Overcoming Breast Cancer


October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which obviously affects all involved physically and on a deep emotional level.

It is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

This is also something that touches people in a visceral way – physically and emotionally.  Opal Sproul, of Waynesfield - my grandma, found out she had it in 1983.  She found a lump in her breast taking a bath. She was 61. She had surgery in February 1984; they did a modified radical mastectomy and took out all the lymph nodes and some muscle. After the surgery that took her first breast, she had the second one removed two weeks later.  She had to have physical therapy to regain strength in her arms.  She now has bone scans every year to make sure there’s no growth anywhere.

I remember when I was really little, I was sitting in my parents’ hot tub with my grandma.  I asked her why she didn’t wear a bikini.  She said, “Because I don’t have any boobs!”  While I didn’t fully understand it at the time, it was the first time I realized she didn’t have breasts.  That made an impact on me, and I’ll never forget it.

My grandma uses prostheses with her bra, and she doesn’t like to wear anything low-cut because of the scarring.  She had a good attitude about the whole thing, though, saying she didn’t have a need for her breasts anymore. They didn’t define who she was.

My great aunt Laura was 52 when she was diagnosed, four years earlier than my grandma. She just had one breast removed and then had chemotherapy and radiation.  Laura had a reoccurrence at age 60. The cancer had metastasized to her liver.  She had chemotherapy again. 

One night the doctor said she wouldn’t make it through the night.
In the morning, Laura sat up and said, “You gave up on me, didn’t you?”

She went on to lead a productive life; she kept working for several years.  She died in 1996, from complications of breast cancer, the result of the chemotherapy, and cancer growth in other areas.

My aunt Darlene Chiles, of Waynesfield, started getting mammograms before she was 40, because she has fibrocystic disease, which means she has lots of cysts and lumps. She’s had 3 biopsies over the years, and she’s gone back for more magnification mammograms and ultrasounds.

 In April of 2011, they sent a biopsy of her left breast to the Cleveland Clinic for diagnosis. The pathologist had said it was a complex sample. The diagnosis was:   invasive breast cancer out of the duct and into the breast tissue.

Darlene then went to an oncology surgeon.  She talked to friends who had breast cancer. She went to a doctor that a friend had had years before.  “I knew I wanted them both removed, with mom having both removed. I was never really worried, I knew from the time of diagnosis I was gonna be fine. I knew it was just a bump in the road.”

 Darlene missed 2 weeks of work for her masectomy.  She didn’t have incisinal pain, just pain from the positioning of her arms during surgery. She opted for reconstructive surgery. “And they look good,” Darlene said.  (And they do.  I’ve seen them.)

As far as advice for others going through this, Darlene said, “It’s going to a top-notch facility to get screenings done and not missing those anniversaries of getting them done. You have to be an advocate for your own health. If you’ve got a feeling, go with it. There was never a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be perfectly fine.  Everybody was real supportive.  In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t a big deal for me. A lot of people think it’s losing their femininity, losing breasts. Small price to pay. Never have to have mammogram again.”

Darlene also said that having a good support system and friends and family who have been through it helped her. Plus, she got, “new boobs. I show my boobs a lot. I didn’t used to flash my boobs quite so much.”  She continued, “Who you are isn’t contained in any body part. Having surgery doesn’t change who you are. You are the same person.”