October 25, 2014

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Survivors: little things make big difference
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly   
Tuesday, October 30, 2012 1:54 PM

A young woman I know was diagnosed a bit over a year ago with stage 4 breast cancer.

Anyone who has ever been personally involved with cancer knows that's the diagnosis you definitely do not want. It means her cancer, while treatable, is not considered curable, having spread within her body. But she remains upbeat despite the removal of her ovaries (no children now, nor, biologically, in the future.)

So far, Tamoxifen has been effective for her, shrinking the main tumor and reducing cancer “markers.” Telling herself positive sayings when she gets down helps her keep going, as do the cards, gifts and other good wishes she receives.

That's one point breast cancer survivor Connie Huddleston made in an interview with me this week: little things such as cards, calls and upbeat emails make a huge difference for folks facing such challenges.

Before talking with Connie, I had called Jan Tyler seeking names of folks dealing with breast cancer. Jan, if you don't know her, is the wonderful coordinator of the breast cancer support group that meets on the third Thursday of each month at Dearborn County Hospital. Both she and her husband Randy have dealt with and survived cancer.

As I dialed her number, however, I had a flashback to a call I made to her five years ago. It was August 2007 and I had just learned the mass in my breast was cancerous, later to be diagnosed as stage 3. Jan and my cousin Dr. Ed Probst, an internist and dermatologist, were my first calls. I don't remember exactly what either said, but the conversations were enlightening and uplifting and their support helped me through the testing, surgery and treatment process.

Books also helped, including Dr. Bernie Siegel's Love, Medicine and Miracles. The book discusses how attitude and belief can influence survival, and includes stories of folks who are healthy many years past “terminal” cancer diagnoses.

Always one to turn to spiritual and other alternatives, I began my healing process with visualization and meditation, along with modern medicine. And, partly because I shared my story with you readers, I was uplifted by many, many prayers. (Did you know studies have shown praying for someone's recovery even years AFTER they've had surgery appears to improve the outcome of the surgery in a shorter recovery time and less pain than those NOT prayed for in the studies? Weird, huh?)

Along the way, I had a port implanted a month or so after my mastectomy. I'm so glad my doctors encouraged me to get a port; another woman I know had chemo without it and her veins were damaged.

If you're not familiar with ports, these incredible devices are implanted under the skin for various procedures. Mine, to be used for chemotherapy, was placed in my upper chest with a catheter into the subclavian vein. A needle is inserted through the layer of skin over the port to administer chemotherapy drugs, or to draw blood. The port let me undergo chemotherapy without using the veins in my arms.

After another patient told me about Lidocaine, a topical painkiller, use of the port also became relatively painless.

The treatment process included two kinds of chemotherapy, then radiation treatments, which concluded on Good Friday 2008, which also was the first day of spring that year. Both markers seemed appropriate. I continue to take Tamoxifen daily and see my oncologist regularly.

My advice for others? Nurture yourself and let others help you as well. We grow spiritually by helping others, so why not give the folks who love you a chance to grow?

But you also can help yourself, as I did through daily prayer and meditation, eating nutritious foods and especially greens, and drinking lots of water, particularly during chemo and radiation. Water helps your body flush those poisons from your system and lessens the stress on your liver and kidneys. I also used remedies given through psychic Edgar Cayce, including castor oil packs.

Waking the Warrior Goddess, Harnessing the Power of Nature and Natural Medicines to Achieve Extraordinary Health is another helpful book – I probably need to read it again myself ! Along the way, I added pomegranate juice to my daily regimen, as it has been shown to help heart patients and prostate cancer patients – and probably, because of the hormone-related nature of many breast cancers, will help those patients, too.

Last spring, one piece of my breast cancer story ended. My port, which had to be flushed every other month, was giving me some problems. So, rather than wait for the magical 5-year survival anniversary, I decided it was time for its removal.

We said goodby at the end of May, thanks to my surgeon Dr. David Welsh. As for the cancer, we said goodby a long time ago.

For the most part, I don't worry that it might come back or how long I will live. Thanks to my job, I learned a long time ago that life can end suddenly for anyone, young or old, and the only thing we can do is live our lives as best we can in this moment.

Besides, for years I've said I'll live to be 198 or 199, and die after falling off my horse. What a goal, huh? (My kids say the horse will be stuffed and mounted at that point, however.)

Readers and friends, thank you for the support and prayers you've offered, not only during my cancer journey but from the beginning of my journalistic career. I've met so many gracious people over the years who have invited me not only into their homes but into their lives in both times of rejoicing and of grief.

Thank you and God bless.