?”
When I stopped and tuned in to my body, I realized I was feeling it in my left breast—right where the cancer had been discovered. I will always be grateful to Dr. Ellison for teaching me about the mind/body connection because I use it now to recognize when I am holding on to unforgiveness, anger, or other harmful emotions.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
I would advise them to take a deep breath and realize they are not alone. Also, if you need to cry, go ahead and cry.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
As of June 2013, I have been cancer-free 11 years.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
Cancer taught me to “Let go and let God” be in charge of my life. As a recovering control freak, I’ve learned we don’t have to be in charge of the universe. We stress out about so many things over which we have no control. While we don’t have control over whether we will be diagnosed with cancer, we do have control over our responses. It also taught me that laughter really is the best medicine. If you can laugh your way through it all, you’ve conquered cancer.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
The message I would send to all the Good Enough Mothers is do your homework when you get a cancer diagnosis. Doctors don’t have all the answers. It is your body. You don’t have to accept the treatment plan he or she proposes for your body. Get a second opinion if you’re not happy with what your doctor proposes. Also, don’t go to your appointments alone; take someone you trust with you and go prepared to ask questions—write them down in a notebook and carry it with you to every appointment.
Carol Round retired in 2005 after 30 years in public education. Her love for the written word—both reading and writing—led her to pursue a second career as a freelance writer and author. Her stories, essays, and poetry have appeared in local, state, and national publications and anthologies.
Since the fall of 2005, she has written one 500-word weekly column. A Matter of Faith runs in 12 Oklahoma newspapers and one national publication. She is also the author of five books: A Matter of Faith, Faith Matters, by FAITH alone, Journaling with Jesus: How to Draw Closer to God, and the companion workbook, The 40-Day Challenge. Her weekly column can also be found at www.carolaround.com.