Thank you, Rod, for that wonderful introduction. I hope I can measure up to your kind words.
Good evening, everyone. What a great turnout! Thank you for being here this evening. To everyone who works on this event and to those who will be here all night and through tomorrow, thank you for your dedication and unselfish service to others.
A long time ago, one of my children said to me, “Mom, you could give a Missouri mule a lesson in stubborness.”
But that very stubborness is one reason I am here tonight.
A severe case of bronchitis in late December of 2009 led to not only surgery in Billings to remove two blood clots in my left arm, but also to a mammogram that revealed a tumor under my left breast and a biopsy of that tumor.
A week after the successful blood clot surgery, I received a call from the office of Dr. Anne Williams asking me to come in and discuss the biopsy results. Hanging up the phone, I felt my whole body go cold because deep down inside, I just knew she was going to tell me that the tumor was malignant.
Sitting in her office, I heard her say I had Stage 2 breast cancer. I felt chilled to the bone. Question after question went through my mind. How far advanced is it? Am I going to live to see my grandchildren grow up? Be able to go to their graduations from high school and college? Be alive when they each find that special someone? Will I get to go to their weddings? What about my husband? Who will take care of him if I don’t survive? What about my children? Even though they are grown up, they still need me.
I was nervous and shaking as Dr. Williams said I would need surgery and that it would be best to have a full mastectomy. I told her I had to go talk with my family and would wait for her to call me to schedule the surgery.
Up until then I had not told anyone about what the mammogram had shown or about the biopsy. I didn’t because I wanted to have all the information I could get … have my own questions answered before I could answer those from my family.
Telling my family was very difficult. I know my voice shook as I told them what was going to happen.
Everyone at the hospital I came into contact with was extremely caring and compassionate before and after my surgery. I could not have been in a better facility for this ordeal.
About 10 days after my surgery, I was home alone, taking a shower and as I did so, I was thinking about what I’d just gone through and what lay ahead. Suddenly deep sobs racked my body and I heard myself screaming over and over again at the top of my voice “No! No! No! I will NOT let cancer defeat me. I’m going to FIGHT and I’m going to WIN!” From then on there was only one direction for me … forward.
I met with Dr. Roger Santala to discuss my course of treatment three weeks after having surgery. His recommendation was 16 chemotherapy treatments … one every other week for the first four and then one treatment a week for 12 consecutive weeks.
Well, then, I said .. let’s get moving. And move we did. He warned me I’d lose my hair. My reply was … It’s hair. It will come back .. I hope. I went on to say I had already bought my prosthesis, I’d buy a wig and a new dress, and I’d go dancing. Dr. Santala ordered several tests to determine which chemo drugs he would use. A week later, I began my chemotherapy.
I was hoping I’d keep my hair until after Easter Sunday. After all, I had a new dress to wear and I didn’t want to have to wear a wig. The day after Easter, I got up from my recliner and saw hair all over the back of the sheet I’d used to cover my chair. Going to the phone, I called a longtime and close friend who had a beauty shop. I asked her if she would shave my head that night. I said I didn’t want anyone there but her and my husband. Even though I’d tried to make light about losing my hair, it was still traumatic when I did. I cried after I hung up the phone, I cried after I returned from her shop.
A few days later my then four-year-old grandson wanted to know why I was wearing a cap, I asked his mother if it was okay to show him. She said it was. So I took off my cap. His eyes got big and he said “You don’t got no hair, Grandma!” I said .. You’re right, I don’t. He then touched his hair and said, “I’ve got hair.” I answered You sure do. I think I’ll buy some new hair. His reply was “That would be neat!” His big brother, after seeing I had no hair, was asked what he thought. He said “Her head is shiny!”
Throughout the seven months of surgery and treatment, I had tremendous and uplifting support from my family, my friends, the doctors and nurses, my church, my community and from people who prayed for me that I don’t even know and will never meet. That support continues to this day.
I know I will never, ever be able to repay all the kindness I was shown. But I will do all I can to help others who are making their journey through diagnosis and treatment and everything that follows.
Years ago, my mother told me “You may not look the same, but you will survive.”
I don’t look the same. But I have survived. I have survived because of thousands of people who walked with me on my journey and still do. I have survived because of uncountable prayers, hugs, heartfelt words of encouragement, my stubborness to not give in or give up, and because of love and hope and faith.
I am a survivor and so are every one of you.
Thank you and may God bless you.