Battling breast cancer

October … Breast Cancer Awareness Month … What more can be said on this subject? Three brave Big Spring women said a great deal about it this month and they know what they’re talking about because they’ve been there. They are aware that breast cancer is real, it is treatable, it is personal and individual, and it is survivable. As different as their stories are, they agree that early detection is not just important; it is imperative.Back in 1990 Lucy Odom, then living in Clear Lake and teaching in Baytown 30 miles away, went to the doctor with bronchitis. As an afterthought, she asked him to look at a lump that she was fairly certain was a sebaceous cyst, which was similar to others she had had. No one in her family had ever had cancer, and that possibility had not occurred to her. Following her examination, the doctor said, “This is serious,” and referred her to a surgeon.Odom consulted some of her physician friends in Big Spring and was told the surgeon was more than passable. “He’s Superman!” one local doctor stated. After a biopsy, Lucy underwent three rounds of what she describes as “horrible” chemotherapy, still managing to work by having the treatments on Fridays. After a month’s lay-off, she had a mastectomy, waited a month and then underwent six weeks of radiation treatments. At that time chemo preceding surgery was, in Lucy’s words “ahead of its time.” She returns to Houston every six months for her mammogram from that surgeon. Her surgeon told her that she could have the tests nearer home, but she simply said, “No, you saved my life.”Ironically Odom had served as head of the Big Spring American Cancer Society board some years ago — “When I was in my 30s,” she said. At the time, cancer seemed an important cause, but it was not the personal one it is today. She now insists from a personal viewpoint, “You have to have a mammogram and you have to do regular self- exams.”While teaching at Goliad, Pam Morgan experienced pain in her breast, but with family, holidays and school, she put off seeing a doctor until March. “Everyone tells you that breast cancer doesn’t cause pain, so I never thought that would be the diagnosis; besides, no one in my family had had cancer,” she related. After diagnosis of non-typical, non- hormone-receptive cancer, she underwent chemo, a lumpectomy, and radiation while continuing to work at school.“Because cancer has become so open, in some ways it’s become minimized, and everyone thinks she knows how you should deal with it,” Morgan said. “Everyone’s experience is different, and you have to figure out how to manage your life while you’re sick.” She now considers that she should have saved the energy she used in her work for her family and her children’s health issues. She also maintains that in an effort to spare the patient from fear, medical providers don’t always convey all the information they need. “No one told me some of the aftereffects of chemo and radiation or that reconstructive surgery is possible only after mastectomy,” Morgan said. “I felt like I was in a wilderness and I had to deal with it all myself.”Morgan applauds the doctors and staff at Allison Cancer Center in Midland for their care and consideration. She says they made what was sometimes an ordeal as pleasant as possible. Because she had been treated for and survived colon cancer in 1998, Janie Conley had been having regular mammograms. Last May, after her regular test, she got a call from Allison Cancer Center before she got home, saying they had found something and would get in touch with the surgeon. A biopsy was quickly done, with results proving to be “ductile carcinoma in situ, stage 0.” She understood the importance of early detection, having experienced Stage 3 colon cancer earlier.Conley had a lumpectomy and after a brief respite did six and a half weeks of daily radiation. “One of the best pieces of advice was an email from Pam Morgan, who told me not to go through the radiation treatments by myself. She said one mistake she had made was trying to do it alone,” Janie said. She sent out emails and Facebook messages and had 18 different people drive with her to treatment.“My boys came home from Houston and Lubbock, and my husband drove me to the last treatment,“ she recalled, “and the radiation techs at Allison Cancer Center were so sweet; It was a great time.”While Janie found her experience “almost like a party,” Pam found hers” a wilderness” and Lucy saw hers as “where everything just happened right,” all agree with Pam in affirming, “breast cancer survivors have a strong sisterhood and (we) feel grateful to be a part of it.” All three say they have been blessed by people that were acquaintances but became friends. The trio of survivors urgently encourages everyone to have an annual mammogram. They unanimously agree, “Early detection is the best way to cancer awareness.”